A reader who is also a teacher wrote to me last month about a post I wrote in 2011 that claimed Norway had the world's best school system. I let him know that I have since updated my methods, and Norway is nowhere near the top, largely because employers claim that it's difficult to find an appropriate labour supply there, and one of my criteria is the system's ability to supply a modern economy's labour needs. I also wrote him that my updated rankings put Singapore on top, and that I would write something soon to explain why, which I am now doing.
As I have explained in earlier posts, the five criteria I use to assess education systems have been (1) average attainment (years of schooling successfully completed by the average student in the system); (2) average achievement (formerly indicated primarily by PISA scores, but more recently by PIAAC -- more on that below); (3) the employment rate of the disabled, as a proxy for outcomes for a society's least advantaged; (4) top university rankings, as a proxy for the services provided to a society's most educationally gifted; and (5) the ability of the system to supply a modern economy's labour needs, as reported by the International Institute of Management Development (IMD).
The most important recent innovation related to this activity of mine (which supports my general activity in education advocacy, and supplies me with useful intellectual capital for the development of One World Lyceum, potentially the flagship of a One World system of schools) was last year's release of PIAAC data, and specifically that for the competences of young adults, released by the OECD. This helped me to combine points 1 and 2 above, since PIAAC measures, better than any other currently available assessment, the knowledge and skills (competences) the young people of various developed countries have at the end of their formal educations. While 21st century life definitely rewards lifelong learners, many people don't progress much in their competences once they leave formal schooling, so PIAAC is a crucial source of data for how education systems are doing.
On these bases, my assessment of the available data indicate that Singapore has the world's best education system. While precise rankings are calculable based on my formula, I think they would suggest a spurious precision which I do not claim, and therefore I will merely suggest, on the basis of the above evidence, that, in alphabetical order on the next tier down below Singapore, I would rank the education systems of Canada, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland; and below these, still quite respectable, I find (also in alphabetical order) those of Australia, England, Finland, Germany, (South) Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland, and the United States.