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Is Your Country in the Top 20 Ranked Education Systems for 2015?

Each year several organizations produce ranking systems of educational systems comparing different countries. Two educational organisations - MD JED and Pearson, produce quarterly and/or  annual ranking lists and reports of the top 20 ranked education systems in the world. The statistical data is compiled from a variety of sources including  – the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council (UNESOC), The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Study (PIRLS). In addition polls are taken sourcing opinions from teachers, students, parents. There is a heavy emphasis on reviewing annual educational budget allocations within each country. Standardised test results also are an important factor for determining the rankings.

Whilst there will always be controversy over the formulation of such ranking lists, there is merit analyzing and comparing the data findings of MD JED and Pearson in order to reach conclusions regarding what constitutes successful policies and initiatives adopted by the higher ranking countries for countries outside the top 20 could adopt.

ME JED Rankings

Pearson Rankings

1.      South Korea

1.      South Korea

2.      Japan

2.      Japan

3.      Singapore

3.      Singapore

4.      Finland

4.      Hong Kong

5.      United Kingdom

5.      Finland

6.      Hong Kong

6.      United Kingdom

7.      Netherlands

7.      Canada

8.      Canada

8.      Netherlands

9.      Denmark

9.      Ireland

10.  Germany

10.  Poland

11.  Ireland

11.  Denmark

12.  Russia

12.  Germany

13.  New Zealand

13.  Russia

14.  Poland

14.  United States

15.  Switzerland

15.  Australia

16.  Israel

16.  New Zealand

17.  Australia

17.  Israel

18.  USA

18.  Belgium

19.  China

19.  Czech Republic

20.  Belgium

20.  Switzerland

According to the data the world’s three best education educational systems are from East Asian countries: South Korea is 1st, Japan is 2nd and Singapore is 3rd.

NJ MED lists the United Kingdom as 4th and Finland as 5th, whereas Pearson has Hong Kong as 4th with Finland 5th.

Comparing the data reveals a high level of similarity in both lists. The one obvious difference is that NJ MED listed China as 19th whereas Pearson does not include China in its top 20.

NJ MED’s methodology for determining their top 20 ranking schools is transparent and easy to follow. The ranking system is based on five educational levels: early-childhood enrollment rates, Elementary Mathematics, Science and Reading scores, Middle-School Mathematics, Science and Reading scores, High School Graduation rates, and College Graduation rates. Each level consists of ranking the top 20 countries by giving a country 20 points for a first place rank, 19 for a second place rank, and so on down to 1 point for a twenty rank. The data is then used to produce the nation’s ranking from a statistical average based on a combined score from all 5 levels.

Pearson’s collation of data placed a greater emphasis on adult literacy rate, primary school and secondary school enrolment rates and women’s average years in school.

A notable observation is that there are no South American, Central American, African, Islamic including Gulf Arabian countries or Oceanic countries amongst the top 20 ranking countries.

Characteristics of the top six ranking countries

South Korea:  Population = 50,423,955. To compete in today’s global economy nations must invest in education and few countries are more invested than in this department than South Korea; whose parents spend 15% of their annual income on education, tutoring and supplemental education materials. South Korea’s return on their investment is bearing fruit, by improving their early-childhood enrollment rates so that they are now slightly ahead of Japan. South Korea faces legitimate questions about how their students can maintain such a rigorous pace, with their high primary education test scores in mathematics, reading and science; an excellent secondary graduation rate and the world’s highest post-secondary completion rate at 66%. South Korea is going 100% digital in 2016 that will include having textbooks in all of their schools accessible from a computer, tablet or phone. This will be a world first and put them way ahead of most other countries. Rates of juvenile depression and suicide have risen during the past decade causing alarm amongst groups of parents who worry about the psychological pressure placed on vulnerable students.

Japan:  Population = 127,070,000. Two years ago Japan occupied first place in the rankings and has recently dropped to number two, although this really is not an indicator of falling standards, rather it is an indication of the rapid improvement of South Korea. In 2016 Japan will increase investment in early-childhood education. Despite displaying top performances in proficiency, reading, mathematics and science in primary and secondary levels and having the world’s second highest college graduation rate (59%), Japan’s high school graduation rates are lower than could be expected -  ranked 7th in the world using data from NJ MED. Even though it’s highly unlikely Japan will drop further down future ranking lists, Japan will need to invest additional monies in early childhood education and address what may be deemed disappointing high school graduation rates.

Finland:  Population = 5,472,421. Although Finland is now listed as being behind the East Asian powerhouses of South Korea and Japan, it would be a wrong to assume their education system has declined. Their education quality may have dropped at all, but the extremely high emphasis of other nation’s education systems that focus on taking tests and achieving outstanding examination results has made Finland results appear worse than they really are. Finland’s system   radically differs from those of East Asian countries. Examples include:teachers spending fewer hours in classrooms than East Asian teachers;  teachers using the extra time to build curriculums in collaborative forums and comprehensively assessing their students with a wide variety of non-testing instruments; children spending far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter; homework is minimal; compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7.  There is a high emphasis placed on inquiry based learning and there are no formal standardised examinations until the age of 13.

The United Kingdom: Population = 64,105,654. During the past decade governments have significantly increased investment in education that has led to the UK occupying a top five ranking. Despite this impressive achievement some of the country’s top education leaders are concerned that after years of improvement, data reveals that secondary student levels are beginning to decline. The Country’s Department of Education plan to recruit 17,500 new mathematics and physics teachers over the next five years to increase standards. A worrying factor is that many young teachers drop out of the profession due to work related pressure.  For the UK to advance in the rankings, they need improve their secondary graduation levels.

Singapore:  Population = 5,469,700: Singapore continues to show they’re a force at the primary and secondary education levels, and possess the capability of rising in the rankings. The country has increased their early-childhood enrollments and high school graduation rates.  Singapore is a small country and they spent approximately 4% of their GDP on education which compared to other countries in the top 20 is relatively low. This leads to the conclusion that if additional monies are spent of education, Singapore could challenge South Korea and Japan for the honour of being ranked as the best educational system in the world.

Hong Kong:  Population = 7,234,800: Their primary and secondary results show their teachers and school’s capabilities and like in South Korea, Japan and Singapore, their students work very hard and parents invest additional monies creating a thriving tuition industry for examination prepping. If the Government’s new educational philosophies can find a happy medium between the demands of liberal Hong Kong educators and the overriding reach of mainland Chinese authorities trying to hall in wayward thinking, Hong Kong will remain an elite educational system.

Reference Sources

World Top 20 Project:

MBC Times:



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