By Jean Christou
CYPRUS has ranked in 46th place out of 76 countries worldwide, and bottom among all EU member states, in what is being called the biggest-ever education league table so far.
The report was compiled by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which periodically carries out the Programme for International Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study Student Assessment (PISA) based on marks in science and math.
It is similar to another test ‘Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study’ (TIMSS) which are both used as international benchmarks for education standards among 15-year-olds.
The new OECD report, using PISA scores, goes a step further than listing rankings in that it ties education quality to future economic growth.
“Economic growth and social development are closely related to the skills of the population indicating that a central goal post-2015 should be that all youths develop at least basic skills as a foundation for work and further learning as not merely that they gain access to schooling,” the report said.
It describes itself as the “most comprehensive picture to date of the quality of learning outcomes around the world as it estimates the long-term economic gains of improving the quality of education”.
“The quality of schooling is a powerful predictor of wealth the country will produce in the long run,” it added.
Singapore topped the list with five other Asian countries with Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan taking up the next four places. The top countries in Europe, staring with Finland in sixth place, were Estonia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany and Ireland. The UK was ranked in 20th and the US placed 28th. Ghana was bottom.
On the PISA scale, the lowest score for basic skills in science and math is set at 420 – where Cyprus resides – compared to over 500 for the top 21 countries on the list. Another table shows that the quality of education in Cyprus improved by only 1 per cent between 1995 and 2009. Information for Cyprus on other indicator tables was blank in the 116-page report.
Just ahead of Cyprus on the global list are Turkey and Serbia, and just below are Thailand and Chile.
It is no secret that students in Cyprus have never scored well in the international tests. Last year’s damning World Bank report on education in Cyprus highlighted that the island’s educational outcomes, as measured by average national scores in PISA and TIMSS, were below what might be expected, given the country’s level of economic development and investments in education.
Results from PISA and TIMSS place students in Cyprus significantly below the OECD average in reading, mathematics, and science, it said.
In fact the island’s high expenditure on education was not translating into improved learning for children, and there was little if any formal assessment of student learning.
It said the country’s investment in education did not yield commensurate outcomes. Public expenditure on education in Cyprus is around 7.8 per cent of GDP, which is high by international and European standards. Annual public and private expenditure in Cyprus is €9,145 per pupil, which is higher than the EU average of €6,900.
The OECD’s Education Director Andreas Schleicher said the new report demonstrated that “the world is no longer divided between rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly educated ones”.
“One might be tempted to think that high-income countries have had all the means to eliminate extreme underperformance in education and should already have achieved the education post-2015 goal and targets. But the report shows otherwise,” he said citing the US as an example where a quarter of 15-year-olds did not successfully complete even basic Level 1 PISA tasks.