"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." — Nelson Mandela
While education levels vary from country to country, there is a clear correlation between the quality of a country's educational system and its general economic status and overall well-being. In general, developing nations tend to offer their citizens a higher quality of education than the least developed nations do, and fully developed nations offer the best quality of education of all. Education is clearly a vital contributor to any country's overall health.
According to the Global Partnership for Education, education is considered to be a human right and plays a crucial role in human, social, and economic development. Education promotes gender equality, fosters peace, and increases a person's chances of having more and better life and career opportunities.
The annual Best Countries Report, conducted by US News and World Report, BAV Group, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, reserves an entire section for education. The report surveys thousands of people across 78 countries, then ranks those countries based upon the survey's responses. The education portion of the survey compiles scores from three equally-weighted attributes: a well-developed public education system, would consider attending university there, and provides top-quality education. As of 2021, the top ten countries based on education rankings are:
Countries with the Best Educational Systems - 2021 Best Countries Report*
- The United States
- The United Kingdom
- The Netherlands
*For the full list of countries' educational systems ranked from best to worst, scroll down.
Ironically, despite the United States having the best-surveyed education system on the globe, U.S students consistently score lower in math and science than students from many other countries. According to a Business Insider report in 2018, the U.S. ranked 38th in math scores and 24th in science. Discussions about why the United States' education rankings have fallen by international standards over the past three decades frequently point out that government spending on education has failed to keep up with inflation.
It's also worthwhile to note that while the Best Countries study is certainly respectable, other studies use different methodologies or emphasize different criteria, which often leads to different results. For example, the Global Citizens for Human Rights' annual study measures ten levels of education from early childhood enrollment rates to adult literacy. Its final 2020 rankings look a bit different:
Countries with the Best Educational Systems - 2020 Global Citizens for Human Rights
- South Korea
Education Rates of Children Around the World
Most findings and ranking regarding education worldwide involve adult literacy rates and levels of education completed. However, some studies look at current students and their abilities in different subjects.
One of the most-reviewed studies regarding education around the world involved 470,000 fifteen-year-old students. Each student was administered tests in math, science, and reading similar to the SAT or ACT exams (standardized tests used for college admissions in the U.S.) These exam scores were later compiled to determine each country's average score for each of the three subjects. Based on this study, China received the highest scores, followed by Korea, Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands.
On the down side, there are many nations whose educational systems are considered inadequate. This could be due to internal conflict, economic problems, or underfunded programs. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's Education for All Global Monitoring Report ranks the following countries as having the world's worst educational systems:
Countries with the Lowest-Ranked Educational Systems (and their estimated adult literacy rates)
- Niger (28.7%)
- Burkina Faso (28.7%)
- Mali (31.1%)
- Central African Republic (56%)
- Ethiopia (39%)
- Eritrea (67.8%)
- Guinea (41%)
- Pakistan (54.9%)
- Gambia (50%)
- Angola (70%)