Korean Education: Excellent Overall, But No Bright Sparks

      December 08, 2010 13:21

      Korean students are overall excellent achievers in academic skills, but the cream of the crop lagged far behind that of other countries, according to the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment announced by the OECD on Tuesday. Korean students in the upper 5 percent ranked ninth out of 65 participating nations including 31 non-OECD member countries in reading, fifth in math and 13th in science.

      Korean students excelled in the overall rankings among the 34 OECD member countries, coming first in reading and math and third in science, and out of all the 65 participating countries they ranked second in reading, fourth in math and sixth in science. But Korea's best lagged behind their counterparts abroad.

      Taiwan, which came fifth in overall math scores or one notch below Korea, ranked third in terms of the scores of top students -- two notches higher than their Korean counterparts. Singapore and Hong Kong, which ranked similarly to Korea in overall scores, left Korea way behind when it came to the performance of the highest achievers.  

      Japan, which lagged far behind Korea in overall reading and math scores, was also ahead in terms of the top students, coming in fifth in reading, seventh in math and sixth in science. This is despite what has been criticized as a deteriorating public education system in Japan.

      The results also contradict widespread belief among Koreans that there is widening gap in education between poor and rich and the country's education system focuses on nurturing elite students.

      Kim Seong-yul, the president of the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation, said, "The source of the problem appears to be that few Korean schools offer advanced programs for students." Other experts believe that it is because the country has stressed equalizing education for the last decade and opposed establishing an elite-centered system.

      Certainly Korea has made huge strides in terms of equalizing the education. The OECD average for the quality gap between schools was 41.7 percent, but it was only 31.6 percent in Korea. And the achievement gap between students in a school was 61 percent compared to 64.5 percent on average in the OECD. In terms of the difference in reading scores based on social and economic backgrounds, Korea did better than the OECD average, which shows Korean parents and schools overall have high enthusiasm for children's education.

      Shanghai was the highest achiever. The Chinese city participated in the PISA for the first time as an economic cooperation partner of the OECD and immediately saw its students ranked at the top of the world in reading, math and science. But only schools in the metropolitan regions took part in the assessment, giving the city an advantage over most countries where rural schools, which traditionally do less well, were factored in.

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