OECD Report Ranks Young Koreans #1 in Creative Problem Solving

Article from News1:

In OECD Report, Korean Middle School and High School Student Rank First in Creative Problem Solving

Korean middle school and high school students have ranked first in creative problem solving skills according to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD).

The disparities within and across schools when it came to problem solving skills was lower than the OECD average. However, the report showed that male students had stronger problem solving skills than females.

On the first of April, the OECD also revealed results from the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) comparing creative problem solving skills across various countries.

The PISA survey assessed the competencies of 15 year olds in math, reading and science, as well as their creative problem solving abilities. The PISA survey is conducted once every three years. Last December, PISA released the results of the portion of the 2012 survey dealing with math competencies, in which Korea ranked first.

In the assessment on creative problem solving skills, Korean students scored 561 points, putting them in first place among OECD economies.

In the OECD’s survey of 44 countries, including member countries of the OECD, Singaporean students scored 562 points, giving them a slight lead over Korean students. Japan came in third place, followed by Macao, and Hong Kong.

Korea’s average score was one point below Singapore’s average score, but considering the margin of error, both countries’ scores are considered between first and second place.

Korea and Singapore are both ranked between first and second place, with Korean students scoring an average of 561 points, and Singaporean students scoring one point higher.

Korean students led the OECD countries with 27.6% scoring a level five or six out of a possible six levels. Only 6.9% of Korean students scored below the second level, resulting in the lowest percentage of low performers among the countries.

In at least one of three areas assessed (reading, math and science), there were three times as many top scoring Korean students (20.9%) compared to students who only did well on the problem solving portion(6.7%).

The disparities within and across schools when it came to problem solving skills was lower than the OECD average.

There was a smaller disparity in Korean students’ problem solving abilities across schools compared to students in Singapore, Macao, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taiwan. This indicated a relatively equal quality of education across Korean schools.

The disparity in scores on problem solving across schools was 28.1%, less than a half of the disparity in scores across students in schools, which came out to be 60.2%.

The Ministry of Education explains the low disparity compared to other countries a result of Korea’s relatively equal quality of education across schools.

The report also showed that male students had stronger problem solving skills than females.

Male students scored on average 13 points higher than female students, and of the students who scored in the high range (a level 5 or 6 out of 6 possible levels), the rate of males was 7.1% percent higher than that of females.

Korea’s disparity in scores for problem solving questions related to society and economy was also lower than the OECD average. Korean students scored at the same level as those from Japan, Hong Kong, Macao, Finland, and Canada.

There was a positive correlation between scoring high on patience and persistence in problem solving, and higher overall scores on the problem solving portion. Males scored higher than females on patience and persistence in problem solving.

A representative from the Ministry of Education said, “Problem solving skills are not just one of four competencies (the other three being math, reading, science), but are a complex skill associated with multiple competencies.” The representative also noted, “This is an important resource that combines the knowledge of many subject areas, and promotes creativity that you can apply to real life situations.”

The 2012 PISA surveyed about 65 countries, (including 34 OECD member countries, and 31 non-member countries) and 510,000 students. In Korea, a total of 5201 students from 140 high schools and 16 middle schools participated in the survey.

Comments from Naver:

Yep, they ranked first due to forced education.

313c****: [Responding to above]

We have to comprehensively examine whether the expression “rote learning” is applicable and what the pros and cons of the current education system are. If you think it is always bad to practice something that you do not enjoy, you may think negatively of sketching practice to get better at drawing, running drills to get better at sports, or vocal exercises to get better at singing. But if the person chooses their own path, he or she doesn’t feel that way.

Considering the number of students who are thrown into secondary education for the university entrance exam, the negative connotations of “rote learning” are applicable to a certain degree. However, the criticism cannot simply be based on the fact that knowledge is being fed to the students. Innovation can come from a deep understanding of the existing knowledge. In fact, rote learning is inevitable at a fundamental level. Even the most talented soccer players have done numerous running exercises and weight training exercises.

No matter how good you are, you still need to learn by rote at the basic level to get a better understanding of an advanced topic. The question is whether the majority of Korean citizens need to receive such an education. Obviously, an abnormally large amount of people go through such education in Korea, but in a country where human resources are the largest assets, it’s essential to have an educated workforce. The real problem is that students do not have many options besides the academic path.

Results from international tests show that rote learning is quite effective. There are still many who keep bringing up the Nobel prize mantra, but students in China and Japan also undergo similar or even more intensive rote learning. They are still among the top ranked in the world for research outcomes. It is not that the creativity of top researchers is undermined by the education system. It depends on the national research environment and funding opportunities. In Korea, there is even academic discontinuity because of the military service.

The biggest reason why there hasn’t been a Nobel prize winner from Korea is that as a latecomer, Korea is still lagging behind countries that are very robust in research output. These countries have a supportive research environment, resources, and funding opportunities.[The Korean government set up the Institute for Basic Science in 2011.] Even if the current youth is talented, isn’t it usually middle aged or older researchers who receive the Nobel prize? You have to wait for 3 or 4 more decades to see their results. I am personally optimistic. It is nonsense to expect the water to boil as soon as the burner gets hot. Anyway I just wanted to say that rote learning does not necessarily ruin genius.

So what about the cons? Ironically, [rote learning] is the most detrimental for average and below average students who have no academic motivation. They don’t find studying interesting and don’t understand why they need to learn. They get bad grades. They end up achieving nothing at school. Even if they could find another path that suits them better, it is too risky for them to try. The flexibility of the education system as well as individual assistance should be improved for them.

It is ironic that the level of comments written by high schoolers here shows why education is important. Even when I was a student, I had a higher level of critical thinking than these guys…


They are forced to study so much. No wonder they ranked first.

pabl****: [Responding to above]

Do you guys know what problem solving skills are? They thought Korean students scored high just because of private education. They created new types of problems that require creative thinking. These were introduced in the test around 2005. Korean students topped that one, so foreign educators realized that it’s not just because of private education. You guys are barking when you don’t know anything.


They get smarter by learning useless things they don’t even need to learn.

djki****: [Responding to above]

You could say they teach you what you won’t need for your future career but as a high school student, how would you be able to know exactly what you won’t need? When I was a high school student, I really hated some of my science classes, but they were necessary later when I was trying to change programs. If I hadn’t taken the chemistry and biology classes that I hated so much in high school, I doubt I could’ve changed my program. It would definitely have been impossible if I had only taken the physics and math subjects I liked. Think about it. Life is long and there are many things to do. If you only learn the minimum in high school, it won’t help you.

Ah, of course, if you are stressed out because you aren’t smart enough to follow along in class, it is better to quit. Studying isn’t the only way. But if that is not the case, it is good for you to try to enjoy learning each subject. In fact, any subject can be interesting if you are introduced to it in a context that is compatible with your cognitive learning style, but it’s hard because each student is different. What I regret is that I couldn’t learn French in high school because they only taught Japanese and Chinese. I loved watching French movies. Sigh, I was so disappointed. I even bought expensive French magazines and tried to study French on my own, but you know I had little time due to school work.


In Korea, students get worse once they enter university…

ange****: [Responding to above]

I studied harder in university… What was your major?


The outcome of rote learning.

whdg****: [Responding to above]

Rote learning? If you kids don’t know anything, just stay quiet. Korean education has emphasized the importance of problem solving skills since the 5th curriculum in 1987. We see the results in the article above. The 5th, 6th, 7th, 2007 and 2009 revised curricula have all focused on developing problem solving skills, tsk.

fkql****: [Responding to dyor****]

Have you even tried solving the PISA test questions? You wouldn’t parrot “rote learning” if you have actually tried solving them, ke ke. You cannot solve those PISA problems just through rote learning. Do you just want to bash Korean education no matter what?

chun****: [Responding to dyor****]

In fact, you cannot learn math completely by rote. The problems aren’t that simple. The hardest questions that differentiate the top students from the rest always require creative problem solving skills. However, you can see the negative outcomes of rote learning in subjects that stress memorization. You may do even better than some native English speakers on English tests. But when you have to hold a conversation with them, you will just repeat, “How are you? I’m fine. Thank you.” That is the problem.


Then why hasn’t there yet been a Nobel prize winner from Korea??! Now that’s one of the real seven wonders of the world.

quee****: [Responding to above]

I see many fellows here who go on about “rote learning,” which they superficially picked up from somewhere. If you consider the poor support for science, Korea is doing pretty well. Korea has achieved remarkable economic growth, but it is delusional to think Korea is on par with those top countries. Actual research for natural science began in Korea in the 1980’s. It hasn’t been long. You can’t win Nobel prizes that easily.

didt****: [Responding to valu****]

All the smart kids are attending specialized science high schools which have become schools that prepare students to become medical doctors. Students even complain that doctors these days don’t make much money, but they still attend medical school. The fact that science researchers are treated poorly in Korea is a problem. The students at foreign language high schools and international high schools try to become judges or prosecutors. Regular high schools have been standardized, so there are no more prestigious regular high schools. Students will go to some mediocre colleges and prepare for exams to become government employees. Only some top students from technical high schools will be able to become factory managers. The rest will depend on part-time jobs.

para****: [Responding to valu****]

Talk about Nobel prizes after giving some support first. All the smart kids who attend science or foreign language high schools try to become medical doctors, judges or lawyers. Korea is not in the top 10 OECD countries in terms of its investment in fundamental science. Physics and chemistry are the main fields for Nobel prizes but who really studies pure physics in Korea? Everyone goes towards the IT, applied physics or engineering fields where they can make money. You will go hungry if you study natural science in Korea. Because the support is pitiful, Korean researchers always have to go to Japan or Europe to use their facilities. There are no domestic companies that make materials they need for experiments so they have to import everything from Japan. Ah, there is one thing they make nicely. They make awesome SiO2 PCBs, ke ke.


Highest youth suicide rates among the OECD countries.

dmsw****: [Responding to above]

What bullshit. How can a comment like this get so many up-votes? Korea’s youth suicide rates are about mid-level among OECD countries. What kind of rumor are you spreading? Korea’s suicide rates are among the highest because of the extremely high elderly suicide rates.


No. 1 in suicide, teenage smoking, divorce, aging, elderly poverty, work hours, gender gap in salaries, cancer, abortion. The worst at welfare for the disabled. 32nd on the happiness index, 29th in welfare expenditures. You know?

toto****: [Responding to above]

No. 1 at making inflammatory statements and your comment is one example.


They study for 15 hours a day. Of course, they should do well. Damn, it’s so hard. ㅠ

alca****: [Responding to above]

?? 15 hours a day??????????????? Stop bullshitting. Even those who entered Seoul National University couldn’t study that much.


The worst at community spirit.

xxxy****: [Responding to above]

What an asshat. You think Koreans lack freaking worthless collectivism? Bullshit, ke ke ke. Koreans need more individualism. We need to get past the goddamn society where people are nosing into others’ personal matters and measure their worth by comparing it to others. You primitive bastard.

Jay.h also contributed to this article.

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