Students in Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea rank among the world's best in math and science, according to a 43-country survey published jointly Tuesday by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The study, Literacy Skills for the World of Tomorrow, is based on data about 15-year-olds gathered by an OECD international assessment program, said students in Finland rank near the top in terms of literacy.
By contrast, students in Latin American countries such as Peru, Brazil and Chile lag behind in all three areas, even after making allowances for lower national income levels.
The survey by the OECD, an economic think tank representing the world's richest nations, and the UNESCO, was released in London.
The two Paris-based organizations said students in Hong Kong emerged as star performers among the non-OECD economies.
Their overall scores in reading comprehension matched those of students in the top OECD countries -- Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland.
But the Hong Kongers lead the pack, along with students in Japan and South Korea, in mathematical and scientific literacy.
The survey, whose findings are based on samples of 4,500-10,000 youngsters for each participating country, said higher average spending per student does not guarantee higher performance in math, science and reading.
"Italy spends about twice as much per student as [South] Korea, but ... Korea is among the best performing countries in all literacy areas assessed, Italy performs significantly below the OECD average," it said.
According to the study, what really makes a difference, rather than national or individual family wealth, is the quality of national education systems: "The examples of Canada, Finland, Hong Kong-China, Japan, Korea and Sweden show that it is possible to achieve educational quality and equity simultaneously."