Math Education Results Show China, Singapore, Korea and Japan Leading

Posted on March 4, 2014  Comments (3)

The most comprehenvise comparison of student achievement in math and science around the globe undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) focuses on math understanding of 15 year olds (the 2014 report will focus on science). The 2009 report focused on the results of science education student achievement around the globe.

2012 results for the math portion (rank – country – mean score)(I am not listing all countries):

  • 1 – Singapore – 573
  • 2 – Korea – 554
  • 3 – Japan – 536
  • 5 – Switzerland – 531
  • 6 – Netherlands – 523
  • 7 – Estonia – 521
  • 8 – Finland – 519
  • 9 – Canada – 518
  • 12 – Germany – 514
  • 24 – UK – 494 (this is also the OECD average)
  • 34 – USA – 481
  • 49 – Malaysia – 421
  • 50 – Mexico – 413

All 34 OECD member countries and 31 partner countries and economies participated in PISA 2012, representing more than 80% of the world economy. Portions of China participated and did very well including Shanghai-China (highest mean score of 613 points – if you ranked that as a country, I ignored these “regional results” in the ranks I shown here), Hong Kong-China (561, 3rd if including countries and regions together), Chinese Taipei [Taiwan] (560, 4th), Macao-China (538, 6th).

Boys perform better than girls in mathematics in 38 out of the 65 countries and economies that participated in PISA 2012, and girls outperform boys in 5 countries.

Related: Playing Dice and Children’s NumeracyNumeracy: The Educational Gift That Keeps on GivingMathematicians Top List of Best OccupationsThe Economic Consequences of Investing in Science EducationCountry H-index Ranking for Science PublicationsEconomic Strength Through Technology Leadership


Shanghai-China, Hong Kong-China, Singapore, Japan and Korea are the 5 highest-performing countries and economies in reading (reading comprehension was another area researched in the report) in PISA 2012.

Parents expectations for students has a significant impact on student performance. When parents have high expectations students have more confidence and put in more effort to achieve.

2012 results for the science portion (rank – country – mean score)(I am not listing all countries):

  • 1 – Singapore – 551
  • 2 – Japan – 547
  • 3 – Finland – 545
  • 4 – Estonia – 541
  • 5 – Korea – 554
  • 6 – Vietnam – 528
  • 8 – Canada – 525
  • 10 – Germany – 524
  • 15 – UK – 514
  • OECD average – 501
  • 21 – USA – 497

A quote from the report: “OECD countries invest over USD 230 billion each year in mathematics education in schools. While this is a major investment, the returns are many times larger.” I agree that the investment in science, math and engineering education is wise but I don’t see that they provide evidence for this assertion. This is what follows in the report: “The OECD’s new Survey of Adult Skills finds that foundation skills in mathematics have a major impact on individuals’ life chances. The survey shows that poor mathematics skills severely limit people’s access to better-paying and more-rewarding jobs; at the aggregate level, inequality in the distribution of mathematics skills across populations is closely related to how wealth is shared within nations.”

“The gender gap in student performance can be narrowed considerably as both boys and girls in all countries and economies show that they can succeed in all three subjects… Among girls, the greatest hurdle is in reaching the top: girls are
under-represented among the highest achievers in most countries and economies, which poses a serious challenge to achieving gender parity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics occupations in the future… girls outperform boys in reading almost everywhere. This gender gap is particularly large in some high-performing countries, where almost all underperformance in reading is seen only among boys. Low-performing boys face a particularly large disadvantage as they are heavily over-represented among those who fail to show basic levels of reading literacy. These low levels of performance tend to be coupled with low levels of engagement with school.”

“High-performing school systems tend to allocate resources more equitably across socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged schools.”

Full report: 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) (in the past the OECD had broken links to the reports, so I don’t trust their ability to maintain useful web resources and don’t link to the most useful link in the body – since they break links)

One thing I found funny was Indonesia was first in students being happy at school and 2nd to last in science understanding. This is really likely just chance that it is so extreme. But it does seem inversely correlated (near the bottom of happiness and top of achievement are: Korea, Estonia and Finland). Near the top of happiness and bottom of student knowledge are: Peru, Thailand, Malaysia and Mexico). Singapore was near the top of both.

Another interesting piece of data, only Malaysia and Jordan pay teachers over 200% of median pay (neither country shows good results). Hong Kong and Korea are next (between 180 and 200%) and their results are very good. Shanghai-China (1st in results) pays just over 100% which is less than average. Singapore (1st in country results – a bit lower than Shanghai) pays about 135% of median (a bit above average). The USA pays 102% of USA median pay.

3 Responses to “Math Education Results Show China, Singapore, Korea and Japan Leading”

  1. Anonymous
    March 11th, 2014 @ 9:30 pm

    I would really say that Singapore indeed does have a high end education system. However this leads to a very competitive and realistic way of everyone – people tends to care for themself more in where they would be mugging all day neglecting social life making Singaporeans pretty much boring. I’d would say so because I’m a Singaporean that just completed diploma degree waiting for NS… however its a great city and country to visit! Awesome food here!

  2. Jody Weissler
    March 16th, 2014 @ 11:11 pm

    As the founder of a program that encourage the use of rel=”nofollow”>Japanese Math Methods it was exciting to see your published Science and Math scores specifically that of Japan. While there has been a great emphasis on Korea, China, Singapore, etc.. it should be noted that Japan has consistently high numbers without the hype.

  3. Janine Gerard
    June 3rd, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

    Having a high math and scientific capability is certainly advantageous for those pursuing a career in the healthcare sector as well

Leave a Reply





Current ye@r *