BOFIT Viikkokatsaus / BOFIT Weekly 2016/51

The latest round of the OECD’s PISA tests included over 500,000 15-year-olds in 72 countries last year. The provincial level cities of Beijing and Shanghai participated, as well as students in the Guangdong and Jiangsu provinces. Chinese students ranked 6th in mathematics, 10th in sciences and 27th in reading comprehension. In the 2009 and 2012 testing rounds, Shanghai was the sole Chinese participant and Shanghai students posted the highest scores in all testing areas.

China’s neighbours performed also well in the PISA testing. Looking at combined scores (sciences, mathematics and reading comprehension), Singapore’s youngsters crushed the test. The PISA top ten overall also included Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. Finland, Estonia and Canada also made the top ten. Considering emerging economies, not too far below China (10th) was Vietnam (22nd place), which had a remarkably strong showing in sciences. Russian students posted consistent performances in all categories, placing 28th in the overall rankings. Brazil occupied the cellar at 66th. India was not a PISA participant.

Student scores in China have come exclusively from wealthy areas, so expansion of PISA testing to interior provinces would likely lower China’s overall scores. Nevertheless, education traditionally has been highly valued in China and regarded as a path to higher socioeconomic status. Teachers are also greatly respected. Chinese children are effectively required to attend nine years of basic education, and nearly all continue their education thereafter. UNESCO figures show that 43 % of Chinese students went on to university or some other college-level studies in 2015, up from just 20 % in 2005.