Education_SuperpowersIn 2015, 72 countries participated in The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OCED) triennial Programme for International Student Assessment. The test examines 15-year-olds’ aptitude in reading, math and science. Singapore, China, Japan, South Korea, Estonia, Canada and Switzerland are consistently among the top 10 performing countries in all subjects, with Singapore ranking number one across the board.


  1. Singapore
  2. Japan
  3. Estonia
  4. Chinese Taipei
  5. Macao (China)


  1. Singapore
  2. Canada
  3. Ireland
  4. Estonia
  5. South Korea


  1. Singapore
  2. China
  3. Japan
  4. South Korea
  5. Switzerland

What makes these countries different from low performing ones? Four notable components emerge from experts’ conversations about what makes education superpowers successful.

  1. Equality and a strong education policy
  2. High-quality instructors
  3. Parental involvement
  4. Objectivity

Equality and education policy
There is only a narrow socioeconomic discrepancy between schools in the top-ranked countries, proof of a remarkably consistent educational system. For example, Canadian students score high regardless of being an economically advantaged or disadvantaged student.

In Macao and Vietnam, students with unfavorable socioeconomic conditions still outperform advantaged students internationally on PISA exams, citing a successful and consistent educational framework as one of the reasons for this.

High-quality teachers
The support and training for teachers in education superpower countries is extensive. These countries tend to have high salaries and comprehensive policy frameworks that support teachers and reflect the importance of teacher quality and preparation.

In a three-year study, the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education’s leading researcher Linda Darling-Hammond found that countries that best prepare their students focus on two things: building an effective and long-term educational system and professionalizing the teaching career.

The qualifications and training process of becoming a teacher are denser, but systems are in place to make this a more affordable process. In Canada, teachers are paid salaries comparable to that of engineers and other societal professionals. Singaporean primary school teachers earn an average of S$51,000 annually.

Parental involvement
In a comparative study reading parents’ involvement in the learning process between American and Chinese students, Cecilia Sin-Sze Cheung and Eva Pomerantz found that parental involvement was positively associated with the child’s achievement in both countries, especially in the education superpower of China.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s education director, argues that Singapore’s success is in part due to the high priority that parents in Asian countries put on education. This ultimately contributes to their child’s educational success and achievements.

Education superpowers don’t buy into the myths
Contrary to popular belief, a high rate of immigrants does not necessarily contribute to a lower success average in schools. In Canada’s case, embracing immigrant students has contributed to the overall success of the Canadian educational system.

OCED acknowledges that counties with high immigrant student populations are not associated with poor student performance.

The cost of being an education superpower
The top-performing countries also rank high on the World Health Organization’s adolescent suicide rate chart. Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea all near the top of both lists. Countries such as Albania and Peru that are among PISA’s lower test performers have a higher proportion of students who enjoy school.

Though preparing students for a global economy and cultivating abilities to compete on a universal level is worth applauding, it may be at the cost of happiness. The most important things for education superpowers to work on are reducing the stress put on students and making their education enjoyable as well as enriching.

Sloan Bousselaire

Photo: Flickr

Innovations for Poverty Action Conducts Research That Changes LivesWhen people donate money to nonprofits, they want to know that their money is being used well. The same goes for governments allocating funds for international aid. While money intended for alleviating poverty is rarely wasted, there are many different ways the funds could be used to help those in need. Sometimes, it is not clear what program the money should be put towards. Thankfully, there are organizations such as Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) that are dedicated to researching how to best help the poor.

IPA finds evidence of what works to help the poor and helps turn that evidence into better programs and policies. Working with top researchers in the field, IPA conducts randomized controlled trials. This method allows researches to isolate the effects of a program from other factors. Researchers will assign participants to separate groups, at random. One or more groups, known as “treatment” groups, receive a program and another group functions as the “control” group.

IPA develops strong connections in the countries in which they conduct research. These partnerships, along with a knowledge of local contexts, help make their research projects successful. Their teams work in 20 countries, with various NGOs and government institutions. IPA has more than 1,000 research staff who conduct research on the ground. Studies can last from a few months to years or even decades.

Jeffrey Mosenkis, a policy communications manager at IPA, told the Borgen Project that one IPA study in particular strikes him as particularly influential: a study on school-based deworming conducted from 1998 to 2001. The study took place within 75 primary schools in Busia, Kenya. The school-based deworming reduced serious worm infections by 61 percent and reduced school absenteeism by 25 percent. The study only cost $0.60 per child per year. A long-term follow-up study found that the deworming increased the rate at which girls passed their secondary school entrance exam by 9.6 percent and increased the likelihood that men would work in higher-wage jobs than their peers or engage in entrepreneurial activities. School-based deworming campaigns have expanded into Ethiopia, India and Kenya, reaching over 200 million children. Since then, researchers have also discovered that treating kids for parasites also helps their siblings do better in school.

“I think it was also an eye opener for the field of development, says Mosenkis, “because it showed that one of the most cost-effective education interventions was actually a health intervention, and helped sparked interest in using data and evidence to find the most effective programs, which might not be the ones we’d normally think of.”

Other important studies conducted by IPA include improving financial behavior with a tablet app, improving math skills in Paraguay, reducing child mortality with health promoters in Uganda and using mobile technology to fight malaria. These and other studies are conducted in places all over the globe. Sometimes the exact location of the study can present unique challenges. “It’s not just the country but the local area,” says Mosenkis, “how good the infrastructure, like the roads are, or electricity and phone access, that makes more of a difference in our day-to-day work collecting data than the national picture.”

IPA was started by Dean Karlan, after traveling throughout Latin American before grad school. What began originally as an idea pitched by Karlan to his graduate advisers at MIT became a nonprofit organization bridging the gap between academia and development policy in practice.

IPA plans to continue building on what it has already achieved. The plan is to continue creating useful evidence to answer the questions of decision-makers at the front lines of development. The work of IPA has been and will continue to be instrumental in improving the lives of the global poor.

Brock Hall
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Advancement in Developing CountriesMore countries are becoming developed, according to the 2016 Human Development Report done by the U.N. Development program. People are living longer, there are more social service programs and more children are enrolled in school. There is still more progress to be made in developing countries but, more than ever before, more countries are making significant advancements. While developing countries start to industrialize, it is important to keep in mind the environmental costs caused by more emissions in the air. To cut down on emission levels, it is important to invest in sustainable advancement in developing countries, so their economies can still grow but they can cut down on pollution at the same time.

According to CAIT Climate Data Explorer, there are a few developing countries – including Indonesia, India and Brazil – that are on the list of top 10 highest emitters of greenhouse gases. Additionally, CAIT’s 2017 report analysis shows that all developing countries contribute 60 percent of global emissions. This means that developing countries are growing industrially, but it also means there is a more negative impact on the environment that comes with this growth. In compliance with the Paris Agreement, developed countries are initiating programs to be more sustainable, so it is important to invest in sustainable practices in developing countries as well.

Sustainable advancement in developing countries is not hard to achieve. For example, the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project by ClimateWorks is a global collaboration program that identifies problems of carbon emissions and finds solutions, while still sustaining economic growth. Research done by the World Resource Institute shows that 21 countries have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by using sustainable practices, while still maintaining economic growth.

Knowing how beneficial sustainability can be for economic growth as well as for the environment, the U.N. has adopted Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. These goals are aimed at increasing human prosperity by giving access to education and equal rights, but balancing this with sustainable practices that will protect our planet. By combating these two issues at once, programs such as the Sustainable Development Goals will help developing countries prosper.

Deanna Wetmore

Photo: Flickr

The Egyptian Economy

Since the Arab Spring rocked the Middle East in 2011, the countries fortunate enough to avoid devastating civil war were nonetheless impacted by the political turmoil in the region. Egypt was no exception.

However, even with several issues persisting in the Egyptian political and security spheres, the country looks to move forward with privatizing more sectors of its economy and has an overall positive economic outlook. The Egyptian economy, which has suffered from decades of bloated public sector employment, looks to revitalize its push for privatization in various sectors.

“That is the brake on reform,” said an anonymous government official in 2010, before the Arab Spring movement. His comments were about the overreliance on public sector employment. “They have grown up with the state doing everything: ‘You educate me, give me a degree, you give me a job when I die you bury me — and I do nothing.'” While public sector employment is not altogether negative, private sector companies need to flourish if there any hopes for growth.

In 2017, the privatization of the Egyptian economy is being rebooted by the government after encountering setbacks in years prior. The political fallout of the Arab Spring and subsequent policies undertaken by the Morsi and Sisi administrations had left a bad taste in the mouths of Egyptians regarding privatization.

However, after a tragic train collision this year on a government-owned rail line, it was understood that something needed to be done. Officials began drafting new laws that would allow private companies to improve existing lines, as well as permit them to operate their stations. This will inevitably lead to the creation of jobs for Egyptians, a population that still suffers from almost 12 percent unemployment. Fortunately, this is the lowest it has been since the 2011 uprisings.

The Egyptian economy is slowly becoming a destination for foreign investment as well, even beating out South Africa for the top spot on the continent. In tandem with government reforms and an improving business climate, Egypt is attracting large sums of foreign money, most notably from Beijing.

“Currently [the European Union] is the biggest but I think China investors will grow rapidly… We’re in discussion with major players in terms of textiles and automotive. Those are two main projects we are in discussions with,” stated Trade Minister Tarek Kabil. This is in line with China’s growing presence on the continent.

Tourism is one of Egypt’s largest industries, and it has taken a severe hit since 2011. Fortunately, the country is seeing a slight uptick in tourism due to cheaper hotel deals as a result of certain currency policies. While the security situation continues to be a major factor in deterring potential tourists, this short-term low-cost trend will assist the tourism sector, which is a major pillar of the Egyptian economy.

The Egyptian economy undoubtedly suffered enormous setbacks in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. However, its position as the most populous Arab country paired with a strong economic outlook will allow Egyptians to look to the future with optimism.

Daniel Cavins

Photo: Flickr

Female Literacy Rate
In September 2017, a BBC News correspondent reported a 60-year old woman from East Africa, Florence Cheptoo, learning to read for the first time. This feat is surprisingly uncommon for Cheptoo’s demographic in Kenya.

Although Kenya is one of the “best-educated low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa,” the literacy rate among females, particularly the elderly, are lower than males. According to Global Ageing Campaign, “literacy rates among older people – especially older women – remain low and are often lower than for the population as a whole.”

The literacy rates among women have increased exponentially within the last 30 years, since the National Literacy Campaign launched in Kenya in 1979. During this time, according to a study from the International Review of Education, around 35 percent of males 15 and older and 70 percent of females in the same age group were illiterate. Furthermore, 93 percent of women over the age of 55 could not read.

In 1993, women comprised 70 percent of those enrolled in the adult literacy programs in Kenya, due to a lack of available educational opportunities for girls. Prior to the National Literacy Campaign, Cheptoo, who was born in 1957, did not receive support from her parents for education, encouraged instead to get married and have children. This is typical in sub-Saharan Africa, where females are often persuaded to marry early and are “unlikely to find any professional opportunities that enable economic self-sufficiency,” according to Daraja Academy.

Today, the female literacy rate is 74.9 percent, compared to the literacy rate of males at 81.1 percent, a stark difference from the literacy rates of the past. The female literacy rate is continually increasing with the support of secondary schools for girls including Daraja Academy and Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy, which allow females of the future generations to secure an education.

Adult literacy programs are bridging the education gap for women who did not receive proper schooling in their youth. These literacy programs are a turning point for women, like Cheptoo, and provide them with learning opportunities to increase their knowledge of the world that surrounds them.

Ashley Howard

Photo: Flickr

Global EducationAustralian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop has been very vocal about her devotion to global education. With 264 million youth out of school across the globe, Bishop has recognized the importance of supporting this cause.

Australia, a new member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, has been setting an example for other countries to assist in raising money for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) fund.

Australia’s role in supporting global education is vital. The GPE is in need of $3.1 billion, which will only be attainable if major G20 countries increase their contribution by at least 30 percent. Bishop’s decision to increase Australia’s contribution is paving the way for other countries to follow suit. Thus far, Australia’s dedication to global education has had a positive influence in other countries.

Recently, Australian Vocational Education and Skills Assistant Minister Karen Andrews visited Sri Lanka, a country in close collaboration with Australia in its global education efforts. Andrews used this mission to look at higher education and research opportunities in Sri Lanka, specifically in fields of engineering, information technology, maritime services, hospitality and tourism.

Many Sri Lankans are looking to migrate to Australia, so the partnership is beneficial to both parties. Together, Australia and Sri Lanka are creating more education opportunities that are affordable, high quality and have the ability to reach more youths.

Australia’s investment in Sri Lankan education has reflected the efforts discussed by Bishop, making Australia’s words into more powerful actions.

“I will be speaking to Foreign Minister Bishop about further opportunities for Australia and Sri Lanka,” Andrews said regarding the budding relationship between the two countries.

With the efforts Australia is making, the work it has done in Sri Lanka and Bishop’s devotion to global education, Australia has the power to change the fate of the 264 million children who currently do not have the privilege of receiving an education.

Kassidy Tarala

Photo: Flickr

Importance of Global EducationThere are several nonprofit organizations whose missions are to better education in developing countries so that every student has access to equal opportunities. A lot of these programs include funding for teacher associations to ensure that schools are not just well equipped with supplies, but with qualified teachers as well. The Harvard Graduate School of Education is one university whose graduates are qualified to teach any group of students around the world. Their program teaches the importance of global education and prepares students who have an interest in teaching internationally.

The program is called the International Education Policy (IEP) and its aim is to teach students a wide variety of understanding so that graduates can help multiple groups of students around the world. Students learn things from how to improve girls’ education to ways to deliver HIV/AIDS education. Students also learn to design their own innovative programs for schools and how to effectively use those programs to improve the quality of education. Other things that the students learn is how to promote peace, teach about relevant issues and empower students.

Some IEP graduates work with nonprofit organizations such as UNICEF, Save the Children and the World Bank. As education specialists within these organizations, they are policy makers for education worldwide. Some graduates also act as social entrepreneurs and create their own organizations to help with global education.

One graduate of the program, Sara Ahmed, co-founded the Elm International School in Alexandria, Egypt. Ahmed started the school with three goals that she wanted the school to meet. She wanted it to be a student centered environment, use technology as a tool and be internationally minded while still being locally rooted. Ahmed said in an interview, conducted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, “I wanted a school that I would dream of for my own children.”

Another graduate, Jeff Decelles, started a program called Ragball International, which is based in South Africa. This program takes soccer balls that are created with thrown away plastic by local youths and sells them internationally. The youths making the ragballs also participate in a program that teaches them how to save and set financial goals. The program also teaches students the importance of recycling and re-enforcing the positive impact that reusing has on the environment.

There are many more positive steps that graduates of the IEP program are making towards global education. The most important outcome of this program is that it promotes the importance of global education. With more teachers equipped with knowledge and initiative to make a difference in global education, they can help improve education for students worldwide.

Deanna Wetmore

Photo: Google

Djibouti, a small country wedged in the horn of Africa has had a long history of economic instability and poverty. In the last decade, the country boasted some of its highest poverty rates, however, after 2007, the Djibouti poverty rate finally started to decline.

In 2007, when the Djibouti poverty rate saw its first significant spike downwards, it was recorded at 42 percent. Now, with the buffer from aid organizations and economic help from foreign financing and foreign direct investments, Djibouti has successfully lowered its poverty rate to about 18.8 percent. This rate is a tremendous achievement as the last two decades the poverty rate has fallen about 30 percent.

Following its 2007 rate, the Djibouti poverty rate had dropped to 23 percent by 2013 and then to about 18.8 percent currently.

In 2011, Djibouti’s population reached 820,000. Unfortunately, most of the population were living in extreme poverty. The common causes of poverty in the country were consecutive years of drought, loss of livestock, destruction of crops, malnutrition and unemployment.

The little resources the natives did have were stretched thin for the influx of refugees from neighboring Somalia, where refugees were estimated at 15,000 and growing.

With resources quickly being depleted and food and fuel prices rising, organizations such as the U.N., the World Food Programme, UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation raised approximately $20 million for food, drought relief, water rehabilitation and mobile health units.

With poverty rates falling, Djibouti has seen increases in its GDP, industrial production growth rate and labor force. The GDP in 2016 was reported at $3.34 billion, an increase of $200 million from 2015, while the industrial production growth rate rose to 4.7 percent in 2016, ranking it 40 in the world.

Although the country still experiences a relatively high percentage of poverty and unemployment, the Djibouti poverty rate has successfully fallen and will continue to fall with help from foreign countries.

Amira Wynn

Online Education

Information technology and the ever-increasing access to it has been a product of the 21st century. It has been both a blessing and a curse to the modern world, but does it also have an opportunity to give rise to global access to education? Some argue that the faults of an online education lead students to abuse internet access when “learning” subjects, while others see it as a tool to springboard educational opportunities for both young people as well as those whose community’s systems for education may not have adequate resources.

Massively open online courses, or MOOCs, have recently been made more readily available for online education. With these, students can take courses on several areas of discipline at a variety of different levels, ranging from single courses in business and finance to a more extensive series of courses on web design.

An online education platform utilizing MOOCs, Coursera, has been a forerunner in this type of educational experience by making these courses available for free to any student with access to a computer or smartphone. Co-founder Daphne Koller has made it her mission to enable impoverished communities by making these classes available as a “real course” experience, as opposed to a watered down or less intuitive version that a naysayer may argue is the downfall of online education.

These courses also provide a legitimate certificate that can act as college credit or be presented to a potential employer once a course or set of courses is finished. Koller contends that an online education not only makes courses more accessible, but is also a more enriched way of learning. The courses employ interactive techniques and self- and peer- evaluation during the lesson, where otherwise a student may be complacent or simply not paying attention.

So, students can enjoy a flexible and valuable education online from essentially anywhere in the world, but what does this mean for the future of global poverty?

Platforms such as these not only provide insight into education experiences through models of self-evaluation, self-tutoring, and accessibility, but also open doors for entrepreneurial self-starters. People with the drive to lift themselves out of poverty situations through their own ingenuity and passion would be able to do so, as long as this tool is made available. With seemingly limitless and fast-paced technology advances, online education has the potential to revolutionize the educational experience as a whole and enable more people to take advantage of the power of knowledge.

Casey Hess

Photo: Flickr

Help Eradicate PovertyThe eradication of poverty is a controversial topic. Can poverty really be brought to an end? Is there anything that an ordinary citizen can do to help stop this terrible cycle? For those who want to end poverty, but feel like it is an impossible task, there are small but effective ways to help eradicate poverty.

Many organizations have a goal to eradicate poverty by the year 2030. According to Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, this is possible, but many changes must be made in order to achieve such a goal. Byanyima points out that being political is required in order to make real progress in eliminating poverty. Making those in power aware of their riches and showing them why it matters that they are receiving so much while others are struggling to survive is an important step in ending poverty that anyone can achieve.

UNICEF works to eradicate poverty by helping young girls attend school, supporting good nutrition, assisting in water and sanitation improvement, creating a protective child environment and advocating for better awareness and policies.

Plan International suggests similar steps to eradicate poverty, including additional actions such as access to healthcare and providing economic security. Like UNICEF, people can assist them by donating.

It is important to ask the hard questions and focus on the root causes of poverty. This includes topics such as gender inequality and laws that prevent marginalized groups of people from having access to the tools that are needed for them to succeed.

Access to the digital world is also helpful in eradicating poverty. It is important that people are aware of the data that is affecting them. Giving people access to the numbers can cause more people to speak up and create a surge in local awareness.

Finally, one of the simplest ways to help eradicate poverty is to speak out against inequality and demand that action be taken both by citizens and governments alike. If world leaders commit to bringing about changes and citizens continue to push for those changes, there is hope that poverty will become an issue of the past and something to be prevented rather than eradicated.

Noel Mcdavid

Photo: Flickr