Educational attainment and student performance

The level of education of the population gives an indication of its stock and quality of human resources. A higher stock and quality of human resources may mean higher labour productivity and hence a higher income-generating capacity. The average number of years spent in education among the working-age population is the most readily available and cross-nationally comparable measure of educational attainment across the Asia/Pacific region.

The United Nation Sustainable Development Goal 4.1 targets to ensure all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education (12 years) leading to relevant and effective outcomes by 2030. However, on average, the population over 25 years of age in Asia/Pacific economies has been in education for almost nine years with large cross-national differences (Figure 3.9). The population over 25 in Australia, Georgia, Japan, and New Zealand spent more years in education than the OECD average (12 years), while in some countries – Bhutan, Cambodia, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste – the number of years spent in education is below five years on average. There is a gender gap in educational attainment in Asia/Pacific economies in favour of men. In 2019, men over 25 in Asia/Pacific economies spent on average 0.6 years more in education than women: this gender gap in mean years of schooling is significantly wider in India (3.3 years) and Pakistan (2.5 years).

Trends over the past decade, suggest that the average years of schooling of those aged 25 and over increased across both OECD and Asia/Pacific economies (Figure 3.10). Especially, the Maldives, Malaysia and Pakistan are rapidly increasing the average level of educational attainment. Over the 2005-19 period, many countries including Armenia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives – have been closing the gender gap in mean years of schooling, while the gender gap increased in Kazakhstan and Timor-Leste.

Future educational attainment levels in the Asia/Pacific region may well increase further relative to the OECD. Students from Singapore and large Chinese cities outscored students from OECD countries in mathematics and reading competency tests of the 2018 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (Figure 3.11). The performance of students in Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Thailand was comparable with their peers in Colombia and Mexico, but lagged behind the OECD average.


[2] UNESCO (2017), Unpacking Sustainable Development Goal 4 Education 2030 Guide,

[1] United Nation Development Programme (2021), Mean years of schooling (years),

[3] United Nation Development Programme (2020), Human Development Report 2020; The next frontier-Human development and the Anthropocene,

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