The 8 Top Performing Counties in the World Education Ranking

The Programe for International Student Assessment, known as PISA, has recently released its anticipated world education ranking. Held every three years, but delayed due to the pandemic, the ranking looks at mean scores from students in each country based on maths, reading, and science tests.

If you’re moving abroad with children, the education provision may have an impact on where you move. Below, we look into each country’s score and investigate why the education there is so proficient. Remember, you can keep you and your family protected while you’re abroad with international health insurance for families.


Singapore had the highest overall score, of 560. This breaks down to 575 in maths, 543 in reading, and 561 in science, which are all higher than OECD average in each subject.

Education in Singapore is seen as being among the best in the world. It’s believed that this is partly due to the teaching style in the region. It focuses on a narrower but deeper curriculum, and the class will not progress to the next part until every student understands. This means that the entire class is able to get through the syllabus. Students who are struggling are given extra sessions to help increase their understanding.

There is also a focus in Singapore on training great quality teachers. Each teacher gets 100 hours of training every year, to ensure they have the most up-to-date and best teaching techniques for their students. Teachers are generally well-paid, including in the public sector, which helps to recruit and retain excellent individuals.

Overall, Singapore puts an emphasis and focus on good education, and the government puts in vast investment to support this. The combination of teaching methods and quality teachers means that the region can provide great education for students.


Macau is the second top performing country in education, with an overall score of 535. This breaks down to 552 for maths, 510 for reading, and 543 for science. Interestingly, Macau was only seventh for reading and third for science, but with such a high maths score, the country was boosted to second overall. All scores are above the OECD average.  

Macau has a culture that prioritises and values education and personal development. Children in Macau have access to 15 years of free education. Many schools are private or subsidised – there are around ten public schools and 64 private schools in the region. Most operate as grammar schools, but there are also some vocational schools. Many schools in Macau are run by Catholic organisations, although the Government formulates policies around the educational system and administration of schools that every school must follow.


Taiwan ranked joint-third on the top performing countries for education, with an overall score of 533. This breaks down to 547 for maths, 515 for reading, and 537 for science. The region was third in maths, fifth in reading and fourth in science.

In Taiwan, education has high priority among families. Parents generally have high expectations for their children, and there is a focus on persistence and effort. Teachers will keep parents updated with how their children are getting on at school, and families will usually step in when extra support is needed for their children to get good grades.

Taiwan provides 12 years of education for primary and secondary, and over 80% of students go on to tertiary education. In 2018, a new curriculum was introduced to promote a more holistic approach to student development. It ensured adaptability, creativity, communication, and social participation were all included in teaching, rather than simply rote-learning. This rollout was accompanied by strong support from the Ministry of Education, with resources and updated training for teachers.


Japan ranks joint-third in the top performing countries in the world for education, with an overall score of 533.This breaks down to 536 for maths (fifth in the world), 516 for reading (third in the world) and 547 for science (second in the world).

Japan has a 99% literacy rate, and is globally renowned for the quality of its education. The education system has a focus on discipline and is highly organised. Children are taught from a young age to respect the teachers and some schools require the students to clean classrooms and communal areas, in an effort to encourage further respect for their surroundings.

A wide range of subjects are taught from a young age, including STEAM, coding, and robotics. Children are encouraged to study during the school holidays, and many take part in extra-curricular activities outside of school hours.

South Korea

South Korea comes fourth in the top performing countries for education, with an overall score of 523. This breaks down to 527 for maths (sixth in the world), 515 for reading (fourth in the world), and 528 for science (fifth in the world).

Education is highly valued across South Korea, especially in terms of personal and professional development. It’s seen as rigorous, disciplined, and demanding. Students typically spend around 12 hours per day studying and the curriculum is focused on tests and examination results. There has been some criticism around just how rigorous the education system is, with concerns around students being overworked, stressed, and exhausted, as well as potentially stifling creativity.

Teaching is a valued profession in South Korea and is generally well-paid. The Government spends around 5.4% of GDP on education, which is just above the OECD average.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong ranks fifth in the top performing countries for education, with an overall score of 520. This amounts to scores of 540 in maths (fourth in the world), 500 in reading (11th in the world), and 520 for science (seventh in the world).

Hong Kong’s education system is recognised globally as one of the best in the world. The region prioritises education, with a focus on high quality across the board. This includes teacher training and recruitment, finding individuals who are particularly knowledgeable in their field. Most teachers have at least a master’s degree, and the profession is well respected in Hong Kong society.

The education system in Hong Kong focuses on examinations and testing, but it is not solely interested in rote learning. There is also an emphasis on skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and communication, resulting in well-rounded individuals.


Estonia ranks sixth in the rankings of top performing countries for education, with an overall score of 515. This breaks down to 510 in maths (seventh in the world), 511 for reading (sixth in the world), and 526 for science (sixth in the world).

Estonia is the first European country on the rankings. The country follows an egalitarian approach to education, which aims to provide all children with quality teaching, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

Schools are given freedom and flexibility to develop their own curriculums to complement the national curriculum, which can expand student’s learning. Teachers are able to choose what learning resources best supports their provision, such as textbooks and teaching methods. Most teachers have at least a master’s degree and they spend less time in the classroom than most other teachers in the OECD, so they can dedicate more time to preparing lessons and also for their own training.

Technology is widely used in the education system in Estonia, with students accessing electronic timetables and even some exams being done online. There is also a national online library with over 20,000 educational resources for students.  


Canada ranks seventh in the world for top performing countries by education, with an overall score of 506. This breaks down to 497 in maths (ninth in the world), 507 in reading (eighth in the world) and 515 in science (eighth in the world).

Canada has world-class educational provision across primary, secondary, and tertiary education. Over 95% of Canadians choose to send their children to public school, a testament to the excellence. The country aims to offer quality education to all, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

Canada has great educational infrastructure and can offer a developed and well-rounded curriculum. This routinely includes classroom lessons, lectures, laboratory sessions, and more. The educational system as a whole focuses on research, analysis, and participation, rather than just rote learning.

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