Global Study Reveals Alarming Decline in Teenagers’ Educational Performance

Global Study Reveals Alarming Decline in Teenagers' Educational Performance

OECD survey shows significant drops in math and reading skills among 15-year-olds across multiple countries

In a recent survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), concerning findings have emerged regarding the declining mathematics and reading skills of teenagers across numerous countries. The survey, which has been conducted triennially since 2000, assessed the performance of 15-year-olds in math, reading, and science. The results indicate a sharp decline in performance since the last survey in 2018, with COVID-19 school closures only partially to blame. This article will delve into the key findings of the survey, the potential factors contributing to the decline, and highlight countries that have managed to buck the trend.

Steepest Drops in Performance Since 2000

The OECD’s survey, which included nearly 700,000 15-year-olds from 38 developed countries and 44 non-members, revealed alarming drops in performance across multiple subjects. Compared to the 2018 survey, reading performance declined by an average of 10 points in OECD countries, while mathematics performance dropped by 15 points. These declines are equivalent to approximately 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 Teenagers Perform Poorly

The survey found that, on average across the OECD, one out of four 15-year-olds tested as a low performer in mathematics, reading, and science. These students struggle with basic algorithms and have difficulty interpreting simple texts. While over half of the 81 countries surveyed witnessed declines, the extent of the decline varied. It is worth noting that countries that provided additional teacher support during COVID-19 school closures fared better, as did countries with easy teacher access for special help. Conversely, poorer results were associated with higher rates of mobile phone use for leisure and reported teacher shortages.

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Structural Factors and Policy Implications

While the impact of COVID-19 school closures cannot be ignored, the OECD emphasizes that there are underlying structural factors contributing to the decline in educational performance. Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director of education, suggests that these factors are likely to be permanent features of education systems and should be addressed seriously by policymakers. The study highlights the importance of teacher support and access to resources in mitigating the decline. Countries that prioritized these factors saw better results.

Singapore Leads the Way

Despite the overall decline, Singapore emerged as a shining example of educational excellence. Singaporean students scored the highest in mathematics, reading, and science, with results suggesting they were three to five years ahead of their OECD peers. Macau, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea also outperformed in mathematics and science. Estonia and Canada also scored well in these subjects. In reading, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan earned top marks, with Ireland and Japan’s spending per student being no higher than the OECD average.


The latest OECD survey on global learning standards paints a concerning picture of the declining math and reading skills among teenagers across multiple countries. While COVID-19 school closures have played a role, underlying structural factors within education systems are likely the main contributors. The survey emphasizes the importance of teacher support, access to resources, and minimizing leisure mobile phone use in improving educational outcomes. Singapore’s exceptional performance highlights the potential for excellence even in challenging times. Policymakers must address these issues urgently to ensure that future generations receive the education they deserve.

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