OECD warns West of losing global edge in education

Tue Dec 7, 2010 11:59am EST
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By Brian Love

PARIS (Reuters) - The world's richest countries risk losing the edge gained by better education as standards rise sharply in for example South Korea and the Chinese city of Shanghai, the OECD said Tuesday.

In a report based on surveys of half a million 15-year-old students in 65 countries, the Paris-based OECD noted a drop in reading skills in the United States and many western European countries in the past decade, most notably Ireland and Sweden.

In contrast, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development signaled marked improvement in reading proficiency in countries such as Peru, Chile, Brazil, Indonesia, Latvia and Poland, albeit from low starting points in most of those cases.

While wealthy Western economies still ranked far higher, the OECD rated many of them as average or little more than average, weaker than before and way behind a country such as South Korea, which outshone all other countries on the list.

"It is a warning to advanced economies that they cannot take for granted that they will forever have 'human capital' superior to that in other parts of the world," said Angel Gurria, secretary general of the OECD.

"At a time of intensified global competition, they will need to work hard to maintain a knowledge and skill base that keeps up with changing demands."

The OECD said South Korea offered a striking example because its achievement rate went beyond that of a privileged elite.

"(South) Korea's average performance was already high in 2000, but Korean policy makers were concerned that only a narrow elite achieved levels of excellence in PISA (the report)," said the OECD.   Continued...

<p>Children of migrant workers attend a class at a primary school in Shanghai March 5, 2010. REUTERS/Aly Song</p>