Finland stays top of global class and South Korean academic results are flying high

Finland and South Korea remain among the superpowers of education, according to a major international study. The three-yearly Programme for International Student Assessment ( Pisa) shows that the two countries are in the top five for reading and maths . South Korea has made rapid progress since 2000, says the report - with its pupils improving by the equivalent of a whole school year. The rankings are based on tests taken by 15-year-olds in 57 countries. Finland, a consistent top performer in international education surveys, also came top of the science league table, published last week. The survey, gathered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), also highlights the improvements in Poland.

TOP 10

S. Korea

Finland

Hong Kong

Canada

New Zealand

Ireland

Australia

Liechtenstein

Poland

Sweden

Source: Pisa/OECD

The rankings for reading, based on tests taken in 2006, show that Poland is ninth placed, among a group of leading countries identified as significantly above average. The latest findings also show the extent of global competition in education - with the northern European countries now challenged by and overtaken by Asian rivals, including Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. South Korea has continued to strengthen its position - after a remarkable rise in achievement against international competitors. In the 1960s, the OECD says South Korea's national wealth was similar to Afghanistan's. But a sustained drive in education has seen it rise to the upper ranks in international education leagues - both in subject scores and in completion rates in secondary school. As with Finland, there has been an emphasis in South Korea on education as a key to economic success and the "knowledge economy". The OECD also highlights improvements in maths scores from teenagers in Mexico and Greece. The UK has shown a downward turn in its standing - leaving the top 10 for both maths and reading despite an increase in spending on education. It has joined other major European countries such as Germany and France in a group with "average" standards for maths and reading.

And the report says that overall the industrialised OECD countries have not seen improvements to match extra investment. It says that between 1995 and 2004, OECD countries increased education spending by 39% on average, but that in response "learning outcomes have generally remained flat".

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