Education: An international perspective

12 Oct 2014


The four year tenure of Michael Gove brought education into the forefront of the public psyche – it was a constant issue of debate where curriculums, teachers, and tuition fees amongst other issues were fundamentally changed. However, although many (including myself) saw this as one of the darkest periods of British education, it’s nothing compared to the educational troubles of other countries.


Chiefly, I bring up the issue of Brazil where the topic of teaching has been in the news as of late. Brazil spent huge sums of money in the build-up to the 2014 Football World Cup, which saw many of its population question why it was so willing to spend money on sport and not alleviating the huge amount of poverty that is prevalent in the country; protesters were holding up banners stating “teachers are more important than footballers” with the outcry being immortalised in the iconic graffiti image of a malnourished boy staring at a football on his plate.


Much like the UK during the Gove years, education was a constant theme in Brazilian protest movements. And it’s easy to see why; in Brazil there is a shortage of 300,000 primary school teachers – it’s hard to even stomach, indeed even more difficult to comprehend how many children will get a lacklustre education at one of the most important stages of development.


Brazil also suffers at the very top of the educational ladder, with only 20% of space in Brazil’s top public universities available for all students - the rest being reserved for those who can pay fees. This is a huge hindrance on social mobility, which is perhaps one of the main tools that can be used to lift people out of poverty. Not only are children denied education in the earliest years, but 80% of spaces at universities are cut off for Brazil’s poorest families – unless they can pay. There is the option of private universities, but some of them can charge fees equivalent of up to £1,000 a month. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, and denying such a huge proportion of the population free or supported education shows staggering incompetence from the Brazilian government.

The Brazillian government is however taking steps to combat this. They have pledged to spend a total of 10% of their GDP on education by 2024; the highest in the world. A difficult task, so it’s hard to say for certain if the government would be able to meet the very high bar they are setting. As well as this, they are appealing to overseas schemes for their students – indeed thousands have attended either short-term study abroad or on a full-time basis at universities in the UK.


As we can see, Brazil’s education situation is in dire need of improvement and it needs to look to efficient, long-term solutions to improve it. I see the answer in the education systems of the Nordic countries. Indeed, Finland ranks as the best education system in Europe and fifth in the world whilst Denmark and Norway rank in the top 25 in a report published by Pearson. Whilst the last UN educational index ranks Norway as having the best education, with Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Finland all appearing in the top 25.


Evidently, the Nordic countries appear to have got education down to a tee and it would be wise for the governments of countries like Brazil, and even the UK to look to them for guidance. The Economist noted that they are the next “supermodel” for education. Teachers generally enjoy high wages and high job satisfaction in sharp contrast to the UK, where many were leaving the profession, stating their morale was at rock-bottom.


Teaching is a respected profession in many of the Nordic countries, enjoying a similar social status to the likes of lawyers and doctors.  Back in the UK, the Education Secretary likened any teacher who dared oppose him as “Marxists” or as “enemies of promise”. Finland offers a much more egalitarian system – with classes being of mixed ability and having multiple staff on hand in lessons to assist pupils, and having a system that is free from primary school to graduating with a Bachelors at university.


Education is one of the most fundamental factors that a government must focus on – the Nordic countries have, and statistics support this, got it right. The UK, although still ranking fairly high, has much to answer for – especially as Michael Gove fundamentally changed the teaching profession for the worst. Meanwhile poorer countries like Brazil need to desperately change direction – Brazil has a huge population, yet many are denied a decent education from as early as primary school. I can only say that the Nordic systems seemed to have got education right – perhaps it is time we look to their model for guidance.


By Rory Claydon

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