STUDENTS in Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea rank among the world's best in Mathematics and Science, according to a 43-country survey published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unecso).
The study, Literacy Skills for the World of Tomorrow, based on data about 15-year-olds gathered by an OECD international assessment programme, said students in Finland rank near the top in terms of literacy.
By contrast, students in Latin American countries such as Peru, Brazil and Chile lag behind in all three areas, even after making allowances for lower national income levels.
The survey by the OECD, an economic think-tank representing the world's richest nations, and the Unesco, was released in London last week.
The two Paris-based organisations said students in Hong Kong emerged as star performers among the non-OECD economies.
Their overall scores in reading proficiency matched those of students in the top OECD countries Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland.
But the Hong Kong Chinese lead the pack, along with students in Japan and South Korea, in mathematical and scientific literacy.
The survey, whose findings are based on samples of 4,500 to 10,000 youngsters for each participating country, said higher average spending per student does not guarantee higher performance in Mathematics, Science and reading.
Italy spends about twice as much per student as (South) Korea, but whereas Korea is among the best performing countries in all literacy areas assessed, Italy performs significantly below the OECD average, it said.
According to the study, what really makes a difference, rather than national or individual family wealth, is the quality of national education systems: The examples of Canada, Finland, Hong Kong, China, Japan, South Korea and Sweden show that it is possible to achieve educational quality and equity simultaneously.
Argentina, the United States, Chile, Israel, Portugal, Mexico, Peru and Brazil had the biggest performance gap in reading skills between students from rich and poor families.
The survey singled out Latin American students as clear laggards. In Peru for instance, 80% of the students have serious difficulties in using reading as a tool to advance and extend their knowledge and skills in other areas.
Brazil and Chile also recorded performances below average.
Other nations with low scores are Albania, Indonesia and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, where more than half of the students could only complete the simplest reading tasks. AFP
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