The newly launched Pearson global league table ranks and identifies the world’s top educational superpowers as follows:

EDUCATION TOP 20 [Source: Pearson Rankings Website, including all data and the Learning Curve summary report (produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit and published by Pearson, an educational firm).]

  1. Finland
  2. South Korea
  3. Hong Kong
  4. Japan
  5. Singapore
  6. UK
  7. Netherlands
  8. New Zealand
  9. Switzerland
  10. Canada
  11. Ireland
  12. Denmark
  13. Australia
  14. Poland
  15. Germany
  16. Belgium
  17. USA
  18. Hungary
  19. Slovakia
  20. Russia

According to the Pearson Rankings, the top two education superpowers are Finland and South Korea …followed by Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.

We already have PISA and TIMSS and PIRLS scores in Reading, Maths and Science rankings and reports, why do we need another … what does the Pearson report have that the others don’t?

Well, for one, the index and accompanying report takes into account intangibles, factors for example, like  “a society’s attitude to education”, or status of teachers. See BBC news’ UK education comes up sixth in ranking

“Pearson says the intention of this ranking is to provide a more multi-dimensional view of educational achievement – and create a databank which will be updated, in a project that Pearson is calling the Learning Curve.

Looking at education systems that succeed, the study concludes that spending is important, but not as much as having a culture that is supportive of learning.

It says that spending is easier to measure, but the more complex impact of a society’s attitude to education can make a big difference.

The success of Asian countries in these rankings reflects the high value attached to education and the expectations of parents. This can continue to be a factor when families migrate to other countries, says the report accompanying the rankings.

Looking at the two top countries – Finland and South Korea – the report says that there are many big differences, but the common factor is a shared social belief in the importance of education and its “underlying moral purpose”.

Another way the Pearson seeks to distinguish its index from the others is that its index and accompanying report called The Learning Curve purports to give a more global picture being based on a series of global test results together with a composite basket of measures of education systems, such as how many people go on to university. The Pearson report highlights the Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment as one of its most important outputs. Covering 40 countries, it is based on results in a variety of international tests of cognitive skills as well as measures of literacy and graduation rates.

This last one, graduation rates is a very pragmatic factor, that I suspect people like parents and students with vested interest in their futures and employment prospects, will like very much.

Educators and education policy-watchers may also be interested in the Pearson index and report because it takes account and analyzes a different set of data and includes some of the factors that have been shown in recent research to be significant in impacting the quality of an education system – such as teacher quality, pay-and-performance correlation, democracy ranking of the country, or autonomy and school choice:

“The report also emphasises the importance of high-quality teachers and the need to find ways to recruit the best staff. This might be about status and professional respect as well as levels of pay.

The rankings show that there is no clear link between higher relative pay and higher performance.

And there are direct economic consequences of high and low performing education systems, the study says, particularly in a globalised, skill-based economy.

But there are less straightforward and conflicting messages about how schools are organised.

The ranking for levels of school choice shows that Finland and South Korea have among the lowest levels of school choice. But Singapore, another high performer, has the highest level. The UK is among the upper levels in terms of school choice….

Higher levels of school autonomy are a characteristic of many higher performing systems – headed by China, the Netherlands, the UK and Hong Kong (which is considered as a separate school system in such education rankings).

But Finland, the most successful system, has a relatively low level of school autonomy.” — source: BBC news

What’s also very interesting is that the Pearson report actually includes prescriptions for policymakers which it calls the “Five lessons for education policymakers“.

The Pearson index and report will, I think, prove to be a welcome innovation, since it addresses the criticism that the reliance on various previous index rankings like TIMSS and PISA overly emphasizes the significance of test-scores, while ignoring other strengths of various education systems.

There is a glaringly odd omission and outcome from the report. The index strangely omits an intangible factor, the catchphrase “creativity & critical thinking” that most of Asian nations’ school systems are said to be lacking in, and whose policy-makers are in a current state of self-scrutiny and self-flagellation over. For example, the US currently comes in 17th in the Pearson rankings a long way away behind Japan, and the UK , Australia and Canada too, lag behind Japan in these rankings…despite their being ahead of Asian nations in terms of schooling destinations for international students. If creativity or critical thinking values or measures or how innovative its schooling is perceived to be on a scale… were to be factored into the basket, I suspect most Asian nations would slide considerably in the rankings. As it stands, the surprising omission allows the Pearson rankings to produce a rankings result that is very disparate and different from those of the world university rankings.

Read more at In Global Education Rankings, Asian Tigers Nip At Finland’s Heels, Nov 27, 2012