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Asian countries dominate global education ranking

Jessica Morris, special to

South East Asian countries clinched the top four spots in an education index produced by UK-based education and publishing company Pearsons.

South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong beat 39 countries in the Global Index of Cognitive and Educational Attainment compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit which measures learning ability as well as literacy and graduation rates.

Jung Yeon-je | AFP | Getty Images

And an accompanying report said that these countries are all characterized by a strong community culture dedicated to education.

"It's not the education as such but more cultural factors surrounding it" John Jerrim at the Institute of Education (IOE) told CNBC in a telephone interview.

Commenting on the report he said things that happened outside of school such as the use of private tuition and most crucially a cultural emphasis on education as a way to get ahead in life.

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But while Asian education systems are famed for the emphasis on rigorous testing, this alone does not necessarily drive up standards, according to the report.

Rather, having set tests to work towards mobilizes kids, parents and schools as it gives them a clear objective. Set goal posts increase an understanding of what is required and enhance accountability in terms of what is being achieved.

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The index is based on a number of global measures of educational standards such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Pisa tests.

In December the OECD survey revealed students in Asian countries – Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea – performed the best in math, reading and science.

Life-long learning

The report also stressed that life-long learning is needed to preserve the skills developed in education as they decline with age.

"From around 25 years of age, skill levels tend to decline, even when accounting for the quality of initial education" the report said.

Jobs involving a lot numeracy, reading and opting for adult education can slow this. Nonetheless, according to the report, this requires a pre-existing ability and those more likely to undertake adult education tend to already be highly educated.

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