Shanghai Smart

“Better educational outcomes are a strong predictor for future economic growth,” says OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Put your money on Shanghai, then. The city scored higher than any of the 70 economies included in the newly published survey of reading literacy among 15-year olds by the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

China, as a whole was not included in the survey (it is not a full OECD member), but Hong Kong would have come third in the country rankings behind South Korea and Finland, the longtime number one that was pushed into second place this time. The survey also found that girls read better than boys in every country, which is no surprise, but quantifies the difference, which is, at “an average of 39 points, the equivalent to one year of schooling.”

Shanghai also topped the table in maths and science.

More than one-quarter of Shanghai’s 15-year-olds demonstrated advanced mathematical thinking skills to solve complex problems, compared to an OECD average of just 3%.

One in seven of Shanghai’s 15-year olds achieved the highest levels of proficiency in all three of reading, maths and science, compared to one in twenty five across the OECD as a whole. It is a bit chalk and cheese to compare educational achievement in a city’s schools with those of a country, this is the first time Shanghai has been assessed and it is unclear how the sample of 5,000 tested children was chosen, so we are duly measured in our reaction. The key question is what makes the city’s schools so effective. The analysis that accompanies the survey’s results is too general to provide an answer. Yet, as the survey notes, high levels of skill are critical to innovation, so being top of the class should add up to something in future.

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