School systems are not created equal

Back in 2007 the world’s governments collectively spent a whopping $2 trillion on education, yet few countries are satisfied with their education systems and reform is continuous. The quality of education and the way in which it is delivered vary chaotically across the globe. In international rankings, the USA does not figure in the top 10, which is bizarre when you consider that of the top 20 universities in the world, 15 of them are American.

There are numerous measures of how effective schooling is. The United Nations ranks education in its Human Development Report. The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) looks at education as a subset of the economic health of a country, yet another standard developed in consultation with US News and World Report looked at perception-based factors and came out with the dubious idea that the British system was the best.

Dubious because when OECD ranked countries on reading, math and science, South Korea and Finland traded the top two positions in all three. South Korea was first in math and reading and second in science, Finland first in science and second in the others. (Britain managed only 20th in reading, 22nd in math and 11th in science. Hard to see how it can be number 1).

What makes a positive school system?

Researchers have identified three pillars of an education system which seem to matter most. Of the three only one refers to the children. Governments, being the only entity capable of this, need to ensure the system is able to deliver instruction to every child. It should be the best possible instruction evidently.

The other two foundations refer to teachers. Ideally, the right people need to become teachers and there is a skill in developing the right people into effective instructors. (We all remember teachers who were unable to deliver the information in a way that made any sense to their classes.)


Here’s where the problems start

You can measure whether or not all children have access to education. In war torn Yemen, for example, it is patently clear that all children don’t have access. In South Africa where there are challenges of language, distance, structure and relative investment, the numbers reached 100% for boys and notably for girls too.

But when it comes to the quality of teachers and their ability to pass on information the ground suddenly shifts and becomes much less stable. Factors such as personality come into play, and how does anyone account for personality?

Good teachers seem to innately know how to walk the line between being in a position of authority and yet they are still someone who a pupil can approach and with whom they are safe.

The variety and scope of school systems when you start to look into it means there is no one answer. Finland and Singapore consistently come across as being at the top of the school scoring charts. America may have the best universities, but I don’t think we have found the answers yet.