In his song Rat Race, Bob Marley made the musical statement “in the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty”.
The U.S. is one of the most technologically-advanced nations in the world, but in a recent math-and-science-education ranking, published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the U.S. placed 28th out of 76 OECD countries. Singapore came in at number one. In fact, the top 5 spots were taken by Asian countries, thus reaffirming the stereotype we all know too well: Asian digs math and science.
OECD’s education director, Andreas Schleicher, stated that it is the first time the OECD has a truly global scale of quality. According to Schleicher, the ranking will give more countries ways of comparing themselves against others. It is a way for countries to judge themselves, and see what is to be gained in the long-term process, educationally and economically.
Unlike previous and similar rankings, this one included countries of very different economic status. Finland, coming in at number 6, is the first non-Asian country to be included in the ranking. Ghana came in last.
So, what is it? Why did America come in at number 28 of OECD countries? I don’t think for one second that I hold all of the answers, but I just figure I’d throw it out there. Doesn’t it seem a little strange that the United States – a place reputably abundant in, well, everything – would come in 28th? What does it say about the quality of our education system? Does it speak poorly of our educators, or does it aim to shed a concerned red light on those being educated?
I am not saying that the U.S. should always be No. 1 in everything it does. Try though it might – it will not be ahead of everything. As Jedi Master Qui Gon Jinn wisely observed in The Phantom Menace, “there is always a bigger fish.” And, that is a good thing. It keeps the nations in healthy competition with one another, promotes academic co-operation, and helps to maintain balance in the Force — I mean, the world.
Obviously, education will vary from one location to another. It is dependent on many factors and variables, and that is the natural state of things. However, I believe that 28th place is not befitting a nation that landed a man on the moon half a century ago. I hope that the suits ‘n’ ties in charge draw their conclusions, show some humility, and maybe pick up a tip or two from those who were ranked before us. If anything, this recent ranking has shown us all that even poorer countries, such as Vietnam, could teach us a thing or two about academia.