In this top group, school systems are well-run with high standards, and students achieve high test scores. Access to high-quality education is very broad even across societal boundaries.
Education is viewed as a central element of competition throughout this group, with considerable attention paid to the sector. Each country achieves high average PISA test scores, with Finland showing particular strength here.
Sweden’s government has sought to deemphasize tertiary education in favor of vocational schooling for some students. New Zealand’s tertiary enrollment has risen sharply.
In this group, significant strengths are mixed with weaknesses that undermine educational outcomes for some populations.
Despite relatively high spending, test scores in Denmark and the USA are mediocre. The USA shows significant dropout rates, though scores very well in terms of upper secondary and tertiary attainment and continuing education participation. Social inequalities and dropout rates are also a concern in the UK.
Australia’s government has increased higher education support and is moving toward a national secondary curriculum, seeking to reverse earlier spending cuts. South Korea’s educational achievements are very good, but are associated with high parental expenditure, and curriculum reform is widely viewed as necessary.
A shortage of skilled teachers in Iceland has eased due to the economic collapse. Despite high test scores and overall attainment levels, Japan and Switzerland are engaged in reviews of their educational models.
In this group, inequities in education are a greater issue, with high-quality education difficult to attain for some populations, and significant weaknesses in educational outcomes evident.
Comparatively high secondary education completion rates and moderately good PISA scores in Germany and the Netherlands are combined with deep weaknesses among particular population groups, and a corresponding need for reform. Norway’s traditionally high attainment levels are associated with poor PISA scores in math and science.
France’s tertiary attrition rate is high, with university reform a controversial political issue. Austria’s early pupil tracking and university systems are troublingly elitist, while Spain suffers from inefficiency and high dropout rates.
The Czech Republic and Poland have high secondary attainment rates, but weaker tertiary achievements. Poland is this criterion’s top gainer relative to the SGI 2009, with a government-mandated drop in the age of compulsory schooling and an increase in teachers’ salaries.
In this bottom group, significant disparities or weaknesses undermine the quality of education across a broad swath of the population.
High dropout rates and low educational attainments went unaddressed during Ireland’s boom, but are now a more salient issue. Dropout rates in Italy are also high, with expenditure on teacher and staff salaries at unsustainable levels.
Despite high secondary attainment levels, Hungary’s education system is badly fitted to labor market demand. Luxembourg’s system is extremely expensive, but test scores are quite low.
Expensive private schools are good in Portugal, Chile, Mexico, Greece and Turkey, but much of the population receives very poor quality education. Portugal extended its compulsory schooling level to the 12th grade, setting the stage for future improvements.