Monday, December 17, 2012

Switzerland Remains on Top of the Mountain

Last week, new data emerged from the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College, which, together with a report from McKinsey on youth unemployment around the world, led me to reconsider my previous evaluations of education systems around the world. While the TIMSS and PIRLS data proved valuable, as representing an approach to the assessment of mathematics, science, and reading complementary to PISA and with fresher results, the McKinsey report ultimately did not; but I was led to renew some previous desk research I had done on different systems' abilities to connect students with special needs to employment, and was able to find more systematic data than I had previously, which also represents an improvement in my overall evaluations. I connected these results with some more recent desk research I had separately done on top universities around the world, thus including in my assessment the abilities of different systems to serve students on the other end of the scholastic abilities spectrum, and in the end came out with what I believe to be my best assessment of different education systems to date, the results of which I will now reveal.

I remain committed to my previous judgement that Switzerland, in all its diversity, has the best education system in the world. While creditable in all five categories (attainment, achievement, serving the underprivileged, serving the most promising, and connecting to a modern economy), it is especially Switzerland's ability to serve students at the extremes of the spectrum of scholastic abilities that helps to push it beyond all its competitors. Then, in a second tier, I would place (in alphabetical order, so as not to claim extreme precision to what is inevitably a judgement about what matters most in education and how to measure these features) the systems of Australia, Canada, Denmark, and Singapore. The latter two have risen in my estimation because of Singapore's world-leading results in TIMSS and PIRLS and because both countries, along with Switzerland, are among the few where the disabled have a better than 50% chance of being employed, in contrast to a European Union average of 40% and a U.S. average of 39.9%.

The country with the best record of employing the disabled, Iceland, is nonetheless the one that has taken the most notable plunge in my estimate, since I could not find a single Icelandic university ranked in the top 500 in the world in either the Shanghai or the QS rankings. A gifted young Icelander may have little choice but to go abroad for higher education, particularly of an advanced kind; and no top class education system can have such a grievous deficiency. New Zealand declines in my estimation for a similar deficiency, although the University of Auckland is one I would gladly have a relationship with for my school; and Finland drops a bit (it is now joined in a wider third tier by England, France, Germany, Korea, the Netherlands, Scotland, Sweden, and the United States) because of some stagnation in its TIMSS and PIRLS scores, while its main competitors are improving, and because of its limited excellence in higher education compared with the peers of the University of Helsinki, a very strong institution, but Finland's only university ranked in the top 100 in the world.

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