Eastern success due to 'traditions of learning'
Hong Kong's success in the Pisa assessment has much to do with Chinese traditions and expectations, according to the region's deputy secretary for education.
Hong Kong achieved the highest average score in the world on the mathematical literacy scale, ahead of Japan and South Korea. In science, it came third.
More surprisingly to educators in the special administrative region of China, it did well in reading literacy, coming in sixth, ahead of Korea and the UK.
Chris Wardlaw, the deputy secretary, said: "I'm not surprised about the Hong Kong Chinese doing well in science and maths. But it is particularly interesting that it has come out better in reading than some imagined."
He said other studies, such as the recent Progress on International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) report, suggested that while reading comprehension and recall were good, applied reading and creativity were lacking.
The Pirls study ranked Hong Kong bottom for nine-year-old students'
interest in reading. He also noted that there was more equality of outcomes in Hong Kong education than other countries. "I am not that surprised as there are fewer socio-economic differences across schools than in, say, Australia."
While gender differences occur in Hong Kong, they are less marked than in many countries. He put this down to more positive attitudes towards learning among both boys and girls.
"Recently I went to a school where about 100 students were sitting in groups, with no adult supervision, studying in silence after school. This was a study group and there was total attentiveness. That would not be possible in Australia.
"I think we can learn a lot from Chinese traditions about learning. Maybe in the Anglo world we should have much higher expectations of what students are capable of in terms of attentiveness."
The Pisa study involved 4,500 Hong Kong students, according to Dr Esther HoSui-chu, assistant professor in the department of education administration and policy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, responsible for the test programme.
"It is good news. Our educators are doing a very good job in providing high-quality learning to all students," she said.
Rosalind Chan, chairman of the Association of English Medium Schools and a principal, said she was not surprised by the results.
"For science we are at least a year ahead of students in the US, and for maths we are two years ahead. Our education is really quite good."
This was despite widespread criticism by education reformers that schooling in Hong Kong is driven by rote learning and exams.
"Ask registrars of universities overseas and they will tell you they like Hong Kong students best. They study well and are well prepared," she said.
"I am not against hard work and have always been proud of Hong Kong education."