Statistic of the Month: The Learning Curve

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has produced a new education league table of the best international education systems for Pearson, which is published in a new report titled The Learning Curve: Lessons in Country Performance in Education. The rankings take into account additional measures apart from test scores to create a more comprehensive index than the PISA league tables.  Sixty different indicators are taken into account for the Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment, divided into three topics: the inputs a country makes to education (such as spending, student-teacher ratio, staff salaries, student school life expectancy, etc.); outputs from education (PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS scores, graduation rates, unemployment rates by educational attainment, literacy rates, etc.); and socioeconomic environment indicators (crime rates, GDP per capita, unemployment, social inequality, etc.).  They ranked 40 different countries, choosing the countries based on the availability of data.

The top 10 countries according to the indicators are:

1.    Finland
2.    South Korea
3.    Hong Kong
4.    Japan
5.    Singapore
6.    United Kingdom
7.    Netherlands
8.    New Zealand
9.    Switzerland
10.    Canada

Unlike other recent indices, China was not ranked, nor was the province of Shanghai.  Australia is ranked 13th, and the US is ranked 17th.  Also unlike other league tables, the United Kingdom ranks high.  This is surprising given their average performance on international tests of student performance.  The diagram below shows how the top ten countries in the EIU index overlap with the ten top performers in the OECD Program for International Student Assessment and the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) education indices of health and compulsory education and higher education and training.

The report, like the Early Childhood Education report recently released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (Starting well: Benchmarking early education across the world), involved interviews with several experts in the field, including Chester Finn, Eric Hanushek, Lee Sing Kong, Andreas Schleicher and Ludger Woessmann.

The authors draw a few conclusions from their work – the central being that teacher quality and national culture surrounding education are two factors that do have a very big impact on the success of an education system.  They point out that the two top systems – Finland and South Korea – have extraordinarily different systems in many ways, particularly in regard to their approaches to testing and hours students spend studying (both in the classroom and out), but both countries put a lot of effort into creating a top-notch teaching force, and both countries consider education to be among the highest priorities.  This finding is consistent with Surpassing Shanghai, NCEE’s analysis of the common elements found in the top performing countries.  Surpassing Shanghai found a number of other reasons for strong student performance including aligned instructional systems, investment in early childhood education, and more.  To see those findings, click here.