Top Countries for Science and Math Education: Finland, Hong Kong and Korea

Posted on December 7, 2010  Comments (32)

The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)* report has been released. The report examines the science of 15 year olds from 57 countries in math, science and reading. The main focus of PISA 2009 was reading. The survey also updated performance assessments in mathematics and science.

The Asian countries continue to do very well for several reason including tutoring; they have even turned tutors into rock stars earning millions of dollars. The results show that the focus on student achievement in sciences has had an impact in Asia.

The emphasis is on mastering processes, understanding concepts and functioning in various contexts within each assessment area. the PISA 2012 survey will return to mathematics as the major assessment area, PISA 2015 will focus on science.

Results for the Science portion (rank – country – mean score)(I am not listing all countries):

  • 1 – Finland – 554
  • 2 – Hong Kong – 549
  • 3 – Japan – 539
  • 4 – Korea – 538
  • 5 – New Zealand – 532
  • 6 – Canada – 529
  • 7 – Estonia – 528
  • 8 – Australia – 527
  • 9 – Netherlands – 522
  • 10 – Taiwan – 520
  • 11 – Germany – 520
  • 14 – United Kingdom – 514
  • 21 – USA – 502 (up from 489 and 29th place in 2006)
  • OECD average – 501
  • 25 – France – 498
  • 46 – Mexico – 416
  • 49 – Brazil – 405

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

  • 1 – Taiwan – 549
  • 2 – Finland – 548
  • 3 – Hong Kong – 547
  • 4 – Korea – 547
  • 5 – Netherlands – 531
  • 6 – Switzerland – 530
  • 7 – Canada – 527
  • 10 – Japan – 523
  • 20 – Germany – 504
  • OECD average – 497
  • 23 – France – 496
  • 24 – United Kingdom – 495
  • 35 – USA – 474
  • 48 – Mexico – 406

Related: USA Teens 29th in ScienceBest Research University Rankings (2008)The Importance of Science EducationCountry H-index Rank for Science Publicationsposts on science education


  • around 470 000 students completed the assessment in 2009, representing about 26 million 15-year-olds in the schools of the 65 participating countries and economies. Some 50,000 students took part in a second round of this assessment in 2010, representing about 2 million 15-year-olds from 10 additional partner countries and economies.
  • each participating student spent two hours carrying out pencil-and-paper tasks in reading, mathematics and science. in 20 countries, students were given additional questions via computer to assess their capacity to read digital texts.
  • the assessment included tasks requiring students to construct their own answers as well as multiple-choice questions. the latter were typically organised in units based on a written passage or graphic, much like the kind of texts or figures that students might encounter in real life.
  • Students also answered a questionnaire that took about 30 minutes

* I had linked to the report but the OECD broke the link 🙁 so I removed it.

32 Responses to “Top Countries for Science and Math Education: Finland, Hong Kong and Korea”

  1. Margaret
    December 8th, 2010 @ 1:31 am

    I’m from Canada so it’s nice to see that we made the list.

  2. Anonymous
    December 8th, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

    I wonder why we’ve moved up since 2006. Anything we’ve improved since then or perhaps other countries inbetween just moved down a little and the difference in the score was not significant.

  3. Anonymous
    December 11th, 2010 @ 6:45 pm

    I am from Indonesia, Indonesian unfortunately not like them. but at least I am from Asia, there are four Asian countries on the list. They are tiger asia. thanks for the info.

  4. perlenigel
    December 12th, 2010 @ 10:22 am

    I don’t really trust in these PISA rankings—the scholar systems are too different to be compared in a fair way. Moreover I think it is easier to organise education in small countries like Finland or the Netherlands rather than the USA …

  5. Jed Schaible
    December 13th, 2010 @ 8:56 pm

    Anonymous said: “I wonder why we’ve moved up since 2006. Anything we’ve improved since then or perhaps other countries inbetween just moved down a little and the difference in the score was not significant.”

    I think it is because the USA public schools started compensating teachers based on standardized test scores. They might not have learned any more info, but they certainly are better at taking tests.

  6. Dr. Bill
    December 14th, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

    Ah, those crazy Finns.. what else they have to do but study. I’ll bet they don’t get MTV there.. hmmm.

  7. David Linigan
    December 22nd, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

    I’m David from Australia so it’s nice to see that we made the list.

  8. Anonymous
    December 22nd, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

    I think the problem with the UK is that school isn’t ‘cool’ and kids are more bothered about their ‘street cred’ and their appearance. Having said that, grades are improving every year and I am therefore more interested in more advanced tests, particularly in maths, for graduates. It would be interesting to see how high the high flyers fly in each country. Having completed a maths degree myself, I know the opportunities in the UK are limited outside of London and perhaps this affects results?

  9. $60 Million in Grants for Undergraduate Science Education » Curious Cat Science Blog
    April 6th, 2011 @ 12:19 pm

    Thankfully a few foundations, with HHMI probably leading the way, and some great schools have kept the USA in a leadership position, but that leadership shrinks each year. And at the primary and secondary school level the USA dropped far back in the pack decades ago for science eduction The top countries in primary and secondary science education are now Finland, Hong Kong and Korea…

  10. Anonymous
    April 27th, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

    “I think the problem with the UK is that school isn’t ‘cool’ and kids are more bothered about their ‘street cred’ and their appearance.”

    Same thing’s happening over here with th’ yanks as well..

  11. Anonymous
    May 5th, 2011 @ 8:12 am

    for someone who is trying to talk about education, you seem to not understand that hong kong is a city…

  12. H-index Rank for Countries: for Science Publications » Curious Cat Science Blog
    May 17th, 2011 @ 11:07 pm

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  13. Anonymous
    July 9th, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

    It is really sad to see America with such a wealth of resources and with a historical record of such great innovation to be way way down on this list. It is worrisome development for the future.

  14. Donnie
    February 9th, 2012 @ 9:33 pm

    Hong Kong is a city in China…… The stupidity of my country continues to amaze me.

  15. Timothy Matias
    February 14th, 2012 @ 4:47 pm

    “for someone who is trying to talk about education, you seem to not understand that hong kong is a city…”

    “Hong Kong is a city in China…… The stupidity of my country continues to amaze me.”

    The ignorance of both if you profoundly amazes me. Hong Kong isn’t part of China, it’s an independent city-state, with its own political system and autonomy from PRC (People’s Republic of China).

    Sure Hong Kong technically falls under the banner of China, but not any more than Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. Hong Kong is recognized by most International bodies as a sovereign state, irregardless of its political affiliations with mainland China.

  16. kenneth vackar
    June 30th, 2012 @ 8:29 pm

    your assessments are totally biased and uninformed and do not include the former east block nations that ALWAYS had superior education.

  17. nene
    September 2nd, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

    Funny thing is if everyone in America and Canda went back to their original country these two country will never make the list again!Sorry it’s the truth, yet you treat the immigrants like dogs.

  18. andres obrador
    September 11th, 2012 @ 7:15 am

    I live in Spain and despite being among the “developed” our education is getting worse, the quality of teachers is low and discipline in classrooms even worse.

  19. Blah
    September 13th, 2012 @ 8:20 am

    If everyone in the us and Canada went to their original countries… They won’t even exist. Of course they wouldn’t make the list.

  20. Anonymous
    September 26th, 2012 @ 11:45 am

    Generally Indians are top achievers in the maths and science fields. This refers to many Indians, not only in India but in many parts of the world. I find it extremely surprising that India has not made the list. Are these results really flawed or is there a criteria applied which discredits their maths and science capabilities. Remember that Indians contribute a lot to global health and scientific research.

  21. curiouscat
    September 26th, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

    India’s results are not listed in the country listing. I would not expect India to do well, however. The top 5% of Indian students might do well, but India’s track record at universal eduction is not great.

    I went and looked to see what I could find, and as far as I can tell in 2009 India participated, for the first time, in a limited way

    The results were very poor. Putting India within the last few countries, of the 74 participating (note above the figures are for the 57 fully participating countries).

    The best students in India do great work. But the overall education system in India needs a huge amount of improvement. The top math, science and engineering minds in India do a great deal to contribute to global health and science research. But India could do much more if the talents of all the students were given a chance to flourish.

  22. Corey
    September 27th, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

    I am from hong kong but living in Wales at the moment. What I wanna say is hong kong is a city in china. But most hong kong people do not call themselves as Chinese since hong kong is very different from China. Hong kong’s political system is capitalist thus our currency is different from the Chinese.Besides, our language is different too.( in both spoken and written language) so plz don’t mix them up together. 🙂

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  24. Oliver Wayne
    February 1st, 2013 @ 1:16 am

    Things to consider.
    1. In some countries like Japan and Korea most students take extra classes at night, especially in mathematics, but in others like the USA most students don’t.
    2. In some countries mathematics is required every year of school but in others, like some in the USA, it is not. Only two years of high school mathematics was required where I went to school.
    3. The way students are selected for international comparison is not the same for all countries. When “standardized tests” were given at the school where I work students were given as much time as needed instead of the time listed in the guidelines for testing which introduces a bias into the scores.

  25. terence
    October 16th, 2013 @ 11:21 am

    The fact that Phils. is not included in the list makes me suspicious of the credibility of this report. Im not going to argue about the 3 asian countries that made the list, but phils is about as good in terms of academic achievements amongst its neighboring countries. And that can be proven by any number of reports made by the leading learning institutions from anywhere round the globe. Finally, the educational system in my country has been going through major workup since the last couple of years and i wont be surprised if we, from being non-existent and ignored, jump up and take over Hong kong from it’s current spot. LoL

  26. Country H-index Ranking for Science Publications » Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog
    January 9th, 2014 @ 9:50 am

    h-index ranking #1 USA, #2 United Kingdom, #3 Germany, #4 France, #5 Canada…

  27. Math Education Results Show China, Singapore, Korea and Japan Leading » Curious Cat Science and Math Blog
    March 4th, 2014 @ 8:55 pm

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  28. jacob
    June 2nd, 2015 @ 6:54 pm

    I don’t see India any where what about this Einstein country where is its RANKING?

  29. curiouscat
    June 4th, 2015 @ 3:32 am

    Jacob, India hasn’t participated in the past. They had 2 states participate in 2009 for the first time. Those results placed India in 2nd to last place (73 out of 74) coming in ahed of Kyrgyzstan.

    PISA measure overall performance which India is not very good at. The top tier of India could perform well but the rest drags it down to the bottom of the country performances.

    The USA also has a very accomplished top tier but it gets dragged down by lots of mediocre performance (though obviously not nearly dragged down as far as India is).

  30. Ahmed
    November 9th, 2015 @ 2:39 pm

    Really dude! India is the country that invented the 0, and also invented the pythogoras thereom. Maybe the people who posted this are probably stupid.

  31. curiouscat
    November 9th, 2015 @ 2:58 pm

    Ahmed, there really isn’t any need to call people stupid. If you read the post and comments, the ranking is based on recent student’s test results.

    The ranking was not based on historical breakthroughs in mathematics by mathematicians. India certainly has had a long history of incredible mathematicians.

    The scores on the tests by recent students were pretty horrible, which is how the countries current results end up ranking it where it is compared to other countries.

  32. Ahmed
    November 10th, 2015 @ 12:03 pm

    Oh i did not know that

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