FROM Toronto to Wroclaw, London to Rome, pupils and teachers have been returning to the classroom after their summer break. But this September schools themselves are caught up in a global battle of ideas. In many countries education is at the forefront of political debate, and reformers desperate to improve their national performance are drawing examples of good practice from all over the world.
Why now? One answer is the sheer amount of data available on performance, not just within countries but between them. In 2000 the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) at the OECD, a rich-country club, began tracking academic attainment by the age of 15 in 32 countries. Many were shocked by where they came in the rankings. (PISA’s latest figures appear in table 1.) Other outfits, too, have been measuring how good or bad schools are. McKinsey, a consultancy, has monitored which education systems have improved most in recent years.