SINGAPORE: Singapore is among the top in the world when it comes to upward educational mobility, a report has found, with nearly six in 10 adults better educated than their parents.
This is higher than the global average of about 40 per cent, according to an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report released on Tuesday (Oct 23).
The report, titled Equity in Education: Breaking Down Barriers to Social Mobility, also found that over time, Singapore has narrowed the education attainment gap due to family background.
Among the oldest cohort of adults (aged 56 to 65), those with highly educated parents were 55 percentage points more likely to get a diploma or degree than those with lowly educated parents.
But among the youngest cohort of adults (aged 26 to 35), the difference was only 36 percentage points.
"In Singapore, equity has improved markedly over time," the report said.
Across all age cohorts, adults with tertiary-educated parents are 18 times more likely to get a degree or diploma than those with lowly educated parents.
Singapore also performed well in academic resilience, which the report defines as the ability of disadvantaged students – those whose socio-economic status is in the lowest 25 per cent – to do better than "predicted by their family background".
For example, the report found that nearly half of Singapore's 15-year-old disadvantaged students ranked in the international top quarter of disadvantaged students who did better than expected.
This is higher than the OECD average of about 30 per cent, based on results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for science in 2015.
The report also found that more than 40 per cent of Singapore's disadvantaged students perform well in the core skills of reading, mathematics and science, higher than the OECD average of 25 per cent.
But the report highlighted that only a small percentage of Singapore's disadvantaged students managed to compete with top performers within the country.
About 10 per cent of these students were able to attain a score of at least 631, which marks the "top quarter" in science scores in Singapore.
During a briefing on Tuesday, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Education (MOE) attributed this to the fact that Singapore's top performers do very well.
For instance, Finland's top quarter score of 599 means that 14 per cent of its disadvantaged students were able to attain this standard. Using the Finnish standard, 17 per cent of Singapore's disadvantaged students would be able to match the score.
Rather than "capping the performance of high-achieving" students, the spokesperson said the ministry would continue to support low-achieving students through initiatives like levelling-up programmes and student care centres.
The report also found a slight increase from 2009 in the number of disadvantaged students in some schools in Singapore.
According to the report, about 46 per cent of disadvantaged students in Singapore are in "disadvantaged schools", defined as schools with high proportions of disadvantaged students.
"Disadvantaged students who attend disadvantaged schools face a 'double disadvantage'," the report said.
"In addition to the disparities in learning opportunities they already face as a result of their family's socio-economic status, they are often confronted with more difficult learning environments that tend to be found in schools with a lower socio-economic profile."
But the MOE spokesperson rejected the notion of a "double disadvantage", pointing out that all of Singapore's schools are "well-resourced".
However, the spokesperson acknowledged that "more work needs to be done to ensure good social diversity and mixing in our school system".
For example, starting from next year’s Secondary 1 posting exercise, MOE is reserving 20 per cent of school places for students without affiliation to the secondary school.
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In all, the spokesperson said MOE was "heartened" to see that Singapore's inter-generational educational mobility has improved over the years, citing initiatives like having multiple pathways to technical and vocational education.
"We will continue with our efforts to enable all students to develop holistically, to as high a level as they are able to," the spokesperson added.
The OECD report studied data from 72 economies.