Every education minister I meet is interested to know what he or she can learn from other countries and what needs to be done to improve performance. Of course, there are risks involved – neither PISA nor any of the recognised rankings measure everything that matters – but overall this is an important and positive development. Governments all around the world are under pressure to deliver improved learning outcomes because they are increasingly important ingredients of success. As a result, education ministers are on the search for evidence of what works more than they ever were before.
The Learning Curve is a contribution to the growing evidence base. By combining a number of different international rankings – including PISA and TIMSS as well as measures of adult skills – it provides the equivalent of a poll of polls. Furthermore, in a single database, it combines education input data with data on learning outcomes and data on social outcomes, such as employment and crime. All this data is openly available to researchers and others who want to make their own connections.
The second edition of The Learning Curve has been updated to include data, such as the recent PISA published in December 2013, that wasn’t available when the first edition was published in 2012.
As with any other approach to ranking it is not perfect. Some of the data has limitations and all of it needs to be approached with caution and judgement. The evidence can inform decision-making but it does not tell you what to do.
Even so, some conclusions from The Learning Curve can clearly be reached. One is the continuing rise of a number of Pacific Asian countries, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, which combine effective education systems with a culture that prizes effort above inherited ‘smartness’. Another is the significant challenge of improving skills and knowledge in adulthood, for people who were let down by their school system. This is one focus of The Learning Curve report and will become increasingly important to countries around the world.
These and other lessons need to be debated and understood country by country so that each can learn, in a sophisticated way, how to do better. Even the highest-performing countries in The Learning Curve rankings are far from providing education that would ensure every single student is prepared for informed citizenship and 21st century employability.
That is why alongside The Learning Curve Index and report, Pearson is publishing a series of papers by the world’s leading education thinkers on how to improve teaching, learning and the performance of education systems. For example, A Rich Seam, by Michael Fullan and Maria Langworthy, published in January 2014, examines how pedagogy needs to change to unlock the motivation of both students and teachers and exploit the potential of modern technology.
Pearson itself is committed to efficacy – demonstrating the impact on learning outcomes of all its products and services – to ensure it too contributes to the improved performance of education systems that is required for the 21st century.
This updated version of The Learning Curve makes a further contribution to the knowledge base on which education leaders are drawing. It also makes possible extensive further research for those who want to extend their knowledge base.
The rankings and report are interesting and provoke debate but it is the ever-deeper knowledge base that will change the world.
Sir Michael Barber
Chief education advisor of Pearson