Students living in rural regions of Japan are more likely to underperform academically compared to their peers from urban areas, according to a new international report released Wednesday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The new findings come from analysis taken from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey released in 2012 and are part of the first in-depth examination of factors affecting low academic performance. The triennial PISA global study looks at the competency of 15-year-olds in mathematics, reading and science.

According to the survey, 53 percent of Japanese students in rural municipalities failed to achieve mathematical competence at a level needed to function effectively in the workplace and society. The number stood at 10 percent for those in urban areas.

The gap was the widest among some 60 countries and regions that participated in the 2012 study.

Overall, however, 11 percent of students underperformed in mathematics in Japan, the seventh-lowest among participating countries, the report said. The OECD defines low performers as students who fail to reach level 2 in the six-level PISA survey.

Other risk factors that can cause low performance include socio-economic disadvantages and a lack of pre-primary education, the report says.

For example, in Japan, students from poor families or backgrounds were four times more likely to post low scores than those coming from privileged backgrounds, according to the study.

The report also showed low expectations and a lack of support from teachers and parents affected students academically.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for Education and Skills, said low scores are not the result of a single factor, but multiple influences that put students at a disadvantage and increase the risk of holding them back scholastically.

But the disadvantages they face, such as poverty or the lack of pre-primary education, can be overcome by increasing the amount of support provided by schools, he said.

“Education policy and practice can help overcome this issue,” Schleicher said. “It needs to be made a priority and given the necessary resources so that every child can succeed at school.”

According to the report, around 4.5 million 15-year-old students in OECD countries fail to achieve the most basic level of proficiency in reading, mathematics and/or science, and that the figure is often much higher in nonOECD countries.

The Paris-based OECD has conducted the PISA study since 2000. Japanese students scored all-time highs in every category in the 2012 survey.

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