Asian countries dominated the top places in the latest PISA survey of 15-year-olds in 72 countries and economies. Singapore came top of the table for its teaching of science, reading and mathematics.

“Singapore is a standout performer,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria at the global launch of the report in London. “In Singapore, one in five students master the most advanced scientific problems and demonstrate that they think like scientists.”

The five top-performing countries in the PISA tests, which were carried out in 2015, were Singapore, Japan, Estonia, Taiwan and Finland.

However the report found that only 12 countries assessed had improved their performance in science since 2006, despite an increase in spending per primary and secondary student of 20 percent over the same period.

“A decade of scientific breakthroughs has failed to translate into breakthroughs in science performance in schools,” said Gurria, adding that science education “isn’t keeping up” with the “lightning speed” of scientific progress.

The results also suggested that the key to success in science teaching, even more than well-equipped and well-staffed departments, was how much time was spent teaching the subject. Those teachers who actually demonstrated scientific ideas and who adapted their teaching to meet students’ needs produced better results, the report said.

That tended to happen in smaller classes, and students who received this kind of teaching were more likely to go on to a science-related career, it added.

The report also suggested that the study of science needed to be done in school, not at home.

“School systems where students spend more time learning after school, by doing homework, receiving additional instruction or in private study, tend to perform less well in science,” the report said.

Asian countries dominated the top 10 of the PISA table, with Japan recording the second-highest average score behind Singapore. Macao, Hong Kong and the mainland Chinese territories that were tested also featured in the top 10, as did Taiwan and Vietnam.

PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, was devised by the OECD to measure countries’ performance in teaching 15-year-olds the core subjects.

PISA tests are carried out every three years and in 2015 they covered all 35 OECD countries and 37 partner countries and economies.