Which country in the world has the best education depends upon how the systems have been measured and which ratings table you look at.
However, one of the most recent and thorough reports was published by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) last year. Written by Eric Hanushek from Stanford University and Ludger Woessmann from Munich University, it ranks Singapore as the top performer out of the 76 national education systems included in the study.
The next four places were all taken by Asian countries, in ranking order – Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. Finland, the highest ranking European country, came in sixth in the survey.
The OECD’s study rankings are based on an amalgamation of international assessments, including the OECD’s Pisa tests, the TIMSS tests run by US-based academics and TERCE tests in Latin America and focus on maths and sciences.
From the results, it is clear that Asian countries fare well. European countries, such as Poland, Germany, Ireland and the UK, are well up the rankings, but Sweden finds itself 35th in the listing. The United States is a surprising 29th.
Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s education director, told the BBC: “This is the first time we have a truly global scale of the quality of education.”
“The idea is to give more countries, rich and poor, access to comparing themselves against the world’s education leaders, to discover their relative strengths and weaknesses, and to see what the long-term economic gains from improved quality in schooling could be for them,” he said.
Singapore, for example, has had historically high levels of illiteracy and the OECD says that if the UK’s record of one in five students leaving school without achieving a basic level of education, could be turned around, the economy would improve significantly.
Writing on the OECD’s ‘educationtoday’ blog, he stated that the report shows that “the quality of schooling in a country is a powerful predictor of the wealth that countries will produce in the long run.”
Turning to the success of Asian education systems in the study, Mr. Schleicher said: “If you go to an Asian classroom you’ll find teachers who expect every student to succeed. There’s a lot of rigour, a lot of focus and coherence.
“These countries are also very good at attracting the most talented teachers in the most challenging classrooms, so that every student has access to excellent teachers.”
However he cautions that, as the report shows, even high-income countries still have some way to go to meet the goal of universal basic skills.
“Poor education policies and practices leave many countries in what amounts to a permanent state of economic recession,” says the report.
“Improving education would produce long-term economic gains that are going to be phenomenal.”
If Ghana, the lowest ranked country, achieved basic skills for all its 15-year-olds, the report says that it would expand its current GDP by 38 times, over the lifetime of today’s youngsters.
The findings were presented at the World Education Forum in South Korea, as part of a conference last year on targets for raising global education by 2030.