Where are the school systems best?

The students from East Asian countries did best in the Pisa study. The young people in Shanghai, China, achieved top marks in reading, arithmetic and science. This is followed by South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong as well as Finland as the only European country. Germany is well behind, but has been able to narrow the gap to the top in recent years and has steadily improved.

A number of other industrialized countries lie ahead of Germany, including Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland. As in previous studies, Japan also performed above average again, so that Asian countries clearly dominate the top positions in Pisa. Thus, two different pedagogical traditions prove to be equally successful in the international Pisa tests: on the one hand, school cultures that build on performance and diligence - up to and including drill - as in China and South Korea. And on the other hand, there are more liberal, educational reform-inspired school systems like in Finland.

However, there are also similarities. The prestige of teachers in both Finland and South Korea is extremely high. The educators there are trained very carefully and have to face difficult selection processes. In addition, some of the schools are better equipped than in Germany. In Finland, for example, it is common for additional professionals to support the teachers, such as psychologists, social workers and nurses.

For the first time, Germany is above average in two subjects

Strictly speaking, the Pisa studies only say something about the quality of schools to a limited extent. Basic skills in reading and understanding texts, arithmetic and interpreting scientific phenomena are measured. Corresponding knowledge is also shaped outside of school, especially in families and through the media. Tutoring institutes, in which, for example, many Chinese from the middle and upper classes let their children learn, could have contributed to the success of the Asian countries.

The German students have continuously improved their Pisa studies over the past few years. For the first time, her test scores in two subjects - mathematics and natural sciences - are statistically well above the average for industrialized countries. In the first study ten years ago, however, the Germans achieved significantly worse results than the average in all subjects. Above all, the underperformers have gotten better in Germany and thus contribute to the stronger performance.

The performance gap between good and weak students is no longer as deep as it was ten years ago. Migrant children have also improved. However, on average they are still a considerable distance from their classmates. Overall, social origin continues to have a strong influence on school success in Germany. The integration commissioner of the federal government, Maria Böhmer (CDU), called on the federal states to launch an education offensive for migrants. Schools with a high proportion of migrants needed more teachers and school social workers, said Böhmer.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had almost half a million randomly selected students tested worldwide in the spring of 2009. In Germany, more than 220 schools took part in the tests.