Out of the five best performing education systems in
the world, four are in Asia. Out of the top ten, seven are in the Asia Pacific
region. The OECD collects data on reading, maths and science scores on a
standardised basis. Top of the table is Shanghai, China, with top places for
each. They are followed by South Korea, Finland, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The top ten is completed by Canada, New Zealand,
Japan, Australia and the Netherlands. Britain, France, Germany and the US are
at the bottom of the OECD’s table of 18 countries. In a special report for the
Economist, four factors are highlighted as contributing most heavily to school
success: decentralisation; focusing on underachieving students, high standards
for teachers and a choice for schools.
Such issues are already forming the basis for the
debate in the UK, with the championing of free schools and the resulting
decentralisation that this brings. It may prove a useful test of whether these
ideas deliver results in practice. One worrying factor is Sweden’s surprise
poor showing in the tests – much of the free school agenda is based on Swedish
and American models.