BBC: S'poreans are high achievers at school but below average in graduate rankings

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picture credit: NUS

By: 永久浪客/Forever Vagabond

Quoting OECD’s test results comparing the ability of graduates in different countries, BBC reported that Singapore and South Korea may have achieved highly at the school level but their university graduates are below average.

“It casts a light too on how an efficient school system might not translate into success in higher education. South Korea and Singapore, both high achievers at school level, are below average in the graduate rankings,” BBC said.

The OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) test measures the key cognitive and workplace skills needed for individuals to participate in society and for economies to prosper. It was conducted in over 40 countries with 5,000 individuals in each country participating. The test assessed literacy and numeracy skills and the ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments.

The top 10 highest performing graduates are from countries:
1. Japan
2. Finland
3. Netherlands
4. Australia
5. Norway
6. Belgium
7. New Zealand
8. England
9. United States
10. Czech Republic

Italy, Spain and Greece lie at the bottom.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s education director, said, “When it comes to advanced literacy skills, you might be better off getting a high school degree in Japan, Finland or the Netherlands than getting a tertiary degree in Italy, Spain or Greece.”

None of the countries in the top places make much of an appearance in conventional university rankings, noted BBC.

“But while the names of US Ivy League universities are familiar around the world, Norwegian and Australian universities seem to be turning out more capable graduates,” BBC said.

“In the QS World University Rankings, there were 32 US universities in the top 100, but only one from New Zealand. But graduates from New Zealand are higher achieving than their US counterparts.”

Ben Sowter, director of the QS World University Rankings, explained that while the OECD has compared standards across national higher education systems, the university rankings are focused on an elite group of individual universities.

Mr Sowter said if every university in the US was measured in rankings, it would show “they have a share of the worst as well as the best”. The US has a highly polarised education system, but that is not apparent from a ranking system that focuses only on the top, he added.

In Singapore, NUS is ranked 12th and NTU 13th by QS World University Rankings, surpassing even US Ivy League schools like Yale University (15th) and Cornell University (16th). But there are also many Singaporean students not able to make it to NUS and NTU, and have to go for other private and external degrees in Singapore.

Still, overall, it’s strange that Singapore has been doing well in international tests at secondary and upper secondary levels but floundered at graduate level test like PIAAC.

Perhaps as Singaporeans grow up, they become more “obedient” and “stop thinking”, preferring their government to do the thinking?