It turns out Finland and South Korea have the best education systems in the world

Updated Oct 12 2015
Globe © by stevecadman, used under Creative Commons license.
According to a poll recently conducted by education firm Pearson, students in Finland and South Koren are receiving the best education in the world. Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore round out the top 5, while the United Kingdom is sixth, Canada checks in at 10th, and the United States comes in at 17th:

The study notes that while funding is an important factor in strong education systems, cultures supportive of learning is even more critical — as evidenced by the highly ranked Asian countries, where education is highly valued and parents have grand expectation. While Finland and South Korea differ greatly in methods of teaching and learning, they hold the top spots because of a shared social belief in the importance of education and its "underlying moral purpose."

The study aims to help policymakers and school leaders identify key factors that lead to successful educational outcomes. The research draws on literacy data as well as figures in government spending on education, school entrance age, teacher salaries and degree of school choice. Researchers also measured socioeconomic outcomes like national unemployment rates, GDP, life expectancy and prison population.

The study concluded with five big points:

  • Education requires long-term, coherent and focussed system-wide attention to achieve improvement.
  • Teachers need to be treated as the valuable professionals they are, not as technicians in a huge, educational machine.
  • Using the positive elements of this culture and, where necessary, seeking to change the negative ones, are important to promoting successful outcomes.
  • Education systems should strive to keep parents informed and work with them.
  • Education systems need to consider what skills today's students will need in future and teach accordingly.

You can read the rest of the article (and find out where your country ranks) at Huffington Post.

  1. This is interesting, but, as a teacher in Ontario, I wish Pearson had interpreted the data differently.

    Countries like Finland and South Korea are MUCH smaller in terms of land area than Canada and the U.S., and I imagine that it's easier for smaller countries to have a "cohesive" vision for education.

    In Canada, every province has different curriculum, class size cap, teacher salary grid, etc. – all the things Pearson's data is supposed to interpret.

    So for Canada to rank #10 is a bit misleading because maybe one province is way more successful than another. So for larger countries, I think they should break the data down further so that it is a more accurate comparison and so that the information is more helpful for those countries to learn from to develop their systems.

    • I definitely agree with this. Each state in the US has its own laws, etc, creating huge variations not only in how kids are taught but how schools are paid. Some states have as few as twenty school districts while others have as many 70+. We could do with some consistent standards that apply to the country as a whole but that'll probably never happen. /sigh.

      • Canadian here, pointing out that other countries have states/provinces/districts as well, and in many cases significant diversity in dialect, language, etc. I'm not sure that Canada is any different in this regard. AND I'm not sure how Canada qualifies as a 'large country' for this sort of thing as we actually have a small population.

        • Canada qualifies as a a large country in terms of geography, as I noted in my original comment.

          I'm not saying that other countries DON'T have jurisdictional differences, just suggesting that in countries where the population lives in closer proximity, it might make the educational values that are reflected in their systems a little more cohesive.

          The study was saying that a country's VALUES are inextricably linked to the success of its education system, and I think that since Canada is such a large country in terms of land mass, that it doesn't share the same values across the entire country. Having lived in both Alberta and Ontario, for example, I would say there are dramatic differences in values that are reflected in those systems.

          I think the North/South divide or the Quebec/Other divide might also prove my point.

          We might have a relatively small population, but I think our small population might be in less agreement about how to educate our children than a larger population that lives more closely together.

          I'm also not saying that these differences of opinion DON'T happen in smaller countries, just that I think it DOES happen in mine. So, in my opinion, the idea that the study can represent ALL of Canada is artificial.

          People from other countries are welcome to jump in and let me know if they feel that the same thing happens there, regardless of size!

  2. I have taught English in South Korea and can see why this country ranks as one of the 'best' education systems in the world, but it's at a huge cost.

    Before arriving to teach, I was unaware that students attend school 6 days a week and go to school anywhere up to 14 hours a day. Korean culture is very focused on education but at the expense of a child's happiness.

    According to the World Health Organization South Korea has the 2nd highest suicide rate. Lithuania is #1, Finland #19, USA #34 and Canada #38. What does Korea do about this fact? Look up 'fan death.'

    Please know that South Korea is a gorgeous country and I am grateful for the opportunity to have lived there for a year. I guess I just wanted to point out that this article is misleading. Personally, I lean towards Montessori principles and homeschooling!

  3. Huh, as someone who worked in education in South Korea for two years I find this hard to believe. Certainly the emphasis on education is higher and more people go to university, but man. The kids are stressed, they're in school then academies from 9am to 10pm and they're taught to memorize – not think. The education system is incredibly unorganized and has overhauls every year. I dunno. They only way it could be considered best is that it is considered soooo important.

  4. I find it a bit rich that Pearson, a company that makes its money off of testing and textbooks, and marketing those to schools in the US, gets to say what successful education is. Pearson is a great example of managing to turn public money into a private good – their own. They've done nothing but benefit from No Child Left Behind and standards-based, testing-based educational methods that have turned American schools into drill and kill factories in the name of accountability. I am quite suspicious of their motivations.

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