By Arno Maierbrugger
Gulf Times Correspondent , Bangkok
The latest education ranking by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published last week shows surprisingly diverse skills levels of young pupils among East Asian nations. In the list, seen as the “biggest ever global school ranking” encompassing 76 countries globally, the analysis is based on test scores in mathematics and science and reflects a much wider global map of education standards than the OECD’s Pisa tests that focus mainly on industrialised countries.
Not surprisingly, some of the most affluent and developed East Asian countries (or in case of Hong Kong: regions) made it into the top five of the list, namely Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Pisa test leader Finland has been pushed back to rank 6.
However, the list entails an embarrassing outcome for some member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean: While just Vietnam made it nicely up on rank 12 of the league table, Thailand scored only 47th, albeit a bit better than Malaysia and Indonesia, which came 52nd and 69th.
Lagging behind Indonesia were only seven countries – Botswana, Peru, Oman, Morocco, Honduras, South Africa, and Ghana coming in last.
While Thailand’s (public) education system is infamous for its low-level output of skilled and trained people although it has one of the highest shares of public budget allocation in the region which is obviously used quite inefficiently
A rather big surprise is Malaysia’s bad performance in the OECD ranking. The country, which is trying to position itself as an “international education hub” within Asean, ranked below Kazakhstan, Armenia and Iran in the list, with experts blaming the outcome on Malaysia’s “poor education infrastructure” and problems with selection and training of teachers, monitoring and measuring of their performance and the low remuneration of teachers and school management. The relaxing of entry requirements at training colleges were also seen as a reason for deteriorating teaching quality.
In Thailand, where a whopping 20% of the national budget is allocated to the education sector, the quality does not keep pace. According to latest research conducted by Chaiyuth Punyasavatsut, chief of Thailand’s national education accounts project, around 80% of the $24bn budget are spent on “subsidies and administrative expenses”, and 71% just on basic education, while only 5% are reserved for improvement measures in the sector.
“Thailand has enough resources for education, but it has failed to achieve the desired quality and effectiveness,” Punyasavatsut concluded, adding that “financial resources for education should be restructured in order to ensure more funding in needy areas that directly boost quality. Teachers’ salaries should also be linked to students’ achievements.”
Problems in the Indonesian education system are seen in outdated curriculums that do not prepare students to succeed in the economic environment and fail to meet industries’ needs. Indonesian universities have also been criticised for failing to produce enough skilled engineers and scientists to support the 16th largest economy in the world.
The OECD said it wants to give especially countries that rank lower on the list a stimulus to improve their situation.
“The idea is to give more countries access to comparing themselves against the world’s education leaders, to discover their relative strengths and weaknesses, and to see what the long-term economic gains from improved quality in schooling could be for them,” said OECD education director Andreas Schleicher.
Below is the full rankings list:
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