Chalk Talk: Far Eastern schools may not be all they're cracked up to be

There is convincing evidence this week that we should perhaps be a bit careful when drawing conclusions about the relative education performance of the UK compared with other countries.

We are often being told there are lessons to be learned from the Pacific Rim countries such as Singapore and South Korea as to how we should go about fine-tuning our education system.

Ofqual, the exams regulator, even has as its remit that it must compare the standard demanded in A-levels with equivalent curriculums set by our competitor international countries.

Now, it seems, all may not be as well as it seems with South Korea, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – the body that produces the most comprehensive international rankings of education systems.

"The main challenge for us that the Korean labour market and its skills system contain rather weak incentioves for investment in the skills required by the economy – as opposed to educational qualifications, which are widely revered," it thunders.

I seem to recall a similar critique of our education system produced by Britain's bosses, who constantly complain the UK education system is not producing young people who are equipped to tackle the economic demands of the 21st century.

While we are on the subject, the performance of Shanghai – one of the strongest performers in the OECD education indicators – also came into question as the organisation launched the 2012 version of its "Education At A Glance" publication across the world.

Chris Waterman, from the journal Children's Weekly, asked how you could compare Shanghai's performance when it was known that many of the workers who had migrated to the city (ie from disadvantaged families) had left their children behind.

He should have known not to challenge Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD's education division, on figures. Back came the reply that 5.1 million of the migrant workers had taken their families with them, whereas only 0.9 million had not.

Meanwhile, hats off to a colleague who suggested "Education At A Glance" was the wrong title for a publication that regularly runs into more than 500 pages!

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