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Posted at 01:01 PM ET, 09/28/2012

What are the 5 most educated nations on Earth?

I saw an online headline from the Christian Science Monitor that said, “The 5 most educated countries in the world,” and looked to see what it was all about.

The listing came from statistics in the Organization on Economic Cooperation and Development’s newly released “Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators.” At more than 500 pages, the report is hardly a glance; it is packed with facts and figures about educational attainment, investment and other issues in the 34 OECD countries and eight other countries with big economies.

Just before I clicked on the Monitor’s list, I noticed that NBC News had its own list taken from the same report with this headline “The most educated countries in the world.”

I looked at one, and then the other, and realized they weren’t the same lists.

The Monitor’s list: 1) Russia 2) Canada 3) Israel 4) Japan 5) United States

NBC’s list: 1) Canada 2) Israel 3) Japan 4) United States 5) New Zealand

How can this be? And is either of them right?

The answer to why there are different lists under the same headline is that the organizations looked at different measurements.

The OECD includes a slew of educational measures, including what proportion of national wealth is spent on education, percentage of population with college degrees, how much each country spends on each student, social outcomes of education, how education influences economic growth, earnings premiums for education, how well immigrant students perform at school, the extent to which parents’ education influences higher education attainment, extent of vocational training and plenty more.

The Christian Science Monitor and NBC didn’t look at the same measurements.

Here are some of the conclusions of the report:

“* Adults with higher levels of educational attainment are generally more likely than those with lower levels of attainment to engage in social activities, exhibit greater satisfaction with life and vote.
*More education does little to narrow the gender gap in earnings.
*There is a strong link between inequalities in early schooling and students from families with low levels of education enrolling in higher education (this factor explains 37% of the variance). Countries that succeed in providing high-quality compulsory schooling to all students, regardless of their background, are also those that show better odds for students from low educational backgrounds to be enrolled in higher education.
*On average, 37% of young people have achieved a higher level of education than their parents, while only 13% have not been able to reach their parents’ educational level. In all countries except Estonia, Germany and Iceland, upward mobility in education is more common than downward mobility, reflecting the expansion of education systems in most OECD countries.
*On average across OECD countries, 66% of students with at least one parent who had attained a tertiary [college] degree also attained a tertiary degree, while just 37% of students whose parents attained an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary level of education completed a tertiary education. Only one in five (20%) individuals who come from families with low levels of education attains a tertiary [college] degree.
*In Italy, Portugal, Turkey and the United States, young people from families with low levels of education have the least chance of attaining a higher level of education than their parents. In these countries, more than 40% of these young people have not completed upper secondary education, and fewer than 20% have made it to tertiary education.
*In Canada, New Zealand and the United States, the likelihood that a 20-34 year-old whose parents have low levels of education will enroll in higher education is less than 30%.
*On average, 74% of girls complete their upper secondary education within the stipulated time, compared to 66% of boys.”

By  |  01:01 PM ET, 09/28/2012

 
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