Every year in this country we spend a day in self-abasement when the results of the OECD’s International Maths and Science Test of schoolchildren is published. We find that Britain is anything from 15th to 30th on the list. Surely, we say to ourselves — or our newspaper editorials do — we should be somewhere near the top! Instead, a bunch of Asian countries dominate the list. If, in one particular year, we happened to have slipped down the league table from the previous year, we chastise ourselves even more than usual.
But it’s as well to reflect on the whole list of the 76 countries that have taken part. And then to look at the marks obtained in the maximum score of 600. And then to work out some percentages to get a much more balanced view of the whole show. The latest results published in May this year show Singapore at the top of the list, closely followed by Hong Kong and China, with 95% of maximum marks. The highest European countries are Finland (7th), Estonia (8th) and Switzerland (9th) all with 90% of full marks.
But what about Britain and Germany? They happen to be the most prolific countries in the world regarding numbers of Nobel prizes in science and the Field medal in maths. On a population basis, they are more than five times more creative than America, number three in the prizes games. They are, respectively, 13th and 19th in the OECD list with 88% and 85% of full marks compared with America, 29th in the list with 82%.
The question is — Should rich British, German and American parents be sending their schoolchildren and college students to Singapore, Hong Kong and China? Or should those of the latter countries be sending their children to ours? It’s a no-brainer, of course. Creativity is something to do with lateral thinking, relaxation and all sorts of other cultural subtleties which are clearly missing in authoritarian regimes.