Global education research identifies key lessons for education reform in Gulf

Christine Ozden, President of Pearson’s Middle East, Africa and Caribbean division

New global education research by Pearson, the world’s leading education company, identifies key lessons for education reform in Gulf

New findings can help Gulf governments build on educational successes of recent years

Finland and South Korea top the table of education ‘superpowers’

New global education data bank drawn from fifty nations offers new insights into the “black box” of educational outcomes

{jcomments on}Dubai, UAE, 15 January 2013: Pearson has published The Learning Curve: a new landmark report designed to help policymakers, school leaders and academics identify the key factors which drive improved educational outcomes. It is hoped the report will prove useful to governments in the Gulf as they seek to further develop the significant gains seen in their education systems over the past decade.

The Gulf region has experienced remarkable achievements in all levels of education over recent years, but policy makers admit there are still challenges that need to be overcome. Pearson believes this report will be instrumental in providing regional governments with the qualitative research and data needed to make informed decisions about future policy directions.

Policy makers in the Gulf region are aware of the importance of education to the long term well-being of citizens, and to the continuing economic prosperity of their countries. The report demonstrates that countries that rank highest in the education stakes also seem to enjoy a host of other benefits, such as longer life expectancy and higher incomes – both at a personal and national level-emphasising how just how important it is to design and implement first rate educational strategies.

Ms Christine Ozden, President of Pearson in the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean said at the regional launch of The Learning Curve:

“This report and accompanying website contain a wealth of useful and accessible data, and will therefore be an extremely useful resource for policy and decision makers in the Gulf. Key education input and output indicators of countries in the region can be viewed online, as well as the socio economic performance of those countries, demonstrating the affect education has on the well-being of the public”.

A country profile on Saudi Arabia for example can be accessed here

The page contains important economic, social and education facts on Saudi Arabia, including:

Saudi’s public expenditure per pupil as a percentage of GDP per capita is 20.69%;

The graduation rate at tertiary level is 19.76% and;

The real GDP growth per head of population stands at 3.7%.

The global study, carried out independently by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), includes a new Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment, drawing on existing data from the international OECD-PISA, TIMMS and PIRLS assessments, as well as country-level data about literacy and school and university completion rates. 

Finland and South Korea top the new Index

Perennial high-performers Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore are close behind

Of the forty countries with sufficient data to include, the swiftly emerging economies of Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia are placed lowest on the Index.

The Learning Curve also provides policy lessons and internationally comparable data on education alongside economic and social data from 50 countries in a new publicly accessible, open-source database.

The Data Bank will enable researchers and policymakers to connect education inputs and outcomes with wider social and economic outcomes more easily than ever before.  The Data Bank includes factors such as:

Education inputs: governmental spending on education, school entrance age, teacher salaries and degree of school choice

Education outcomes: literacy rates and graduation rates from school and university

Economic and social outcomes: national unemployment rates, GDP, life expectancy and prison population

The policy lessons

Finland and South Korea emerge as the clear “education superpowers” from the Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment, and both offer lessons for the Gulf. In some ways, it is hard to imagine two more different systems: South Korea’s system is frequently characterised as test-driven and rigid, with students putting in extraordinary work time; the Finnish system is much more relaxed and flexible. Closer examination, though, shows that both countries develop high-quality teachers, value accountability and have a moral mission that underlies education efforts.

The leading countries in the cognitive skills category, which comprises the international tests (PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS) in maths, reading and science that students take at Grade 8 and Grade 4, come as no surprise. The top five – Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan – all score more than one standard deviation above the norm. 

The educational attainment category, based on literacy and graduation rates, tells a different story. Here, South Korea leads, followed by the UK then Finland, Poland and Ireland.

Income matters, but culture may matter more

The expert analysis in the report suggests that, more important than money, is the level of support for education within the surrounding culture. While there is no doubt that money invested in education reaps rewards, cultural change around education and ambition is equally, if not more, important than income in promoting better educational outcomes.

Good teachers are essential and need respect

There is no substitute for good teachers. The impact of good teachers extends beyond positive educational outcomes and can be linked to positive societal factors, such as greater tendency to save for retirement. Creating the best teachers is about more than paying a good salary. The best performing countries attract top talent, train teachers throughout their careers and allow them freedom too. 

Christine Ozden, President of Pearson’s Middle East, Africa and Caribbean division, said:

“The Gulf has made extraordinary gains in education in a relatively short time frame. However, governments and learning institutions in the region consistently tell us that they want to create education systems that lead the world. The knowledge acquired from this report will help them to do that. It will give decision makers in the Gulf access to a wealth of information about what makes learning successful on a scale never seen before anywhere in the world”.

Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s chief education advisor, said: 

“The Learning Curve will allow far more sophisticated analysis of what works in education. It shows there are no magic bullets. Education requires long-term, coherent and focussed system-wide attention to achieve improvement. We’re urging all governments to commit to recording and sharing more data, so that globally we can really understand what works, equipping teachers and schools with the tools they need to produce students who successfully shape the economies and societies of the future. And we are making this data open to other researchers and experts, so they too can contribute to the debate.”

Denis McCauley, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s executive editor, business research, said: 

“The Learning Curve breaks new ground in terms of data collection and analysis, but there is so much more to do. We hope our study serves as a catalyst for further collaborative efforts by academics, practitioners and policymakers to deepen our knowledge about what contributes to better education performance and outcomes.” 

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