How the World Learns: Comparative Educational Systems

Discover the unique ways some countries foster student achievement-and the circumstances that cause others to fall short.
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The revolutionary belief that education is the great equalizer" has spread across the globe, and education systems reflect ideals including universal enrollment. Yet how can success in education be measured-and improved? How the World Learns is an international comparison of teaching methods and student achievement, delving into culture and context to see what is succeeding and what is failing, at home and abroad."


Alexander W. Wiseman
Alexander W. Wiseman

Knowing how the world learns is a stepping-stone to understanding how students acquire skills and knowledge, teachers teach, and education systems function in the best (and worst) ways.


Lehigh University
Professor Alexander W. Wiseman is an Associate Professor of Comparative and International Education at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. He received his Ph.D. in both Comparative and International Education and Educational Theory and Policy from The Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Wiseman has more than 19 years of professional experience, working worldwide with government education departments, university-based teacher education programs, and community-based professional development programs for teachers. He also has been a classroom teacher in both the United States and East Asia, and he currently serves as a frequent strategic planning and development consultant for ministries of education and national education organizations worldwide. He is a co-chair of the Committee on International Accreditation for the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Professor Wiseman is the author of many research-to-practice articles and books. Recent articles have appeared in Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education; Prospects: Quarterly Review of Comparative Education; American Behavioral Scientist; Computers & Education; and Research in Comparative and International Education. In addition, Professor Wiseman serves as the series editor for the International Perspectives on Education and Society volume series and as the chief editor of the Annual Review of Comparative and International Education volume. He also is the senior editor of the peer-reviewed journal FIRE: Forum for International Research in Education.

By This Professor

How the World Learns: Comparative Educational Systems
How the World Learns: Comparative Educational Systems


The Global Challenge to Educate

01: The Global Challenge to Educate

Borrowing or benchmarking one national education system against another is not necessarily a remedy or the most useful analytical tool for educational reform, yet these are among the most common approaches. Begin to understand why this approach falls short as Professor Wiseman lays out his general thesis for the course....

34 min
Sputnik Launches the Science-Math Race

02: Sputnik Launches the Science-Math Race

Dating back to Sputnik in the 1950s, education culture has been driven by anxiety. Learn about the history of "crisis" in U.S. education before investigating how America's educational system compares with schools and students in other countries. Focus on TIMSS in particular, which tracks mathematics and science achievement in about 70 countries....

33 min
Education Is Life

03: Education Is Life

Which is more important-gaining knowledge or new skills? Is standardized testing the best measure of what someone knows? What is the purpose of going to school-to prepare for college or a career? Address such questions as you probe Americans' views on education and how it can be improved using internationally comparable information....

31 min
Evidence-Based Policy Making in Education

04: Evidence-Based Policy Making in Education

Delve into the question of why evidence-based educational policymaking has become a global phenomenon by looking at the way data is used to shape what teachers and students do in the classroom. See how governing bodies can bureaucratize the ways data is collected, presented, and interpreted-or manipulated....

30 min
What Should We Compare about Education?

05: What Should We Compare about Education?

Do the achievement rankings paint an accurate picture of what's happening in schools, or is the crisis politically manufactured? Get answers as you analyze common criticisms of national education systems through the lens of three recurring phenomena-achievement envy, the accountability expectation, and access entitlement-and look at approaches to shifting school culture....

34 min
The World Learns from Horace Mann

06: The World Learns from Horace Mann

Trace how the ideologies of mass education emerged in the U.S. and became central tenets of education around the world. Survey the ideas of key educational thinkers such as Horace Mann and James Bryant Conant, then consider why, despite its strengths, the U.S. might be ranked low relative to international standards....

30 min
When Culture Invades the Classroom

07: When Culture Invades the Classroom

Investigate the idea that "non-school factors" such as student poverty are among the strongest predictors of learning. Examine how two of the largest of these factors-culture and economics-play out in South Africa, which is experiencing an HIV/AIDS crisis, and in China, where test scores and national economics are thought to go hand-in-hand....

29 min
Germany and Japan's Shattered Expectations

08: Germany and Japan's Shattered Expectations

Thanks to the PISA and other internationally comparative data, each nation's policymakers, educators, and the public know exactly how well their students perform compared to their peers. Consider why Finland sits at the top of these rankings, and examine reforms countries such as Indonesia and Japan have implemented in response to their results....

31 min
Borrowing Foreign School Cultures

09: Borrowing Foreign School Cultures

Why are educational comparisons so popular? Should educational reform be driven by economic competition? Think critically about these questions as you examine which countries and cultures are and aren't comparable, and consider the United Arab Emirates' unique strategy of importing 50 Finnish teachers to reform two schools based on the Finnish model....

30 min
The Value in Linking School to Jobs

10: The Value in Linking School to Jobs

Many business and industry leaders say there is no connection between formal school education-which teaches information, but not skills-and what is needed in the world of work. Investigate renewed global efforts to test whether vocational training can better prepare youth to participate in the emerging technology-driven knowledge economy....

30 min
Why Blame the Teacher?

11: Why Blame the Teacher?

Is low student performance the fault of teachers? Consider this question as you study characteristics of students, teachers, curriculum, and culture in the "model" educational systems to see what makes them different (or not) from the U.S. and other middle- or low-performing countries. Look at the elusiveness of quality teachers in the Gulf region....

30 min
Gender Pipeline Lifts Equality Dream

12: Gender Pipeline Lifts Equality Dream

The U.S. and other countries may not be able to replicate Finland's educational system, but they can level the playing field by making adjustments that contribute to equity in policies, curricula, and pedagogy. Focus on gender-based equity, looking at areas where real progress is being made as well as institutionalized gender inequalities masked by egalitarian values....

32 min
Gulf Schools: The Non-National Advantage

13: Gulf Schools: The Non-National Advantage

Look at the "insider" versus the "outsider" in national education systems such as Saudi Arabia to see how education bridges political citizenship, academic performance, and economic productivity. Examine how education is a means for producing citizens who reflect the desired image of a nation's population and its government....

29 min
Who Is Accountable for Education?

14: Who Is Accountable for Education?

Accountability culture varies from country to country and region to region, but three common elements appear in most educational systems. Compare and contrast how access, achievement, and a combination of standards and assessments play out in the U.S. and Finland, and look at one notable exception-the consensus culture of Japan....

30 min
How Parents Shape Student Outcomes

15: How Parents Shape Student Outcomes

Explore how parental involvement aligns with socioeconomic status and influences student achievement and education worldwide. See the role "cram schools" in Korea and other private tutoring play in education and the importance of early childhood education on child literacy. Finally, learn how the Japanese system fosters ties between schools and employers....

33 min
Reading, Writing, and Religion

16: Reading, Writing, and Religion

Think about how educators and students in systems around the world decide what to teach and learn, and consider how this decision is largely a product of context. Start with an examination of national curricula around the world, where you'll find commonalities in content matter and cognitive skills, as well as key differences....

30 min
International Test Scores: All and Nothing

17: International Test Scores: All and Nothing

Most educational systems around the world have four general goals. Explore each of them here as you get a framework for finding what works to improve student achievement on standardized tests in countries worldwide. Also, look closely at some of the chief concerns regarding these tests....

32 min
Turning a Good Teacher into a Great One

18: Turning a Good Teacher into a Great One

Think about what constitutes good teaching, and look at the ways teachers teach in the U.S., Finland, Saudi Arabia, and Japan. Begin your comparison by looking at some of the school factors that influence teaching, including how teachers are trained and the degree to which they routinely collaborate....

29 min
The Foundations of Civil Society

19: The Foundations of Civil Society

Think critically about political socialization and why it plays such a large part in education worldwide by looking closely at the various ways students are politically socialized, the results of these efforts, and who realistically-rather than ideally-benefits....

29 min
From National Student to Global Citizen

20: From National Student to Global Citizen

Explore how education in countries around the world develops global citizens by imparting a combination of identity, knowledge, skills, and action-both explicitly and implicitly-to engender concern for making the world a better place. Examine curricula designed to focus on global citizenry, including the International Baccalaureate and instruction created by Oxfam....

32 min
The Problem with Teaching's Best Practices

21: The Problem with Teaching's Best Practices

Explore ways that teachers and students behave in classrooms across the globe, focusing on what seems to work in a few key systems. Discover why practices that produce a great outcome in one place-such as lengthening the school year-don't necessarily lead to success in another....

29 min
A School inside Your Phone?

22: A School inside Your Phone?

New technologies are being implemented as teaching tools, combining traditional teaching methods with more self-directed learning. Consider efforts such as the One Laptop per Child organization, and see why even when such technology does exist, its use is not always sustainable....

30 min
The Rich-and-Poor Learning Cycle

23: The Rich-and-Poor Learning Cycle

How should we measure academic success? By standardized tests and school grades? By transition and mobility within an education system? See how true success in education is a delicate balance between school factors and non-school factors, which can look quite different depending on the context....

30 min
How to Fix Education: Heart, Head, Hands

24: How to Fix Education: Heart, Head, Hands

Assuming something is "wrong" with schools, how might they be fixed? Analyze how the larger forces of imposition, invitation, and innovation can lead to change through examples from Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and Myanmar, where Buddhist monks have established non-religious schools at their monasteries to remedy the poor quality of government-provided education....

35 min