How schooling in the UK compares to top performing countries such as Finland and South Korea

How schooling in the UK compares to top performing countries such as Finland and South Korea 

When the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) was first introduced in 2000, Finland became the subject of study for many of the world’s educators. The sparsely populated Scandinavian country was Europe’s top performer, coming first globally in reading, third in science and fourth in mathematical literacy. 

Finland has done well in every test since, despite – or more likely because of – a seemingly laid-back approach to education.  

Compared to the UK, which finished 22nd in reading, 27th in maths and 15th in science in the most recent PISA results published last year, Finnish pupils appear to have an easier time of it. They don’t have to start school until they are 7, enjoy a 10-week summer holiday, and get very little homework. 

An OECD think tank noted: “One of the most striking facts about Finnish schools is that their students have fewer hours of instruction than students in any other OECD country”. 

It may be dangerous to assume that a ‘less is more’ approach is always best, however. In terms of maths education, the top seven countries in the 2015 PISA results were all located in east and southeast Asia. The education culture in countries such as top performing Singapore, China and South Korea tends to be entirely different, based on tough discipline, long hours, pressure and relentless testing. 

The top performing European country in the latest PISA tests was actually Estonia.  

Gunda Tire, the administrator of Study in Estonia, said the PISA study doesn’t only test students’ knowledge but also their ability to apply it in real life situations. 

“That is why these results are more important than just the testing of knowledge,” she said.  

“We want to know whether the youngsters are ready for the challenges in the future and how the Estonian education system supports that.” 

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