International student tests: Why some countries do better than others

International student tests: Why some countries do better than others, by the BBC. Recently poor Australia education rankings in the international Pisa tests, falling behind Kazakhstan, prompted some angst but not much real soul-searching on the ABC — ideological links with the teacher’s unions perhaps? However, a similarly poor British experience prompted this BBC article to examines the country that does the best.

Singapore only became an independent country in 1965.

And while in the UK the Beatles were singing We Can Work It Out, in Singapore they were really having to work it out, as this new nation had a poor, unskilled, mostly illiterate workforce.

The small Asian country focused relentlessly on education as a way of developing its economy and raising living standards.

And from being among the world’s poorest, with a mix of ethnicities, religions and languages, Singapore has overtaken the wealthiest countries in Europe, North America and Asia to become the number one in education.

Prof Sing Kong Lee, vice-president of Nanyang Technological University, which houses Singapore’s National Institute of Education, said a key factor had been the standard of teaching.

“Singapore invested heavily in a quality teaching force – to raise up the prestige and status of teaching and to attract the best graduates,” said Prof Lee.

The country recruits its teachers from the top 5% of graduates in a system that is highly centralised.

All teachers are trained at the National Institute of Education, and Prof Lee said this single route ensured quality control and that all new teachers could “confidently go through to the classroom”.

This had to be a consistent, long-term approach, sustained over decades, said Prof Lee. Education was an “eco-system”, he said, and “you can’t change one part in isolation”.

In addition to which there’s no teachers’ union, and no PC in Singapore means they don’t waste time on fatuous social engineering through the education system.