Israel places 39th in global education ranking

OECD report links school achievement and economic growth; despite oil wealth, Arab world trails far behind

Illustrative: A student takes a test in a school in Jerusalem (Flash90)
Illustrative: A student takes a test in a school in Jerusalem (Flash90)

Israeli schoolchildren come in at 39th place in a major education report published Wednesday that ranked 76 nations according to standardized test scores.

Asian nations led the rankings, published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with Singapore taking first place, followed by Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taipei. European nations were next in line, with Finland at sixth place followed by Estonia, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The OECD issued a special warning about the decline of Sweden in the rankings. The Scandinavian country now places at 35th place, four slots ahead of Israel. The US ranks 28th, Britain 20th.

The report uses a new method for scoring international tests such as PISA and TIMSS that created a shared standard for comparing diverse countries’ performance across multiple tests.

“This is the first time we have a truly global scale of the quality of education,” OECD education director Andreas Schleicher said of the report. “The idea is to give more countries, rich and poor, 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.”

Written by scholars Eric Hanushek of Stanford University and Ludger Woessmann of Munich University, the report attempts to show that the educational standards measured were a “powerful predictor” of countries’ long-term economic well-being.

The report, titled “Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain,” argues that universal education in basic skills in math and science will lead to a dramatic economic boon for the countries tested.

The Arab world trailed far behind on the list, with one headline in the report noting diplomatically that “high-quality schooling and oil don’t mix easily.”

“The high-income non-OECD countries, as a group, would see an added economic value equivalent to almost five times the value of their current GDP – if they equipped all students with at least basic skills. So there is an important message for countries rich in natural resources: the wealth that lies hidden in the undeveloped skills of their populations is far greater than what they now reap by extracting wealth from natural resources,” it explains.

The report was prepared for the World Education Forum slated to take place in South Korea next week, which will deal with raising global education standards.

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