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Singapore top of the class in the OECD’s global education survey

School children at Marina Bay in Singapore on May 24, 2010.
Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images

Singapore has come top of the class in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) latest global education survey, with the Asian city-state's students the highest performing in tests on basic academic skills.

Japan came in second in the OECD's survey, followed by Estonia, Taiwan and Finland. Bar Japan and Canada, which came seventh, G7 nations fell lower in the data. For example, the United Kingdom ranked 15th whereas the United States came 25th. Seven Asian nations are included in the report's top ten.

The OECD's Programme for International Students Assessment surveyed roughly 540,000 15 year-old students in 72 countries, focusing on science, reading, mathematics and collaborative problem-solving.

In an accompanying statement, the OECD underlined its emphasis this year on skills in science, relevant due to "the context of massive information flows and rapid change" in the modern world.

Roughly one in ten students – which falls higher at one in four in Singapore – worked at the highest level in science. Meanwhile, of the countries surveyed, more than one in five fell below the baseline proficiency. "Only in Canada, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Macao (China), Singapore and Vietnam do at least nine out of ten 15-year-old students master the basics that every student should know before leaving school," the OECD said in a statement.

The Far East was a top performer in mathematics. "More than one in four students in Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangdong (China), Hong Kong (China), Singapore and Chinese Taipei are top-performing students in mathematics, a higher share than anywhere else," the report said.

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The OECD's data also revealed that gender differences were more pronounced in reading and mathematics than science. "In 33 countries and economies, the share of top performers in science is larger among boys than among girls. Finland is the only country in which girls are more likely to be top performers than boys," the statement detailed.

One in four boys and girls told the OECD that they expected to work in a science-related occupation. But, aspirations within the field of science differed based on gender, with girls opting for the health sector while boys preferred to be ICT (information and communications technology) workers, scientists or engineers.

"Nearly 20% of students in OECD countries, on average, do not attain the baseline level of proficiency in reading. This proportion has remained stable since 2009," the OECD's data also showed.

Policies recommended by the OECD to improve education across the globe include increasing support to disadvantaged students and schools, delaying the sorting process of students, continuing to invest in high quality teachers and challenging the stereotypes associated with education and aspiration.

In a speech at the launch of the report, OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria highlighted the importance of education for all for alleviating "global turbulence and rising populism."

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