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If there is one area where Korea has jostled to the front of the OECD field in 20 years, it is in education. Take school performance: according to the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a renowned global benchmark which surveys competence among 15-year-olds around the world, Korea’s young students perform better at school than most of their peers in other OECD countries. In the last test in 2012, Korea led the OECD field in mathematics, was second to Japan for reading (our chart), and was in the top seven for science. Some 64 countries and economies with comparable data took the tests. In the 2009 tests Korea had also commanded a top spot. Korea’s consistently high rankings reflect excellent performances of students in Asia more widely, with Japan, ShanghaiChina, Hong Kong-China and Singapore all performing strongly, which the OECD director for Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher, puts down to a strong

PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) reading score Mean score, 2012 540 520 500 480 460 440 420 400 Me xic Slo o va k R Chi ep le ub Tu lic rk Gr ey e Slo ece ve Ice nia la Sw nd ed e Isr n H a Lu ung el xe ary mb o Po urg rtu ga Sp l a Au in str Cz i ech It a Re aly pu b OE Den lic CD ma av rk era ge US No UK rw a Fr y Ge ance rm an y B Sw elgiu it m Ne zerla the nd rla A nd Ne ustr s w Ze alia ala Es nd ton Po ia la Ca nd na d Ire a la Fin nd lan Ko d rea Jap an

Korea’s young students excel–


commitment to 21st century learning and investment in teachers, rather than, say, computer use in the classroom, which in technology-savvy Korea, is actually below the OECD average. The main challenge for Korean school education is less a matter of achieving excellence than how to improve wellbeing among children by reducing study pressure and finding a better work-play balance.

–as women outsmart men Traditionally, men have tended to be more educated than women in Korea, especially when it comes to higher education. Only 34% of doctoral graduates or equivalent graduates are women which is among the lowest shares across G7 and OECD countries. However, women in Korea have made great strides in educational attainment over the past decade.

The OECD PISA 2015 survey of some 72 countries will be released in December. Visit For a more complete ranking across mathematics, reading and science, see “Class progress”, in OECD Observer No 297, Q4 2013, see Avvisati, Francesco (2014), “Digital learning in schools” in OECD Observer No 301, Q4,

Women graduates 24-35 year-olds who have attained tertiary education by gender, %, 2014 80




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In the OECD PISA tests, for instance, 15 year-old girls now outperform boys in reading assessments. Among younger adults aged 25-34 years old, some 72% of women have obtained a tertiary education degree, compared with 64% of men. The gender gap between male and female doctoral graduates has also decreased due to national policies aimed at supporting female human resource development and social activities. Women accounted for 32% of doctoral graduates in 2011, 34% in 2013, and 36% in 2015. In addition, 63% of young Korean women reported achieving a higher educational

Note: France and Korea data are for 2013 rather than 2014 Source: OECD. Table A1.4b. See Annex 3 for notes ( education/education-at-a-glance-19991487.htm)

attainment than their parents, which suggests upward generational mobility in education. Despite these impressive educational achievements, female labour market outcomes remain poor compared with men, with the Korean gender pay gap remaining the highest among OECD

countries at 36.6%. Closing it will be a key policy challenge in the years ahead. See “Korea’s work-life balance policies for sustainable growth” in OECD Yearbook 2015, Visit and

OECD Observer No 308 Q4 2016


OECD Observer No 308 Q4 2016  
OECD Observer No 308 Q4 2016