If you’re thinking about moving overseas with your family the education options available to your children will be an important consideration. But which nations offer the best education systems?
Dipping into the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s (OECD) extremely comprehensive list, we’ll be taking a look at some of the very best places in the world to get an education.
First off on our tour of the world’s best education systems are the closer options, covering countries in continental Europe as well as a trio of Scandinavian nations.
Belgium, the closest of the European high-rankers, is a fine starting point when searching for world-class education for your children.
Although the country itself has a trio of official languages (Dutch, French and German), the educational system on offer is fairly straightforward. Belgium has a free pre-school arrangement, ‘Kindergarten’, for children aged two and a half, which introduces activities that can later be translated into lessons.
Primary and secondary schooling is also without cost, although parents are expected to buy the text books required for secondary school. When it gets to university level, institutions offer flexible bands for applicant fees depending on specific circumstances.
Belgium also has a high standard of living and excellent healthcare facilities, as well as being considered a cosmopolitan and tolerant place to live.
Right next door to Belgium is the next entry on the list, the Netherlands. While Dutch is the official language, the primary school system is highly accommodative, as 6-12 year olds are put into ‘newcomer’s classes’, which aim to introduce children to the Dutch language in a friendly setting.
This overlap continues in secondary school, where international bridging years are available if your child is entering the country at this level and only has a basic grasp of Dutch.
The secondary school system in the Netherlands follows the pattern of accommodation found elsewhere, with four separate pathways available that offer different mixes of practical and theoretical learning.
While some have criticised the Dutch authorities for bureaucracy, doing your homework beforehand can ease your passage and make emigrating to the country a rewarding choice for you and your children.
Crossing the North Sea to the next destination, Norway is the first of three Scandinavian spots on the OECD’s rankings that are renowned for their quality of education. Norway’s system is a little different to other countries, as while primary schools are comparable to those in the UK, the secondary school tier is actually split into a lower and upper level.
This replaces the optional ‘college’ progression in the UK, but is similar in requiring students to apply at a new location (or reapply if their current school offers upper teaching). As well as being practically required because of the Norwegian jobs market, upper secondary teaching is also notable because it places IT as compulsory.
While not the case across the entire country, this promotion of learning computer skills often extends to granting pupils free laptops. A final big plus point about schooling your children in Norway is that public education up to and including university is also free.
A hop across Norway’s long eastern border will put you in Sweden, which has also been a high-scorer for its overall education system.
From the get-go, Swedish education has a strong focus on equality, setting up tolerance and understanding among children early on to keep this sentiment strong in later life.
From 6-years onwards, children in Sweden are given equal access to free education, though integration in public schools is a must for your children to get a passing grade in Swedish, English and mathematics; this is needed to complete the final year of compulsory schooling.
When it comes to future education, Swedish university tuition is free for EU citizens; whether this rule is lost or adapted for the UK in the future remains to be seen. As it stands, the UK is not expected to leave the EU until 2019 at the earliest, so this shouldn’t be a barrier if you have children of university calibre.
The last leg of the European education trip is also the last top-10 Nordic nation on the list – Finland.
While not immediately thought of for its education system, Finland nonetheless provides the magic formula of high-quality teaching, free tuition (for EU citizens) and a history of topping the school rankings.
As well as being one of the most literate countries in the world, Finland also stands out for eschewing the high-pressure, rigorous testing system of other nations and instead favouring a late start to schooling (age 7) and genuine effort to make school fun, rather than tedious.
Free schools meals are assured, and the stress of exams and tension of red-marked homework is largely limited to much later down the educational path.
Finland represents a lesser-travelled path to educational excellence for children and is definitely worth looking into ahead of the UK’s eventual exit from the EU.
In addition to having no language barriers to UK resident families, Australia and New Zealand also hold the attraction of their top-quality educational systems.
Australia’s pre-university school system is very similar to the UK, with preschool, primary schools and senior secondary’s (colleges) taking children from the age of 3 to 18.
While this pathway can be also be followed in New Zealand, a more complex system of transitional primaries or all-in-one composite schools is also available.
Depending on where you live in either country, it might be quite a distance for your children to travel to school. This is thankfully negated for the most part by direct, free transport laid on by the government, or assistance fees to cover costs incurred getting children to and from school.
Both nations also offer primarily free public schools, as well as fee-demanding but more exclusive private options.
Australian public schools are the cheapest of the three ‘regular’ options (public, religious or private), but fees vary across each of Australia’s six states. If parents happen to also be in tertiary education (university level), they may be able to obtain a fee waiver for their children.
In the case of New Zealand’s government funded state schools, costs are typically limited to covering extracurricular activities and school trips.
High national standards persist across each nation’s educational system and both countries have initiatives in place to reduce bullying.
Closing off the listing of the countries with the best education systems to learn in are two rather different options for parents – Japan and the United States.
The language hurdle might make the thought of educating your children in Japan feel quite daunting, but at its core the nation’s educational system is simple.
The country has an optional pre-school system, but learning proper starts at the age of six with elementary school, which lasts until age 12, at which point junior high school is attended for three years.
After this, high school (the equivalent to college) can be attended until the age of 18, at which point university becomes an option.
While Japanese is a complex language to master, having a different alphabet and word order, the usual method of children acquiring this different tongue is via immersion in Japanese-speaking classes.
As well as some schools having bilingual teachers, tutors fluent in languages like English can also be found to ease passage into this new educational environment.
Literacy is extremely high in Japan, although native students are actually known for struggling to master English.
With a comprehensive, rigid method of teaching, education in Japan may seem intimidating at first, but it will soon become familiar to committed learners and has the added benefit of making sure that every subject is taught in depth.
Last but certainly not least, the USA also claimed a star place on the OECD’s list, and not just for its celebrated universities (of which there are many).
Being as large as it is, the US actually has slight variations in its education system based on which state you’re in, but across the country the recognisable formula of elementary – middle – high school is in place.
As well as the public option, the US also operates a number of charter and magnet schools, which both have more specialised paths of education on offer from earlier ages.
Private schools naturally demand fees but are often considered to be of a higher standard than public institutions.
Before elementary schools are considered, children can go to optional pre-schools, but they embark on education proper at age five.
On a broad stroke, the US school year is typically shorter than the UK one, but the system primarily differs when it comes to assessment and governance.
In the former case, instead of being bombarded with official tests throughout their educational career, children are instead taught to gradually build up their skills in preparation for completing their high school diploma.
In the latter, the unique educational selling point of the US is how varied each school can be to each other one. This means that if you’ve settled on a state to move to but don’t like how a school might educate your children, you can often find one more suitable nearby, potentially within the same area.
If you were hesitant about moving overseas with your family because of potential language barriers, it’s worth remembering that international schools can provide a bilingual education for children. They offer the option of teaching lessons in English while also improving foreign pupils’ proficiency in the native language at the same time. One word of caution, however: while these schools can ease your child’s introduction into a new country, they are typically distinct from public schools by requiring fees for attendance.
While deciding to up sticks and move your life and family overseas can seem like a daunting idea, the experience of growing up in a new country can actually prove beneficial to ‘third culture kids’. In the long-term, the culture shift may well boost their skills and inspire a more ‘global’ attitude if they decide to return to the UK.
We hope you found this article educational and that it’s helped provide a little insight into the world’s best education systems. Best of luck if you’re planning a move abroad in the near future, be sure to get in touch if you’d like to discuss making your currency transfers go further.
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