Comparison of best education systems

Since the past few weeks, we undertook the journey across 5 successful education systems around the world with the aim to see if any of this can be emulated in other countries.

Part 1 - Education System of Singapore
Part 2 - Education System of Finland
Part 3 - Education System of Japan
Part 4 - Education System of Australia
Part 5 - Education System of USA

While it is very difficult to find a perfect formula for success, we can summarize the learning from the 5 different nations into few key factors which transformed education in these countries:

Historical context and culture

Each of these countries had a unique historical context which made them ahead of the game. While Singapore had the lack of natural resources to make up for, Japan had the urgency of developing human talent ready for rapid industrialization and Finland had the ravages of Second World War to fight back with equal education to all. In Australia and the United States, migration and their consequent assimilation created a significant impact in the economy and education sector. Migrants with their drive and ambition to succeed in a new country, created a peer effect culture which influenced student performance overall. Across the world, the first and second World Wars had a profound impact and led to furious nation building. The progress that we see today, is a result of the amount of focus that the leaders of that period gave to education on the way to nation building. By bringing everyone on board and establishing the right of all citizens to receive comprehensive, universal education, the leaders of these countries built a culture which values the pursuit of education.

Equity in Education

The access to free, universal education and free nutritious food has been the deciding factor in ensuring high enrollment in schools and high literacy rates in these nations. Finland is ahead of this game, by providing free healthcare for students and highly effective maternity and parenting policies. Irrespective of the socio-economic background of the children, high quality education is available to everyone. This has helped in reducing the achievement gap. US has a high achievement gap due to a past history of segregation and high income disparity. Owing to its vast size and diverse population, this hurdle will be overcome only by drastic changes at sociopolitical level to alleviate poverty and reduce income disparity.  

Government role and policies

The sincerity of the state in establishing and implementing effective education policies and consequent reforms is a noteworthy factor in the successful evolution of the system in these countries. Provision of sufficient funds as a significant part of their GDP, drives to increase enrollment in primary schools, concentration on education research , establishment of national level curriculum and pedagogical methods, attention to teacher selection and retention are certain positive actions that have reaffirmed the commitment of these nations to provide quality education.

Teacher Effectiveness

The highest performing education systems always prioritize the quality of teachers. As we have mentioned in one of our previous blog posts, there is strong evidence linking learning outcomes with teacher effectiveness. High barrier to entry for teaching profession, good compensation, continuing education, teacher autonomy, well-defined paths for career progression, high commitment to teaching research, high regard in society are some of the common factors which have created a veritable pool of superlative teachers. There is concern of overworked teachers due to non academic tasks that take up a significant amount of time. The use of AI and robotics is being explored to reduce the workload. Educational Technology will play a big role in the years to come in improving teacher effectiveness, personalizing learning and AI based assessments.

Holistic and Balanced education

One area where Finland is way ahead of the others is the ability to provide holistic education. The curriculum has equal focus on life skills such as creativity, problem solving, design thinking and decision-making along with academic skills. An important measurement of education is how the learning outcome maps to creating employable students. With its balanced curriculum, Finland seems to be doing well in developing future ready skills. Other countries have taken note of this and are implementing reforms to move towards knowledge and learning based future ready education systems. Singapore's Teach Less, Learn More is a good step in that direction.

Key Takeaway

Highlighting these countries as the best education systems due to high PISA scores is not totally accurate. They are the best education systems in the world because of multiple factors : culture of pursuit of education, high commitment by governments, high teacher quality , equity in education and a holistic curriculum.

For a system to be effective, all components must be optimized and work well together. The only way to build an effective education system is for the government, educators, parents and society to work together to optimize the different components and focus on creating a system which focuses on whole child development. As Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish education expert quoted:  "You can have excellence and equity in schools simultaneously if education policies focus more on the whole child instead of academic performance, professional development instead of test-based accountability, and empowerment instead of stringent oversight. "

Education of the 21st century