Posted on May 20, 2014

Pearson, the world’s leading learning company, published a new Learning Curve Index, ranking the educational performance of 39 countries. The Learning Curve 2014 report, explores factors behind global performance shifts in global education league tables and the importance of 21st Century skills.

Karim Daoud, the Managing Director of Pearson in the Middle East, says the extensive collection of data will prove particularly useful for governments in the Arab region who continue to provide vast funding towards improving national education systems. Qatar and Saudi Arabia were two of the fifty countries featured in the Learning Curve’s Data Bank and are both profiled in the new Report.Daoud says: “The UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have all committed to comprehensive education reform as a way of ensuring the future economic and social well-being of citizens after oil revenues can no longer guarantee national wealth. The Learning Curve will help those employed with this gargantuan task allocate resources for maximum effect in improving educational outcomes”.

The new open Data Bank contains over 2,500 educational, economic and social indicators relating to a total of 50 countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which is available at The data related to Qatar and Saudi Arabia has also been condensed into infographic tools, providing a visual guide to the findings. The tools help demonstrate the relationship in these Arab states between educational inputs, such as government expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP, and educational outputs, such as PISA scores and literacy rates. Also linked to these inputs and outputs are socio-economic indicators, such as homicide rates and average income levels - creating a comprehensive set of information for researchers and policy makers in the Arab region to draw upon.

The Data Bank, which brings together a collection of data from many different sources, including the OECD and United Nations placed Qatar favorably for pupil-teacher ratios at a primary level, with a figure of just 11.28 in 2011, the year with the most recent figures available. Qatar was not far off Sweden which had the lowest ratio of 9.27 and performed much better than the United Kingdom which had a figure of 17.27. The highest pupil-teacher ratio recorded in the same year was India, with a figure of 35.15.

The Report also published a new Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Attainment, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The Index, which did not rank Qatar, found 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.

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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.”

Key global lessons for the Arab region that have been highlighted by the Learning Curve include:

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, their skills test on par or below average according to 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 rank lowest in PISA, which poses the question of whether these nations can support sustained rates of economic growth long term.

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 place importance on the role of teachers and treat the profession with respect. However, success comes when the student is held accountable to do well and the teacher can work flexibly, highlighting the importance of self-sufficiency. 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: