New global education index shows Asian superpowers excel in learning

“Culture of accountability” among teachers, students and parents drives success

The Learning Curve 2014 report, published by Pearson, explores factors behind global performance shifts in global education league tables

Pearson, the world’s leading learning company, today published a new Learning Curve Index, ranking the educational performance of 39 countries.

The Learning Curve 2014 report, published by Pearson, explores factors behind global performance shifts in global education league tables and the importance of 21st Century skills. The new Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Attainment, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, finds that:

  • South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong claim top spots in overall education ranking due to a ‘culture of accountability’ in which teachers, students and parents all take responsibility for education; and society values teachers and schools far more highly than in many other parts of the world.
  • Finland drops to 5th from 1st position mainly because of decreases in its reported reading, maths and science literacy.
  • The UK holds steady at 6th position due to improvement in its PISA and PIRLS test scores and a rise in its tertiary graduation rate.  Canada and the Netherlands are also in the top ten.
  • Improving educational performance is going to be critical to all countries in sustaining economic growth.

The accompanying Learning Curve report, on the theme of skills, finds that:

  • All adults lose skills as they age, but they decline far more rapidly when not used regularly at work.
  • Skills only improve at a national level when governments, employers, schools, students and parents all prioritise them.

John Fallon, Chief Executive of Pearson commented:

"One of the most pervasive and endemic problems in education in just about every country is the lack of attention paid to skills provision.  In rich countries and emerging economies, the demand for better skills is urgent - as governments strive to create rewarding jobs for their citizens.

"The Learning Curve brings together a growing body of evidence on what works in education.  We hope it is a small but important contribution to improving learning outcomes on a global basis. As educational debates shift from a focus on inputs to learning outcomes, we hope what we have discovered will drive others to take up the baton and do more work in this field.”

Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s Chief Education Advisor commented:

“Governments around the world are under pressure to deliver better learning outcomes because they are increasingly important to people's lifelong success.  The Learning Curve provides an ever-deeper knowledge base about precisely how education systems improve themselves.  The rise of Pacific Asian countries, which combine effective education systems with a culture that prizes effort above inherited “smartness”, is a phenomenon that other countries can no longer ignore.”

Alongside the new Index, Pearson has also published a new open Data Bank of over 2,500 educational, economic and social indicators relating to a total of 50 countries, which is available at

The Data Bank draws on the three most respected global education studies - PISA, TIMMS, PIRLS – and combines them with statistics on education, GDP, employment, crime rates, and other factors to create a comprehensive set of information for researchers and policy makers to draw on.

The importance of expanding and maintaining adult skills

Alongside the Index, Pearson has also published an in-depth report, written by the Economist Intelligence Unit, on the importance of skills in improving educational and economic outcomes. The report concludes that:

  • The OECD estimates that half of the economic growth in developed countries in the last decade came from improved skills, highlighting the importance of driving skills to help grow a country’s economy.
  • It’s difficult to determine the impact of adult education on individuals, as they are mostly already highly educated and skilled.
  • South Korea outperforms all other countries in PISA.  However, after age 20, South Koreans’ skills test on par or below average according to the OECD’s adult skills PIAAC results.
  • While Scandinavian countries fall behind Asia in the education rankings, they score highly in adult skill retention through encouraging adults to continuously develop their skills and providing the infrastructure for this.
  • Basic skills gained in early education are essential to continued skill development and that continued use of skills in adulthood is crucial in slowing the inevitable decline over time.

Better education means better economic growth

The Learning Curve demonstrates that education correlates with economic growth: the average time spent in school has been statistically linked to nations’ labour productivity for the last two decades.

Developing countries such as Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia have had very strong economic growth in recent years, but perform less well in the Learning Curve.  In order to sustain strong economic growth, a stronger focus on educational outcomes and skills may be needed.

Effective education requires accountability and great teaching

New technologies require both teachers and students to acquire a broader range of skills, opening up the possibility for new teaching techniques. Countries and their governments must find ways to elevate and celebrate the role of teachers and teaching in society.

Countries tend to succeed when students are held accountable to do well and teachers are trusted to work flexibly. Teachers cannot teach effectively when the curriculum is tightly controlled. Moreover, it’s evident that parental expectations impact on the students’ performance and motivation too.

To read the full report please visit:


Notes to Editors

Table 1: top 10 countries in the Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment 2014

Top 10 countries in the Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment 2014
Country 2014 Index Rank Change on 2012 Ranking
South Korea 1 +1
Japan 2 +2
Singapore 3 +2
Hong Kong-China 4 -1
Finland 5 -4
United Kingdom 6 0
Canada 7 +3
Netherlands 8 -1
Ireland 9 +2
Poland 10 +4

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit

About Pearson

Pearson is the world's leading learning company, with 40,000 employees in more than 80 countries working to help people of all ages to make measurable progress in their lives through learning.


Pippa Vaux
0207 0102260