9 charts that show the state of education around the world

Students in Irena Chmura's Salusbury World class, which includes students from Year 1 to Year 6, pose in their classroom in London, Britain June 25, 2015. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

The OECD has published its Education at a Glance 2018 report. Here’s what you need to know. Image: REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale

In today’s uncertain climate, teaching children about themselves and the world seems more crucial than ever.

“The quality of education can be a strong predictor of a country’s economic prosperity,” outlines the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2018 report - but, more than this, skill gaps can impact on everything from a nation’s health to social unrest.

This year’s report, drawn from data on the OECD’s 35 member countries and some partner countries, focuses in particular on equity in education, showing that although overall attainment is increasing, socioeconomic status still has a big impact on learning, which in turn affects people’s earnings and lifestyle.

Despite economic disparities between the countries studied, there are still many positives in the report...

1. More people are educated to a higher level

 South Koreans are the most highly educated.
Image: OECD

More than a third (36%) of adults across OECD countries are tertiary educated - which refers to studies usually beyond the age of 18, such as at university.

In the decade between 2007 and 2017, the percentage of adults who had a level of education below upper secondary (usually from age 14) fell from 20% to 15%.

The most highly educated country in the report was South Korea, where only 2% of men and women aged 25 to 34 had not completed upper secondary education.

But some countries are still a way behind the OECD average, with 50% or more of adults in China, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia and Mexico not educated to upper secondary level.

2. Women are generally better educated than men

 More women enter tertiary education than men.
Image: OECD

On average across OECD countries, 50% of women aged 25 to 34 are educated to tertiary level, compared with 38% of men - and younger women are more highly educated than their mothers.

For example, in Korea, there’s been a significant rise in the number of women staying in education longer between generations - with the share of tertiary-educated women jumping from 14% among 55 to 64 year olds to 75% among 25 to 34 year olds.

3. But they are paid less

 Women educated to tertiary level are paid less than men
Image: OECD

The gender pay gap persists throughout all levels of educational attainment - and it’s particularly evident in the difference in earnings for those with tertiary education. Tertiary-educated women in full-time work are only paid 74% as much as men.

While discrimination, gender stereotyping and social conventions were all listed as reasons for the gap in earnings, the report noted men are more likely to study in fields associated with more pay, such as engineering, mathematics and computing, while more women study languages, humanities and arts subjects, associated with lower paid careers.

4. Higher education boosts your job prospects

 Employment rates for people with tertiary education are highest in Iceland
Image: OECD

Upper secondary education is the minimal requirement for successful entrance into the labour market, according to the report. Among 25 to 34 year olds with at least an upper secondary level of education, 81% are employed, compared to 60% of those who hadn’t completed this level.

While there is still work for those with lower levels of academic achievement, the job market was less secure, with a higher risk of unemployment due to automation.

On average across OECD countries, getting a tertiary education improved chances of getting a job by 10 percentage points, compared to lower levels of education.

The more educated you are, the more you’re likely to earn: adults aged 25 to 64 with a tertiary degree earn 54% more than those with only an upper secondary education.

5. Children in Slovenia are the most environmentally aware

 Some countries are doing more to teach children to care for the environment.
Image: OECD

Teaching future generations how to look after the environment is key to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, empowering children to change their own behaviours.

But according to the 2016 International Civics and Citizenship Education Study, not all schools are teaching environment and environmental sustainability to eighth-graders (13.5 year olds on average).

More than 80% of schools in Slovenia include environmental issues in the curriculum for this age group, compared with around 30% of schools in the Netherlands.

6. More children in early years education

 Rates of children being enrolled in early education are rising.
Image: OECD

In the past decade, OECD countries have focused on getting more children under three into early childhood education and care (ECEC), with an increase from 25% to 31% between 2010 and 2016 - and on average 31 hours per week and 40 weeks per year.

It allows both parents to balance work and childcare responsibilities and an early start in education is better for children’s attainment later on in life.

But children are more likely to be educated under three if the mother has had a tertiary education and comes from a more advantaged socioeconomic background.

7. International students have more than doubled since 1999

 More students are studying abroad.
Image: OECD

Studying abroad gives students better career prospects in an increasingly global jobs market, as well as opportunities to acquire skills perhaps not taught in their home country, and a better quality education.

Host countries are also keen to attract international students because they often pay higher tuition fees and will add to the country’s global talent pool.

Between 1999 and 2016, the number of foreign students engaged in tertiary education programmes worldwide rose from two million to five million.

8. Teachers’ salaries are increasing

 Teachers are gradually earning more.
Image: OECD

Between 2005 and 2017, salaries of qualified teachers with 15 years’ experience increased by 8% at primary level, 7% at lower secondary level and 5% at upper secondary.

On average, the salary cost of teachers per student (taking into account factors including class size and instruction time) increases from $2,936 in primary education, to $3,604 in lower secondary education.

At $11,560, Luxembourg has by far the highest salary cost of teachers per student in lower secondary education.

9. Costa Rica has the smallest class sizes in public primary schools

In 2016, the average primary school class in OECD countries was 21 in public institutions and 20 in private institutions.

But class size varies greatly between countries, with 15 students per class in Costa Rica and 31 in Chile.

Have you read?
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum