Consider the places that best prepare their students for the future and what comes to mind are nations such as Finland and South Korea, which are famous the world over for their education systems. However these are also fairly high income nations. What happens when educational performance is adjusted for different income levels? Then developing nations like in Southeast Asia do very well on international rankings, according to a new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit. The findings suggest that although these nations have less money, they extract more value from every dollar spent on education than many of their rich peers.
The 2019 Worldwide Educating for the Future Index analyzes education based on three criteria: state policy, teaching conditions, and the general socioeconomic context. For the second year running, Finland led the top 10 nations, which also included Canada, New Zealand, and Singapore. However the places shift when national income is taken into consideration.
Poorer Nations can Establish Good Schools
"The results are striking," said the report released this month.
"When scores are adjusted, half of the original top 10 relinquish their places to middle- and low-income countries - the Philippines, Ghana, Mexico, Vietnam and Indonesia. It suggests that the latter are putting their more limited resources to good use in advancing a future skills agenda."
Rich Nations still lead
If governments had unlimited money, they probably could improve education systems. But they don't, so the index findings are significant because they offer hope that education can be improved through other means.
However the role of money was unavoidable. Just as rich students can afford tutors and other advantages, the EIU said rich nations tended to perform better on the index, saying, "the wealthier an economy, the more likely it is to rank in the upper half."
Myanmar for instance is one of the newer emerging economies. Kyaw Moe Tun, founder and executive director of the Parami Institute of Liberal Arts in Yangon, said the nation wants "a world-class higher education system."
Efforts "are going to take a lot of time, and we don't have enough resources to implement them," he said in the report.
Doing more with Less
For those with more limited resources there are other means to improve education, said the EIU, a research division of the Economist Group. It said "the need to develop future skills like critical thinking, creativity, entrepreneurship, and analysis is more vital than ever given the continuing advances in technology and artificial intelligence."
Those future skills should be incorporated into national education strategies, the report said.
Brazil and other nations, for instance, make these skills an official priority in their education policies and conduct regularly scheduled reviews of the policies to ensure they keep up with the times.
Changing Education Goals
Other recommendations include promoting classroom access to technology, career counselors, extracurricular learning options, and the principle of lifelong learning, that people will have to keep adapting their skills long after they graduate.
Microsoft vice president of worldwide education Anthony Salcito said it's good that government and school officials are talking, but it's not enough.
"There's a misunderstanding that what we need to do is get students technology skills, whereas what we need are students who understand how to unleash their human skills in a world of technology," he said in the report.
The benefits go beyond education and jobs, Georgia McCafferty, EIU managing editor for thought leadership, said.
She suggested education promotes global values, such as respect for civil liberties and tolerance of religious diversity.
"The recent rise of nativism and populism in some quarters of the world, along with a rejection of globalization," she said, "makes the need for students [to] develop future-oriented skills like critical thinking and analysis even more urgent."