The UK is ahead of China for the quality of its educational system, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report 2013.
13,000 executives in 148 countries took part in the Executive Opinion Survey which covered a wide range of subjects such as the macroeconomic environment.
The results for the overall quality of a country’s educational system placed Switzerland 1st followed by Finland then Singapore. UK was 25=.
Finland was first for the quality of its primary education. UK was 28= and China was ranked 51= (although the tables put China at 56th).
Australia had the highest secondary education enrolment rate. UK was in 21st place. Korea was ranked 47th, China 90th and Hong Kong 93rd. UNESCO data was used – not executives’ opinion.
The quality of maths and science education was rated highest in Singapore followed by Finland. Korea was ranked 20th, Japan 34th, and the UK was 47th=.
But rankings alone can be deceptive. If the scores are close together then the difference is actually statistically insignificant. A further problem with the WEF data is the reliability of the executives' opinions.
The WEF results ranked countries consecutively irrespective of whether countries had the same scores. This meant some countries appeared to be ranked lower than they should. For example, UK was ranked 50th for the quality of its maths and science teaching - this was the figure given by the Department for Education
(DfE) – but UK scored the same as other countries. UK should really have been ranked 47=.
We also need to know how a country’s score compared to the mean. The WEF’s survey asked executives to rank, say, the quality of primary education, on a scale. The data for each country was given a value which contributed to its rank order. The rankings and value (in brackets) for each category are given below with WEF mean when known.
Quality of educational system
1 Switzerland (6)
2 Finland (5.9)
3= Singapore (5.8) with Quatar
22= Hong Kong (4.8) Australia and Austria
25= UK (4.6) with USA, Jordan and Sri Lanka
47= Japan (4.1) with Estonia, Bahrain, Guyana and Rwanda
52= China (4) with Albania, Oman, Slovenia, Israel, Lao PDR, Portugal and Lithuania.
62= Korea (3.8) Ecuador and Puerto Rico
There is very little difference between the value of the top three. There’s also little difference between Hong Kong, UK and other countries which scoring 4.8 or 4.6. Japan and China are close together and still above the mean but it appears that executives in these countries do not have the same opinion of their country’s education system as would be suggested by their position in global league tables.
Quality of primary education
1 Finland (6.8)
3 Singapore (6)
20= Japan (5.1) with Slovenia
22= Korea (5) with Australia, Sweden, Germany, Lithuania and Montenegro
28= UK (4.9) with Austria, Norway and Hong Kong (4.9)
51= China (4.3) with Czech Republic, Hungary, Albania, Slovak Republic and Indonesia.
There is very little statistical difference between the scores of countries ranked between 20 and 28=. However, the table does not recognise equal values and ranks all countries with the same score arbitrarily (they’re not even alphabetical). UK came out at 31st place in the primary table which is misleading. Similarly, China was ranked 56th.
Gross Secondary education enrollment rate
(Source: UNESCO. Mean not given)
1 Australia (131.3)
15= Finland (108) with Iceland
18 Singapore (107)
21 UK (105.3)
47 Korea (97.1)
90 China (81.4)
93 Hong Kong (80.1)
I was surprised at the low gross secondary education enrolment rate in China and Hong Kong. The value assigned by the WEF was lower than Peru (91.2).Moldova (87.7) and Venezuela (83.5). This low enrolment rate for the whole of China should be borne in mind when the media reports on how the poorest Chinese children outperform advantaged Westerners. It’s likely that in China as a whole many of the poorest aren’t in secondary school.
Quality of maths and science education
1= Singapore (6.3) with Finland
18= Korea (5.1) with Slovenia, United Arab Emirates and Germany
31= Japan (4.7) with Tunisia, India, Latvia and Indonesia
47th= UK (4.4) with Norway, China, US and Macedonia
It should now be apparent that my headline was rather misleading. Yes, the WEF data shows UK ahead of China in two categories and equal in one other according to executives’ opinions. But these may not necessarily be accurate. But the DfE quoted the UK figure for maths and science without any qualification.
However, the UNESCO data shows that secondary school enrolment in Hong Kong and the whole of China is much lower than in the UK. I wonder if the DfE will mention that.
Thanks to the DfE for making me aware of the WEF report.