Readers’ Blog


Popularity 2Viewed 5274 times 2013-12-20 09:43 |System category:News

“China is cheating the world student rankings system,” lamented the recent Time magazine. Held every three years, the 2012 results of the OECD’s global PISA exams showed the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Hong Kong came first and third,
In the global exam that evaluates 15-year-old students’ reading, science and math skills, Chinese students appear to be superior while American students continued to underperform. “Enough is enough,” complained the venerable Time. “Beijing must supply national data to assessors and not simply the results of a small minority of elite students.”
Shanghai is not China, just as New York City is not the entire United States.
However, the PISA results do indicate that students in the U.S. and Europe are falling behind their counterparts in China and emerging Asia.
What’s even more intriguing is that old prejudices persist – even against PISA’s hard-data evidence.

Who is cheating who?
“Whenever an American or European wins an Olympic gold medal, we cheer them as heroes,” OECD’s education chief and special advisor Andreas Schleicher said recently. “When a Chinese does, the first reflect seems to be that they must have
been doping; or if that’s taking it too far, that it must have been the result of inhumane training.”
In other words, there is a temptation to argue not only that a Chinese did not win the PISA gold medal, but that he/she could not. Therefore, the only rational explanation could be drugs, or savage exercise. In both cases, the outcome is deemed either the result of evil drug dealers or evil tiger parents.
As Schleicher and his colleagues have patiently explained in public, the Chinese have not been cheating in PISA. Instead, it seems that many educational and economic policy authorities in the West are cheating themselves.
Typically, Time ignored the PISA 2012 Technical Background Annex, which is a boring, but necessary read because it shows that no “cheating” was involved.
However, other critics in the West claim that perhaps resident internal migrants might not have been covered by Shanghai’s PISA sample. In other words, perhaps the urban Chinese did not cheat, but surely their migrant counterparts did!
True, Shanghai, like many other emerging megacities, is still developing its education system and the PISA 2012 covered only 79% of the 15-year-olds in Shanghai. That, however, is not exceptional. Despite its long record in high-school education, even the U.S. sample covered less than 90% of its 15-year-olds. And the same goes for other advanced nations. Further, it is also possible that that these excluded in the West might have pulled down the average performance.
Then, there are those who argue that, well, maybe the Chinese don’t cheat, and maybe even the migrant kids don’t cheat, but basic reading, math or sciences are not so relevant in an era when it’s the advanced, specialized knowledge that really
matters. Nevertheless, the reality is that globalization spares the least those whose education and skills are poor – and rewards most those who excel in these basic categories.
In many advanced nations, students usually blamed everyone else but themselves, as the PISA results also suggest. In contrast, the students in Shanghai believed that if they work hard and trust their teachers, they will succeed.

Long-run trends
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the OECD in member and non-member nations. Developed from 1997, the first PISA assessments were started in 2000.
These global exams, however, rest on a history of international school studies that were first launched in the late 1950s.
In 2000, Finland excelled in all three generic categories, followed by other Nordic countries, the Oceania duo Australia and New Zealand, Germany and the Netherlands, while Asia was represented by South Korea and Japan.
By 2009, Shanghai, the top-5 ranks in math were dominated by Asia: Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. The rise of Asian countries was also reflected in sciences and reading in which Shanghai excelled.
In the most recent PISA assessment, Shanghai dominates math, sciences and reading. It is followed by Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. Of the old advanced-countries, only Finland, Japan, Canada and Ireland remain in the top-10 lists.
Meanwhile, new transitional and emerging-country players have joined in these rankings, including Macau, Vietnam, Poland, and Estonia. In turn, others follow in their footprints. Slovenian students leave behind both the French and the British.
Lithuanian students’ science performance beats that of Norwegians, Italians and Swedes. Vietnamese students excel in reading over French and the American students.
Today, prosperity is seen to be based on productivity, which rests on innovation. The rise of China and emerging Asia in education and skills is an inherent part of the far broader new deal in global innovation.
Only a few years ago, leading policymakers and senior executives in the West believed that China, along with other emerging markets, would remain the “factory of the world” for years to come, and India its “back-office.” It was a convenient fantasy –
but that’s all it ever was.
Innovation builds on specialized knowledge, which rests on development, applied and basic research. In turn, the latter build on education and skills, that is, reading, math and sciences.
What we are witnessing is the steady, relative erosion of student skills in advanced economies, coupled by a gradual ascent of students’ skills in emerging and developing economies.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




Shake hands

Like 0 Share


Comment Comment (3 comments)

Reply Report Dr.Bill.Shen 2013-12-20 20:47
This did not happen overnight. "No studying, no future" has been the doctrine from Confucius time. Even during the dark age of culture revolution, my mother keeps telling me that. Given the average time spent in class room per each middle student, I am not surprised at all Chinese student did better than American students. However I am very disappointed with the higher education system in China. It is not designed to incubate "crazy" ideas that can bring about next tidal wave of innovations.
Reply Report huaren2323 2013-12-24 02:53
Dr.Bill.Shen: This did not happen overnight. "No studying, no future" has been the doctrine from Confucius time. Even during the dark age of culture revol ...
I agree. Hopefully given time, the academia can prevail over the politburo what MUST be done. after all, the present official leaders of China are alumni of these institution.
The collective power behind had to balance between urban bourgeoies and rural farmers/factory workers control for power.
Reply Report Dr.Bill.Shen 2013-12-24 23:56
huaren2323: I agree. Hopefully given time, the academia can prevail over the politburo what MUST be done. after all, the present official leaders of China are alu ...
Education will be important part of upcoming reform. Besides hardcore science, China should reform to truly instill humanity into young people's mind. That should be the ultimate yardstick to measure right and wrong. That can truly avoid repeating some every destructive missteps in recent history that resulted in a great deal of human suffering and pain. Until we have learned to respect others, we should not expect others to respect us.

facelist doodle Doodle board

You need to login to comment Login | register


Research director of international business at India, China and America Institute (US) and visiting fellow at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China) and EU Centre (Singapore).



    Recent comments

    • Taiwan needs regional integration 2014-3-29 13:11

      It is reasonable to assume that some in Taiwan fear a loss of Taiwan's identity - whatever that may mean - in the proposed recent pact with the mainland. Yet paradoxically, Taiwan entering into more trade pacts in Asia could actually reinforce that sense of identity. Trade is vital to Taiwan which ever way you look at it.

    • The ‘Asianization’ of Global Innovation 2014-2-28 22:23

      Put simply China's goal is  to move from made in China to invented in China.. If they achieve that, they really will shake the world. That is the game-changer.

    Star blogger










    Contact us:Tel: (86)010-84883548, Email:
    Blog announcement:| We reserve the right, and you authorize us, to use content, including words, photos and videos, which you provide to our blog
    platform, for non-profit purposes on China Daily media, comprising newspaper, website, iPad and other social media accounts.