Education is of course one of the most important elements of any culture. Countries around the world as well as individuals of all nationalities often invest huge amounts of time and money to ensure that their children get the best possible learning experience. Expats are no different – factors relating to the schools and universities in a country are important considerations for any expat family before they make the decision to move abroad with children.However, education is not the same around the world – there are bound to be differences in quality, access, outcomes, and so on, as a result of which the education systems in some countries are better than those in others. To some extent, assessing an education system can be a bit subjective, as individual aptitudes, interests, and desires may be better met by some systems than by others. However, there are also objective parameters on which education systems can be assessed and compared, and there are a considerable number of studies and reports that look into this.
For decades now, people from all over the world have considered the US, the UK, Canada and Australia as the countries with the best education systems. However, recent research has shown that many Asian and European nations actually fare better in terms of overall education index ranks and scores. In a global study conducted by Pearson recently, several East Asian countries performed the best, as their academic models value effort more than intelligence. Moreover, the learning outcomes and goals were often much clearer in these education systems. There is a strong sense of accountability and engagement in these cultures, which is naturally reflected in the performance of the pupils.
Recent reports have also shown that the Scandinavian nations, which were strong performers in the past, have lost their edge to some extent. Over a span of three years, countries like Finland and Sweden have fallen by at least three notches in terms of their worldwide ranking. Predictably, the developing countries such as Indonesia, Mexico, and Brazil were placed in the lower half of the index, but nations like Israel, Russia, and Poland have taken several to improve their educational systems.
Read on to find out about the countries that ranked the highest based on their educational systems, considering their academic models, literacy rates, expenditure per student, and so on.
1. South Korea
In the year 2015, South Korea emerged as the country with the number one educational system. This was due to several factors. First of all, the country has managed to achieve close to 98% literacy, with 99.2% of the male population and 96.6% of the female population being educated.
Secondly, South Korea spends a lot of money developing its national education. The annual budget for the system is a little more than US$ 11 billion. Last but not least, the academic model in South Korea places a heavy focus on hard work. Very often, children spend all seven days of the week in school. Those who don’t meet their teachers’ expectations are required to undergo additional classes with tutors. The downside to this is that pupils are under a tremendous amount of pressure to perform well; there is no excuse for failure in this country. Talent or interest in extracurricular activities or other vocations isn’t given much consideration as culturally, South Koreans value diligence and hard work above anything else. They also believe that anyone can succeed as long as they study hard enough.
Unlike US preschools, where teachers concentrate on the development of individual relationships with their learners and regular interventions in peer relationships, in South Korea, teachers aim to lead the class as a whole community. Corporal punishment is also a common feature in this country, which can be a culture shock for expats.
It is the combination of a hard work ethic and an emphasis on technology that makes this nation’s education system as successful as it has become today. There is no other country that comes as close to deploying technology in the classrooms as Japan does. From an incredibly young age, children are encouraged to access resources that other students worldwide typically can’t, giving them the ability to learn more, to go beyond their school curriculum, and get answers to even the most difficult questions.
Like South Korea, Japan has high literacy rates – the overall rate is 99%, which is identical for both males and females.
School-going children are expected to work hard and do well academically. Many children spend their evenings at tuition classes, with the hope of moving ahead of their peers. The competition becomes even fiercer in the higher grades of school, as there is a race to gain a seat in a good university.
Unlike South Korea however, the Japanese education system focuses a lot on extracurricular activities too, although these do not take precedence over one’s academic performance. Nonetheless, high participation in activities like chess, sports, arts, and social clubs can actually increase the overall value of an institution to a great extent. All schoolchildren in Japan are expected to be a part of at least one club or sports team.
There is a negative aspect to the education system in this country too. Critics claim that the Japanese style of teaching places a lot of emphasis on theory, rote learning, and compulsory subjects, right up until the age of 18. While this may give pupils a wide base of knowledge, it is likely to stifle critical and creative thought, and this knowledge is often not practically useful. For example, students may leave school with comprehensive knowledge of English grammar but may not be able to converse fluently in the language; as a result, even many adults have trouble expressing themselves.
The education system in Singapore has been built from scratch. Even though this country came third in the study, it has one of the most impressive primary schooling systems across the globe. After going through primary school for a period of six years, children move to a secondary school. At this point, they are given a choice of attending regular school, a specialized institute, an integrated program, or a different type of institution that offers similar learning options.
Many people in Asia actually consider moving to Singapore purely so that their young children can receive a good education in their formative years. Singaporean schools are in demand in other Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines too. Of course, this high-quality education comes at a premium. The GDP per capita is US $ 65,584, the third highest across the globe.
The literacy rate in this country is at an average of 96%, with 98% of the male population and 94% of the female population being literate.
What differentiates the Singaporean system from that of other Asian countries is the fact that it has done away with the traditional school practices of rote, memorization, and repetition. Instead, it focuses on deeper forms of learning, which include conceptual and problem-based learning. The objective of this teaching method is to encourage students to solve various types of problem on their own. Of course, they are aware that they have a teacher to approach for help in case they get lost in the process. The quality of education in Singapore’s public schools is very high, and is in fact almost at par with private schools. Many expats opt for public or private schools in Singapore, over the international ones.
4. Hong Kong
In the past, Hong Kong’s educational system was a lot like the UK’s, as it was set up by the British when they administered the country (between 1841-1997). However, in the last few years there have been several changes in its education system, which now bears more resemblance to the Chinese and American systems. The main difference is in terms of curriculum and the language of instruction. Hong Kong’s entire educational system is overseen by the government’s Social Welfare Department.
Every level of schooling in Hong Kong has been designed so as to create a complete, comprehensive learning experience for students. All the educational levels (primary, secondary, and higher) in the country are exemplary in their approach as well as their focus areas.
The literacy rate in this country is at an average of 94.6%, with 97% of the male population and around 90% of the female population being educated. While still fairly high by world standards, this is a bit lower than some other Southeast Asian nations.
Hong Kong’s education budget last year was US$ 39,420 per capita. The budgeted expenditure on education in the financial year 2015–2016 has been around US$ 79.3 billion, which represents 18% of the total government expenditure. Since 2008–2009, the authorities have extended free education from nine to twelve years to all pupils studying in public schools. In addition to this, complete subvention has been provided for the full-time courses that are conducted by the Vocational Training Council (VTC) for those leaving Secondary School 3. This gives senior secondary students an alternative avenue into conventional education at no extra cost.
Special provisions have been made by Hong Kong’s Education Bureau (EDB) for school-going children from other countries. Foreign students are given the option to attend a full-time six-month initiation program, which enables them to integrate themselves properly into the community as well as the educational system before they are admitted into mainstream schools. For more information about this program, take a look at this PDF.
Up until 2012, the educational system in Finland was ranked number one according to most international surveys. However, in 2015 the country’s rating dropped to number five. This dip in ranking is not because Finland’s quality of education has fallen, but rather due to the fact that other countries have stepped up their schooling systems. There is no denying that Finland still has the best educational system in Europe.
Statistics show that the literacy rate in this country is almost 100%. Around 66% of school pupils go to college, which is the highest in Europe. In addition, 93% of Finnish students graduate from high school, which is 17.5% more than the US. Finland has an annual budget of US$ 12.14 billion. The country spends around 30% less on each student compared to the US.
Most education is funded by the public, and Finnish citizens do not have to pay tuition fees at any level. Students at the basic level get learning material, school meals, and transport at no charge. Once they move to upper secondary, they pay for their own books and transport. Many students are awarded financial aid for higher studies.
The primary objective of Finland’s education policy is to ensure that all its citizens have equal learning opportunities. These principles are clearly reflected in the structure of the educational system. Unlike many other countries, Finnish teachers are more focused on learning rather than testing. Students undergo the national examination (matriculation) at the end of their general upper secondary education. They seek admission into institutions for higher education on the basis of their matriculation results and entrance test performance.
One notable factor that differentiates Finland’s educational system from the others is that children aren’t expected to pick up a pen until the age of seven. Before that, school children are primarily encouraged to develop their social skills. Most students rarely get homework until they are well into their teens. School days in the early years are short, and much of the time is spent on educational activities instead of academics. Teachers place a lot of emphasis on play, art, music, dramatics, and storytelling.
In addition to the ones mentioned above, countries that rank well in terms of their educational systems include the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland, Poland, Denmark, Germany, Russia, The United States, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, The Czech Republic, and Switzerland.