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Shanghai surprise

Posted December. 08, 2010 22:30,   


The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development has announced the results of the Program for International Student Assessment. A combined 470,000 students over age 15 in 65 countries took the assessment. Shanghai topped the scores, beating perennial champion Finland. In China’s first participation in the test, Shanghai students were tops in reading, math and science. Shangh`s lead over second place was also big, with the city beating out Korea in math 600-546. Korean students ranked between third and sixth in relevant areas. International student assessment director Kim Kyung-hee of the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation said, “The academic ability gap between Shanghai and the lowest ranking country is six years.”

China had previously not participated in the assessment because it is not an OECD member country, but took part this time as an economic partner. Surprising the world, Shanghai posted scores much higher than those of Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Finland, an education powerhouse, ranked below Korea in reading and math and placed second in science after Shanghai while Korea was third.

China operates academic ability-oriented schools focusing on excellence in education. One hundred of these schools operate in Shanghai. Chinese students study the most hours in the world. All schools have classes exclusively for gifted and talented students who receive preferential education. Elementary school students engage in a fierce competition to go to top schools in China since admission to junior high school is decided through exams. Shanghai students do not represent China as a whole, however, and their schools have a wider academic record gap compared to Korea`s.

The assessment results for Korea are also astounding. Korea was ranked among the top in all three subjects, while academic ability in science rose to between fourth and seventh, up from 11th in 2006. What is most encouraging is that the records of low ranking students rose, narrowing the gap with high ranking students. The OECD praised Korea as an example of good education. What is discouraging, however, that the good performance might not be attributable to public education. What Korea can learn from Shanghai is the importance of public education and excellence in education.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)