THE United States spends twice as much money on education as Taiwan, yet Taiwanese students are better at math than American pupils.
The size of an education budget does not guarantee good academic results. A survey carried out by Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., that evaluated the mathematics and science levels of 13-year-olds in 20 countries placed South Korea and Taiwan at the top of the class.
``There is such a strong cultural tradition in southeast Asian countries that huge value is put on education,'' says Emilie Barrier, head of the Paris-based International Centre for Pedagogical Studies. ``Parents make the necessary sacrifices and require their children to study.''
Similarly, Hong Kong and Singapore stood out in a survey by the International Association for the Evaluation of School Achievement on reading levels of 9-to-14-year-olds.
A 1991 report on world education by UNESCO, an agency of the United Nations, states that ``the world distribution of revenue does not always coincide with the ability or the desire to learn.''
In the United States, poor results in math and science can be explained by the problems besetting public schools and the way school syllabuses are devised. ``American schools have no curriculum as such. At the secondary level they have a minimum compulsory core of studies, and the pupils spend too much time on peripheral subjects,'' says Francois Orivel, director of the Economics of Education Research Institute in Poitiers, France. ``For the American system to improve, what is needed is not more money but better organization,'' he says.
Still, it is rare to find good school results in developing countries. ``These countries generally have poorer results than those of developed ones. The law of wealth still holds most of the time,'' Mr. Orivel says.
Venezuela, for example, has mediocre school results. Yet these are not so bad given the lack of textbooks, libraries, and other resources in schools there. ``Venezuela's poor results are not due to incompetence or badly trained teachers,'' Ms. Barrier says. ``It is reasonable to suppose that improved resources would lead to improved school achievement.''