Best Education Systems In The World

Did you know that moral education is a part of school syllabus in Japan? Or that children in Finland start school at the age of 7? Let's take a look at education systems from around the world.

By Kerina De Floras  • 12 min read

Best Education Systems In The World

Nikita was excited. Her mom thought it was the usual excitement for the first day of school but decided to ask her anyway. “Students from a school in Finland are coming to our class today as a part of student exchange program. I can’t wait to see what they are like. Oh, I wish we could be friends!” she exclaimed happily at breakfast. Nikita’s mother smiled as her daughter skipped out of the house to board the school bus. At school, Nikita and her friends met the students from Finland. When they were allowed to interact, Nikita learnt that they started school only at 7 years of age! “Wow! So, were you home schooled till then?” she asked the Finnish boy next to her. “Not really. My mum and dad let me play at home till I joined school. I learnt to read and write though. Some of my friends went to play schools and day care.” Nikita was now teeming with questions. How is schooling different in other countries? Why do schools in India start at the age of four? Do they use the same kind of textbooks in other countries? Do they have tests like we do?

Well, we understand you might have the same questions as Nikita, so we put together a few highlights from different education systems around the world for you. These countries have been consistently ranked as top performers by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Initiated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an economic organization with 36 member countries, PISA is a study done to compare data about education policies of different countries.

Read on to find out how the education systems of these countries vary from ours and what we can learn from them.

Finland - No national exams during basic education

Best Education Systems In The World

Finland has an education system that the rest of the world looks up to. The country has a nine-year basic school program, which starts at the age of 7. Till then, parents can choose to let the children stay at home or enroll them in day-care or play schools.

  • Early childhood education and care (ECEC) for children in the form of day care or play schools is available for children up to the age of 5. The quality and standard are maintained by municipalities.
  • Basic education is compulsory for all children residing permanently in Finland, starting at the age of 7. This includes nine years of education till the age of 16. Basic education is free for all students.
  • An important feature of schools here is that they do not select their students. Students are allotted to schools in their locality. They can also choose other schools with a few restrictions.
  • Schools focus on learning rather than testing. This means that students don’t have to take any national exams or tests during their basic education tenure! Children are graded by standards set by their teachers.
  • Teachers are highly trained and require a master’s degree and initial teacher training to teach school-aged children.
  • After basic education, children can choose between academic or vocational higher secondary education.

Read more about their educational system here

The Netherlands - Streamlined secondary education based on subject of choice

The Dutch education system is mostly government funded and focuses on the needs of the children. Schools are divided based on the stream of education children choose.

  • Education is compulsory for children from the age of 5 to 16. They learn how to read, write, and do arithmetic from Grade 3.
  • The medium of instruction is mostly Dutch. While some schools teach English from Grade 1, some others start from Grade 7.
  • When children enter secondary school, they can choose from one of three options – preparatory vocational secondary education (VMBO), senior general secondary education (HAVO) and university preparatory education (VWO), depending on what they plan on doing in the future.
  • VMBO focuses on developing practical knowledge and leads to vocational training (MBO).
  • HAVO is a five-year course which prepares students to pursue higher professional education at universities teaching applied sciences
  • VWO is a six-year stream with a focus on theoretical knowledge and prepares students for research studies.
  • Apart from this, Dutch schools are of two types – public and special. While public schools are run by the government, special schools operate independently. All schools receive government funding, irrespective of whether they are public or private.
  • Schools follow the Montessori, Dalton, Steiner, Jenaplan or International method of teaching. Each of these methods help children learn at their own pace, while developing their curiosity and imagination.

Watch the video below to know more.  


Parent Talk - Studying in Kenya

It is a common misconception that students in Africa learn about animals while watching them walk outside the window, but it’s rarely brought to the front that brave 'lions' are actually in the making inside the classrooms! Being an Edexcel student from one of the reputed schools in Nairobi, Kenya, I have always been asked 'How is the education system in Kenya? Do you actually have classrooms? Do you see monkeys during class? I have learnt to smile sarcastically and say, ‘Oh yes! We even share our lunch with zebras’. Jokes apart, the type of education system followed there allows a student to apply his knowledge, rather than just learn and repeat in exams. Memorizing is not a part of education in Kenya.
Kenya, like other countries offers a variety of option for education. The government-based schools offer primary and secondary education. The Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) covers Kiswahili (native language of Kenya) English, math, science and agriculture, and social studies. In the fourth year of secondary school, students take up the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE). There are also schools run by private institutions where curriculums from other countries are followed.”
- Devisalini Sivaraj, brought up in Kenya, now working mom of a toddler


South Korea - Focused education with emphasis on learning life skills

South Korea has retained one of the top spots among countries with the best education systems. Education is the reason why South Korea has some of the world’s most skilled employees who have helped improve its economy in a short span of time.

  • Children attend kindergarten at the age of three, and these schools are mostly run by private organizations. 
  • After this, they attend primary school for six years, followed by three years of middle school and three years of high school.
  • In primary school, students study mathematics and subjects called ‘Good Life’, ‘Wise Life’ and ‘Happy Life’, which focus on basic skills, problem-solving, creativity and learning through play.
  • In middle school, education is taken more seriously, and students study basic subjects and any other subject of their choice. Students also enjoy an exam-free semester, during which they don’t have to give any examinations, and are given time each day to study a non-traditional course.
  • High school can be academic or vocational. Students learn English, Korean history, social studies and science, and subjects like technology, home economics, liberal arts and more.
  • The first year in high school has common academic courses for all students. The next two years offer specialized courses, depending on the subjects students chose.
  • South Korea has been modernizing vocational schools by developing national standards for these programs and by partnering with specific industries.

Learn more about their education system here

Japan - Focus on moral education and culture

Best Education Systems In The World

The Japanese education system is known for its emphasis on moral education, apart from academic courses. Japanese students have consistently ranked higher among OECD students in terms of quality and performance in reading literacy, mathematics and sciences.

  • Education is compulsory for children till the age of 15, and students studying in public schools run by the government do not have to pay registration or school material fees.
  • Elementary school begins at the age of 6, and focuses on providing general education, along with physical and mental development.
  • Most Japanese schools do not have a janitor. Children are divided into teams and are taught to tackle chores such as cleaning the floors, wiping the boards and even weeding out the garden. This proves to be an amazing team-building activity which helps students interact better with each other, while also keeping their surroundings clean.
  • Extra-curricular activities are also held in elementary schools. Sports day, cultural festivals, exhibitions and plays are a major part of school life.
  • Children who complete elementary school go on to study in lower secondary schools, till the age of 15, where they study subjects based on their learning in elementary school.
  • Students are encouraged to enroll in student clubs where they can pursue their interests in sports and culture. Judo, kendo (Japanese swordsmanship), sado (Japanese tea ceremony), kado (Japanese flower arrangement) and shodo (Japanese calligraphy) are some of the activities students participate in.
  • To enter upper secondary school, students are required to take an entrance exam. Apart from full-day courses, students also take up extra courses in correspondence.
  • General courses provide common education for all students who have not yet decided their specific vocational area. Specialized courses are for students who have chosen a specific area like agriculture, commerce, fishery, home economics, nursing and more. Integrated courses educate students on various subject areas, depending on their choice.

Read more about schools and education in Japan here

Singapore - Teach Less Learn More

Best Education Systems In The World

Singapore spends about 20% of its national budget on education. The country’s ministry of education launched the Teach Less, Learn More (TLLM) policy in 2005, which has pushed its education system to a leading spot globally.

  • Primary education in Singapore starts at the age of seven, before which children can attend pre-school or kindergarten.
  • Primary school is compulsory for children and comprises of two parts. During the foundation stage of the first years, children learn basics of mathematics, languages and science.
  • Students entering the orientation stage of primary school are subject to 'subject-based banding’, a policy which streams students to subjects based on their interest and ability.
  • After primary education, students take the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), and based on their score, they can choose a secondary school of their choice.
  • The TLLM approach incorporated by the Ministry of Education has helped schools streamline the syllabus, reduce learning by rote and adopt teaching methods that require student interaction.
  • Teachers are encouraged to find efficient and interactive ways to teach and explore other ways of assessments, other than homework and tests.
  • The streamlined syllabus gives students more choice in subjects and allows them to explore their interests. It has helps them make time to participate in non-academic programs.

Read more about their education system here

Maya Thiagarajan, Education Director at TREE talks about what we can learn from education systems around the world. 

"I have taught in the US, Singapore, and India. For me, teaching is about forging a deep relationship with each student, understanding where each student is in his/her learning journey, and then helping each student develop and grow to his or her full potential. 
One of the challenges we still face in the Indian education system is that it has not evolved to keep up with a very rapidly changing world. When I talk to teachers, they often focus more on “covering syllabus” as opposed to ensuring that real, deep learning is happening. Our kids need to be asking questions, as well as thinking creatively and independently; however, our education system, which is still focused on memorizing content or “content coverage”, often does not give kids enough opportunities to really think, question, research, and create.
I think we need to put more effort on teacher training and development. In Singapore, for example, only the top students get into the National Institute for Education (NIE), which is their national teacher training program. Furthermore the training teachers receive is very rigorous, and the system ensures that teachers engage in high quality professional development on a regular basis, all through their careers. As a result, Singapore has one of the best education systems in the world. Ultimately, the quality of a nation’s education system depends on the quality of its teachers."

Making the right reforms to a country’s education policy can change the future of the child and of the country. Let us hope that we can take take a leaf out of these education systems when we draft the National Education Policy in the coming years. 

Also Read

16 Fascinating Facts About Education From Around The World

Education Policies and Systems in India: An Interview with Meeta Sengupta

Globalisation and Education: Impact of Globalisation on Higher Education in India

About the author

Written by Kerina De Floras on January 21, 2021. 

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