Decline in Teenagers’ Math and Reading Skills Raises Concerns, OECD Survey Finds

Decline in Teenagers' Math and Reading Skills Raises Concerns, OECD Survey Finds

COVID-19 School Closures Only Partially to Blame for Unprecedented Decline, OECD Says

The latest survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reveals a concerning decline in the mathematics and reading skills of teenagers across multiple countries. The survey, which assesses the performance of 15-year-olds in reading, math, and science, has shown some of the steepest drops in skill levels since its inception in 2000. With nearly 700,000 youths participating in the test, the survey provides a comprehensive understanding of global learning standards. While COVID-19 school closures have been cited as a contributing factor, the decline is attributed to underlying structural issues within education systems.

Steep Drops in Performance Observed

According to the OECD survey, there has been a significant decline in reading and mathematics performance since the last round of tests conducted in 2018. On average, reading performance fell by 10 points in OECD countries, while mathematics performance dropped by 15 points. These declines are equivalent to a loss of three-quarters of a year’s worth of learning. Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland experienced particularly sharp drops in mathematics scores.

One in Four Low Performers

The survey revealed that, on average across the OECD, one out of four 15-year-olds tested as low performers in mathematics, reading, and science. These students struggled to use basic algorithms or interpret simple texts, highlighting a significant gap in foundational skills. While COVID-19 disruptions may have played a role, the OECD emphasizes that underlying structural factors within education systems are the primary cause for concern.

Factors Influencing Performance

The OECD identified several factors that correlated with student performance. Countries that provided additional teacher support during COVID-19 school closures generally fared better in the survey. Moreover, access to teachers for special help was found to be crucial in achieving positive results. On the other hand, countries with higher rates of mobile phone use for leisure and reported teacher shortages tended to have poorer results.

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Singapore’s Success and Other High-Performing Countries

Singapore emerged as the top-performing country in mathematics, reading, and science, with students consistently scoring higher than their OECD peers. The results suggest that Singaporean students are three to five years ahead in their learning. Macau, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea also excelled in mathematics and science. Estonia and Canada also achieved commendable scores. In reading, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan earned top marks, even though their spending per student was not significantly higher than the OECD average.


The decline in teenagers’ mathematics and reading skills, as revealed by the OECD survey, raises concerns about the state of global education. While COVID-19 school closures have had some impact, the underlying structural issues within education systems are the primary drivers of this decline. The survey highlights the importance of teacher support, access to resources, and reduced leisure phone usage in achieving positive educational outcomes. The success of countries like Singapore demonstrates that it is possible to excel in education, even without excessive spending per student. Policymakers must address these structural challenges to ensure that future generations are equipped with the necessary skills for success in an increasingly competitive world.

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