Students from Singapore and Korea are the best in the world at problem solving, according to new research published by the OECD.
"Students in these countries are quick learners, highly inquisitive and able to solve unstructured problems in unfamiliar contexts," the OECD said in a press release.
The conclusion is the result of the organization's problem-solving test called PISA, in which 85,000 students from 44 countries took a computerized assessment, asking them to solve a real-life scenario including setting a thermostat and finding the quickest route to a destination.
Japan, Macao-China and Hong Kong-China were among the top performers, while countries including the U.K., Canada and Australia outperformed the OECD average.
But the test results also revealed a lack of skills that are appealing to employers amongst teens. On average, one in five students in the OECD is only able to solve the simplest problems.
"Today's 15-year-olds with poor problem-solving skills will become tomorrow's adults struggling to find or keep a good job," Andreas Schleicher, acting director of education and skills at the OECD, said in a press release.
"Policy makers and educators should reshape their school systems and curricula to help students develop their problem-solving skills which are increasingly needed in today's economies."
One in five 15-year-olds are able to solve the most complex problems in Singapore, Korea and Japan, compared with one in nine across the OECD countries.
The results of the test also reveal a gender gap among top performing students. On average across the OECD countries, there are three top-performing boys for every two top-performing girls, with males outperforming girls in 23 countries. In 16 countries there was no "significant difference" between genders, according to the report, and in five countries girls took the top spot.
Socio-economic background also had a part to play in the performance of children.
"Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to score higher than expected in problem solving than in mathematics, perhaps because after-school opportunities to exercise their skills in problem solving arise in diverse social and cultural contexts," the OECD report said.
Unequal access to high-quality schools still remains an issue and meant disadvantaged students underperformed more privileged children in all subjects tested.