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Which countries have the best education systems?

There’s a worrying trend at the moment in the UK of teachers quitting their jobs.
To make matters worse, we’re losing potentially fantastic new teachers to other careers as a result of sub standard pay.

One of the biggest complaints most experienced teachers have is a disillusionment with the examinations youngsters are made to sit.

There’s also a growing distrust and resentment at the fact they feel their opinions are being ignored by legislators, and their role is to teach kids how to pass exams, not necessarily learn, an assertion supported by the fact that 1 in 5 children finish school without a basic level of education.

Is it any surprise then, that in a recent rankings table for Science and Maths for 15 year old the UK was ranked 20th behind countries such as Taiwan, Poland, Vietnam and Ireland?

That raises the question…which countries have the best modern education systems and what are they doing differently?

Based on PISA scores (assessing reading, mathematics and science literacy), Finland has traditionally topped most lists (ranking 1st in 2000, 20003, 2006 and near the top every other year).

This year however, they’ve fallen down the rankings not so much due to any change in their system, but more so due to the incredible growth of East Asian countries.

In fact, all top 5 countries in this years list come from the East Asian region, namely Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. In fact, you may recall a speech I gave in 2013 predicting such an event.

The cultural importance these affluent nations place on learning, coupled with the intense competition the students face both amongst their peers and when it comes to the jobs market spurs them on to higher overall scores.

But the biggest difference?

It’s not competition or culture. It’s investment in teachers. To give you an example, the number one ranked country, Singapore, is famous for giving very healthy bonuses and very attractive salaries – enough to attract the top teachers from around the world.

There’s an implicit understanding that the investment they place on their education will come back around to benefit their economy, which goes a long way to explaining why these nations have seen such huge improvements in the strength of their economic systems over the last few decades.

By contrast, at the other end of the spectrum, the lowest performing nations on the PISA rankings include Morocco, Honduras, South Africa and Ghana, all countries that are struggling economically.

It’s a catch 22 situation – if you don’t have the funds, how can you invest in teachers?

Here’s where the international community has to step in. As the famous saying goes, give a man a fish and he can eat for a day; give him a fishing rod and he can feed himself…well perhaps we need to think about this when it comes to giving grants and international aid.

Rather than spending on “international projects” that end up in contractors (or worse, government) pockets, is it not better to directly aid their education system?

The OECD has estimated that if Ghana can meet universal basic skill goals, their GDP would rise 38 times over the lifetime of a child.

And going back to our nation, I believe we need to go back to a time where education was all about learning a subject, not just instilling a ‘here’s what you need to know in order to pass your exam’ culture.