Every three years more than 70 countries participate in an international event called the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) which evaluates capabilities in math, science, and literacy for students around the globe. Indian students from Hyderabad and Tamil Nadu have been participating in PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) since 2009 and children from Chandigarh will be participating in 2021. The contest is organized by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) an international organization that helps build policies for better life. PISA is considered a benchmark for effectiveness of education systems among other things.
Here’s a snapshot of the top ranking countries in PISA 2018.
Yet when you perform an internet search for top education systems in the world you’ll get different rankings on different sites. There are many – often valid – reasons for this but because of this anomaly, we have selected four of the more popular student destinations and describe their education systems here.
If you would like to read about a specific destination not mentioned here, do let us know. You can write to us or tell us in the comments. You can also reach out via our Facebook Community, LinkedIn or Quora.
With that background rather than answer the question Which country has the best education system in the world? Here’s a look at the education system in some of the more popular student destinations in the world.
Ranking among the top education systems of the world, in Finland, education in Finland is truly learner oriented. Students have complete freedom to follow any academic path they choose. Formal education begins at age 7 before which attending school is not mandatory. Yet a great deal of importance is laid on early childhood education. Parents of new born children or new adoptive parents are given three books as a part of the maternity package disbursed by the social security authority. The concept is that there is one book for each parent and one for the child. Thus begins education in Finland. Access to daycare is free up to age 5 and mothers who wish to take a maternity break are paid by the local government for a period of three years for home day-care.
By the time the child is six years old he is enrolled in Kindergarten where he is taught how to learn through lessons about animals, nature, and so on. There is no formal reading, writing, or numbers taught in this year.
Formal compulsory education begins at age 7 and continues for 9 years until age 16. This is referred to a comprehensive school. There are no special schools or advanced student programs. All children study together and the gifted students are expected to help those who are slow. Almost all schools in Finland are funded with very few private schools in operation. Class size rarely exceeds 20 students and curricula are revised and revamped frequently. A system of self-evaluation is in place for both teachers and schools. A poor performer is expected to sit an additional test to demonstrate his mastery of the subject failing which the school in consultation with the parents and student may decide to detain him and have him repeat a year. Schools provide additional facilities such as healthcare and free meals.
After completion of comprehensive school students move to upper secondary. There are no formal or mandatory exams in comprehensive schools. Students are assessed based on their performance and demonstration of learning outcome. Students entering upper secondary (equivalent of 11th and 12th in India) can take 2 routes – general or vocational. Upper secondary students can elect to study subject of their choice. In the vocational route, teaching is job oriented while on the general route, teaching is learning oriented. Students following the general route sit for a matriculation exam which becomes their ticket to college. On the vocational route a student usually enters an apprenticeship program and goes on the be employed.
The Fins attach great importance to education and have built a robust education system that is mostly free for all. There is only 1 formal examination at the end of comprehensive school which quashes any comparisons. It also motivates students along with teachers to help the slow students catch up – because learning is for the sake of learning – and that is the attitude of all citizens of Finland – parents, teachers, or authorities.
Another high ranker Singapore has pre-school followed by six years of primary and 4 years of secondary after which students study junior College, Polytechnics, ITE (Institutes of Technical Education) or Centralized institutes. This is followed by university education before taking up employment in their preferred industry or field.
Kindergarten or pre-schooling institutions are run almost entirely by the private sector. Primary education begins at age 7 and continues for 4 years. It is mandatory and parents who wish to homeschool, enrol their child in special, religious, or other non-standard institutions must meet certain criteria to obtain exemption. English is a mandatory subject in primary – also called foundation school. After 4 years of primary students move to orientation where they are streamed – or assigned – according to their capabilities. Students then take subjects at different levels depending upon their scores in a formal test. Mother tongue is introduced as a subject in the final years of Primary education. At the end of 6 years of foundational education students take an examination called the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) and based on the results and depending upon their choice they gain admission to higher secondary schools. Some star students may be selected for admission even before the PSLE based on special talents.
Singapore also has a GEP (Gifted Education Program) for gifted children. The program is managed by the Ministry of Education and aims to develop children who are gifted. The emphasis is on creativity and high-level thinking capabilities. Students usually enter the GEP after completion of Primary 3 but they are still required to take the PSLE and enter secondary education through the normal route.
There are three routes available in secondary education. Students in Singapore are barred from attending international schools without prior permission from the Ministry of Education. The three routes – named G1, G2, and G3 based on subject branding system. These levels roughly correspond to the earlier Express, Normal Academic (NA) and Normal Technical (NT) streaming under which students took the express route, normal route or the technical route for each subject depending upon their subject wise scores in PSLE. Secondary education is a 4 year program culminating in O level examination except for a few exceptions. Depending upon progress, students usually sit for 6 – 10 subjects in the O-level exam.
Having completed their O-level the students once again have 3 options – junior College, Centralized Institutes, or ITE. ITE offers technical courses while junior College and Centralized institutes offer three streams – Arts, Science, and Commerce.
Co-Curricular activities are mandatory in secondary and post-secondary levels and optional but highly recommended at the primary level.
Like Finland Japan too accords great importance to education. Unlike Finland however, strict discipline – almost borderong on rigidity – is what drives the education system of Japan. Structurally, education in Japan comprises of six years of elementary school, three years of junior high and three years of high school. This is followed by two or three years in junior College and fours of graduation. The first nine years (6+3) are mandatory. Students can enter student exchange programs from junior high onward. A separate program exists for differently abled children called the Special Needs Program under which children with special education needs are tutored. A child enters the system at age 6 and exits at approximately age 22 depending upon the direction and level of education he takes. Although enrolment in high school is not mandatory the rate is as high as 90% which is indicative of the stress that people in Japan place upon education. English is mandator in junior high and high school but many elemetary schools also teach the language. Students may also take up one other foreign language of their choice.
Student clubs is a popular form of co-curricular and extracurricular activity where students having common interests gather along with a teacher for participation. There also exists a system of shadow education which runs parallel to the mainstream education. Under this system, students are coached for specific examinations such as graduation from junior high or high school. Japan has about 30 – 40 international schools operating right from Kindergarten upwards. Universities like the United Nations university, Temple University and International University of Japan are high ranking universities within the country. Other top ranking names include the Akita International University, Sophia University and the Tokyo University of Foreign studies. The Tokyo University is highly selective about admissions and teaches among other things rare languages from around the globe.
Canada is a popular destination for international study and exchange programs. Education in Canada is governed by individual provinces and the Federal Government plays only a superficial role. That said, students in Canada must enter the formal system at age 6. In some provinces, parents may place their younger children in pre-school programs. Across the country, education is mandatory up to age 18 – it is 16 in some provinces – or until high school diploma is obtained. Some gifted students may obtain high school diploma by age 14.
The education system in Canada comprises of Primary, Secondary, and post-Secondary education. One of the reasons why Canada is a popular international study destination is that education post-secondary is relatively cheaper than other destinations – indeed it is among the cheapest. The school year runs from September to June. Canadian law guarantees publicly funded religion based education to all students although there are some controversies prevalent in this regard.
Primary education and high school in Canada comprises of Kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12). The bifurcation between primary and secondary may vary from one province to another. Tertiary education – also called post-secondary or university education may be academic or technical – a.k.a. vocational. Students may obtain accredation in the form of a bachelor’s degree, diploma, doctorate, or certificate.
Although private schools or universities are few, they do exist in some provinces. Also worth mention is that although the system of education is universal across Canada despite being governed by provinces, the system in Qubec is slightly different from the rest of the country.