Finland’s education system has been ranked best in the world, according to a global league table published by education firm Pearson.
The study, carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit combines international test results and data such as literacy and graduation rates between 2006 and 2010.
Also taken into account are factors such as spending on pupils and class size as well as the level of school choice.
Looking at education systems which succeed, the study concludes that spending is important, but not as much as promoting a culture which is supportive of learning.
The report also emphasises the importance of high-quality teachers, saying that this can be as much a question of status and professional respect as levels of pay.
There are direct economic consequences of high and low performing education systems, the study says, particularly in a globalised, skill-based economy.
Finland is followed in the rankings by South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore with the United Kingdom in sixth place.
The X factors
According to the Huffington Post, the report notes the importance of high-quality teachers and improving strong educator recruitment. The rankings show, however, that there is no clear correlation between higher pay and better performance. The bottom line findings:
1. There are no magic bullets: The small number of correlations found in the study shows the poverty of simplistic solutions. Throwing money at education by itself rarely produces results, and individual changes to education systems, however sensible, rarely do much on their own. Education requires long-term, coherent and focussed system-wide attention to achieve improvement.
2. Respect teachers: Good teachers are essential to high-quality education. Finding and retaining them is not necessarily a question of high pay. Instead, teachers need to be treated as the valuable professionals they are, not as technicians in a huge, educational machine.
3. Culture can be changed: The cultural assumptions and values surrounding an education system do more to support or undermine it than the system can do on its own. Using the positive elements of this culture and, where necessary, seeking to change the negative ones, are important to promoting successful outcomes.
4. Parents are neither impediments to nor saviours of education: Parents want their children to have a good education; pressure from them for change should not be seen as a sign of hostility but as an indication of something possibly amiss in provision. On the other hand, parental input and choice do not constitute a panacea. Education systems should strive to keep parents informed and work with them.
5. Educate for the future, not just the present: Many of today’s job titles, and the skills needed to fill them, simply did not exist 20 years ago. Education systems need to consider what skills today’s students will need in future and teach accordingly.