How the World Learns: Comparative Educational Systems

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great and enriching course ! Very well organized and presented lectures. Even though many issues would look like self-evident when someone is interested about the subject and comparative educational systems. Prof. Wiseman unfold these subjects in a very interesting and logical way and highlight repeatedly some of the key factors that foresee the chances of successful and failing educational system. I especially appreciated him highlighting the importance of matching/aligning school and non-school factors ! On the other hand, I think a reasonable knowledge and interest in the subject as well as sound knowledge of foreign cultures are necessary to benefit fully from this course.
Date published: 2020-10-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating Walk Through Educational Systems This comparative look provides deeper insight into our own very diverse education system. Context matters as well as an understanding educational goals.
Date published: 2020-09-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lesson 23: "Success is often left undefined but dramatically conveyed". I could apply this comment to much of this course. The lecturer often seems to be on the verge of making a point, then backs away. Early on, it is categorically stated socio-economic status (the mandatory TLA: SES) is the best predictor of education success. But this SES is never clearly explained. One anecdote suggests teachers able to afford 5-6 years of post-secondary school may not "engage" with poor students and parents very well. This course describes publicly funded, compulsory schooling. The lecturer differentiates school-based and non-school based factors. School factors as described all arise from budget decisions- completely political. Many political factors are not explored. For example, the lecturer fails to name countries where teachers buy their jobs and have no motivation to even show up for work. The Saudi single-sex education sounds suspiciously like "separate but equal" . The course is admitted to be US-centric and the term "American students" is routinely used. The US is reported to have 16,000 independent school districts. Other sources suggest Finland and Singapore have about 600,000 students each, while the US has close to 60 million students. Lectures 9 and 23 seem to be heading towards treating the US as 50 separate countries for apples to apples comparison, but then back away. Statistical Analysis: Several of the charts look to be two standard deviations from the mean with 95% confidence, but I'm not sure. While most of the statistics reported are based on sampling, there is no worthwhile discussion of methodology, whether sampling and results could be manipulated. Not until Lesson 17 is there anything resembling a serious discussion of validity and sample bias, and that is not carried through. The lecturer uses the word predictor and does not emphasize correlation vs causation. US Federal Funding: The US government reportedly contributes a lot of money in many different programs. At one point there is a hint federal funding is spent mainly on education bureaucracy, vested interests and political earmarks, but then backs away. Lecture 23 briefly mentions e-learning. Currently, the global education system has been shut down for months due to the COVID-19 panic. Depending how you interpret comments on South Africa, schools as vital baby-sitting services for working parents-generally agreed by both left- and right-wing critics- is not explored. I still don't know how to define education or whether I'm an educated person. Recommended, if you can accept more questions than answers.
Date published: 2020-08-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Good topic, less informative than hoped This course was the most disappointing of the few dozen that I have done so far, although it is a topic I am keenly interested in. The overarching theme was: Everything depends on the cultural context... Therefore we cannot share best practices across cultures, or say some educational systems or practices are more effective than others. In addition, the professor spoke like too many of my long ago college professors: why use 2 good descriptive words when you could use 5 and be more thorough? The result is the message gets lost in the muddle.
Date published: 2019-04-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting comparison of education around world I found it gave a good history of educational goals in USA. It looked at how the school system interacts with the different cultures. It gave a good introduction to school factors and non-school factors affecting whether students learn or not. In the later lectures, I found it troubling that Wiseman emphasized social justice and Oxfam standards for globalization. I don't believe valid research supports what he recommends regarding social justice and globalization There is a vast corpus of research on gender differences which are not considered the so called disciplines of sociology, history, women's studies. See Passing on the Right The Oxfam guidelines are defective because they don't consider the latest research on the evolutionary basis for moral values. See Professor Jonathan Haidt The Righteous Mind. Also see William Easterly The Tyranny of Experts.
Date published: 2017-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course Loved the course. Although some concepts are contested in literature, the professor was great at both delivery and presenting the case. It is particularly US based, but still an enjoyable course.
Date published: 2017-01-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too academic for non-educators This course would be quite valuable to Educators of all levels. There is a lot of information that would help these people develop programs on how to teach, how to train teachers, and the value of, and interpretation testing. For the layperson and grandparents, there is too much depth and vocabulary for us to adequately follow the lectures. Because of this, we quit watching after about half way through the course.
Date published: 2016-07-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Well below Great Courses usual standard Regrettably, I have to say that this is one of the most unsatisfactory of the Great Courses that I have taken. The problem is in the course content. Professor Wiseman’s delivery is clear, if a little dull, but it cannot compensate for the paucity of what he has to say. The course is about K through 12 education in public schools. Post high-school education is not mentioned, nor are private schools, both of which seem to me to be major omissions when studying national educational systems. The course has little or no structure, thread or theme. It is a haphazard jumble of disconnected lectures with interminable repetitions. It contains little meaningful data and few logical arguments. There are many words in these lectures but very few insights. The second half of the course is better than the first, but it takes some determination to get to the half-way point. Professor Wiseman refers to two international tests: TIMSS and PISA. He does not explain how the tests are conducted or give examples of test questions. Nor does he quote any numerical scores. However, it is clear that he does not believe what the scores tell us. Much of the course comes across as an apologia for the mediocre performance of U.S. students on international tests and for the U.S. school system itself. He constantly reminds us of the importance of what he calls non-school factors, by which he means impacts on student performance that are not under the control of the education system, such as poverty or family issues. Because of this, he largely dismisses the significance of rankings on TIMSS and PISA. This seems to me to be a mistake: The rankings are a real measure of the relative performances, on these tests, of students from different countries; the results should be taken seriously regardless of whether they are determined in the educational system or not. Conversely, he gives us relatively little information on “school factors” and which of them are most significant in determining student performance. Nor does he present a cogent argument, one way or the other, about the value of standardized tests. It is hard to say who Professor Wiseman imagines to be in his audience: Fellow social scientists? Educational policy makers (who are referred to repeatedly)? Personally, I learned very little of value from this course.
Date published: 2016-03-17
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How the World Learns: Comparative Educational Systems
Course Trailer
The Global Challenge to Educate
1: The Global Challenge to Educate

Borrowing or benchmarking one national education system against another is not necessarily a remedy or the most useful analytical tool for educational reform, yet these are among the most common approaches. Begin to understand why this approach falls short as Professor Wiseman lays out his general thesis for the course....

34 min
Sputnik Launches the Science-Math Race
2: Sputnik Launches the Science-Math Race

Dating back to Sputnik in the 1950s, education culture has been driven by anxiety. Learn about the history of "crisis" in U.S. education before investigating how America's educational system compares with schools and students in other countries. Focus on TIMSS in particular, which tracks mathematics and science achievement in about 70 countries....

33 min
Education Is Life
3: Education Is Life

Which is more important-gaining knowledge or new skills? Is standardized testing the best measure of what someone knows? What is the purpose of going to school-to prepare for college or a career? Address such questions as you probe Americans' views on education and how it can be improved using internationally comparable information....

31 min
Evidence-Based Policy Making in Education
4: Evidence-Based Policy Making in Education

Delve into the question of why evidence-based educational policymaking has become a global phenomenon by looking at the way data is used to shape what teachers and students do in the classroom. See how governing bodies can bureaucratize the ways data is collected, presented, and interpreted-or manipulated....

30 min
What Should We Compare about Education?
5: What Should We Compare about Education?

Do the achievement rankings paint an accurate picture of what's happening in schools, or is the crisis politically manufactured? Get answers as you analyze common criticisms of national education systems through the lens of three recurring phenomena-achievement envy, the accountability expectation, and access entitlement-and look at approaches to shifting school culture....

34 min
The World Learns from Horace Mann
6: The World Learns from Horace Mann

Trace how the ideologies of mass education emerged in the U.S. and became central tenets of education around the world. Survey the ideas of key educational thinkers such as Horace Mann and James Bryant Conant, then consider why, despite its strengths, the U.S. might be ranked low relative to international standards....

30 min
When Culture Invades the Classroom
7: When Culture Invades the Classroom

Investigate the idea that "non-school factors" such as student poverty are among the strongest predictors of learning. Examine how two of the largest of these factors-culture and economics-play out in South Africa, which is experiencing an HIV/AIDS crisis, and in China, where test scores and national economics are thought to go hand-in-hand....

29 min
Germany and Japan's Shattered Expectations
8: Germany and Japan's Shattered Expectations

Thanks to the PISA and other internationally comparative data, each nation's policymakers, educators, and the public know exactly how well their students perform compared to their peers. Consider why Finland sits at the top of these rankings, and examine reforms countries such as Indonesia and Japan have implemented in response to their results....

31 min
Borrowing Foreign School Cultures
9: Borrowing Foreign School Cultures

Why are educational comparisons so popular? Should educational reform be driven by economic competition? Think critically about these questions as you examine which countries and cultures are and aren't comparable, and consider the United Arab Emirates' unique strategy of importing 50 Finnish teachers to reform two schools based on the Finnish model....

30 min
The Value in Linking School to Jobs
10: The Value in Linking School to Jobs

Many business and industry leaders say there is no connection between formal school education-which teaches information, but not skills-and what is needed in the world of work. Investigate renewed global efforts to test whether vocational training can better prepare youth to participate in the emerging technology-driven knowledge economy....

30 min
Why Blame the Teacher?
11: Why Blame the Teacher?

Is low student performance the fault of teachers? Consider this question as you study characteristics of students, teachers, curriculum, and culture in the "model" educational systems to see what makes them different (or not) from the U.S. and other middle- or low-performing countries. Look at the elusiveness of quality teachers in the Gulf region....

30 min
Gender Pipeline Lifts Equality Dream
12: Gender Pipeline Lifts Equality Dream

The U.S. and other countries may not be able to replicate Finland's educational system, but they can level the playing field by making adjustments that contribute to equity in policies, curricula, and pedagogy. Focus on gender-based equity, looking at areas where real progress is being made as well as institutionalized gender inequalities masked by egalitarian values....

32 min
Gulf Schools: The Non-National Advantage
13: Gulf Schools: The Non-National Advantage

Look at the "insider" versus the "outsider" in national education systems such as Saudi Arabia to see how education bridges political citizenship, academic performance, and economic productivity. Examine how education is a means for producing citizens who reflect the desired image of a nation's population and its government....

29 min
Who Is Accountable for Education?
14: Who Is Accountable for Education?

Accountability culture varies from country to country and region to region, but three common elements appear in most educational systems. Compare and contrast how access, achievement, and a combination of standards and assessments play out in the U.S. and Finland, and look at one notable exception-the consensus culture of Japan....

30 min
How Parents Shape Student Outcomes
15: How Parents Shape Student Outcomes

Explore how parental involvement aligns with socioeconomic status and influences student achievement and education worldwide. See the role "cram schools" in Korea and other private tutoring play in education and the importance of early childhood education on child literacy. Finally, learn how the Japanese system fosters ties between schools and employers....

33 min
Reading, Writing, and Religion
16: Reading, Writing, and Religion

Think about how educators and students in systems around the world decide what to teach and learn, and consider how this decision is largely a product of context. Start with an examination of national curricula around the world, where you'll find commonalities in content matter and cognitive skills, as well as key differences....

30 min
International Test Scores: All and Nothing
17: International Test Scores: All and Nothing

Most educational systems around the world have four general goals. Explore each of them here as you get a framework for finding what works to improve student achievement on standardized tests in countries worldwide. Also, look closely at some of the chief concerns regarding these tests....

32 min
Turning a Good Teacher into a Great One
18: Turning a Good Teacher into a Great One

Think about what constitutes good teaching, and look at the ways teachers teach in the U.S., Finland, Saudi Arabia, and Japan. Begin your comparison by looking at some of the school factors that influence teaching, including how teachers are trained and the degree to which they routinely collaborate....

29 min
The Foundations of Civil Society
19: The Foundations of Civil Society

Think critically about political socialization and why it plays such a large part in education worldwide by looking closely at the various ways students are politically socialized, the results of these efforts, and who realistically-rather than ideally-benefits....

29 min
From National Student to Global Citizen
20: From National Student to Global Citizen

Explore how education in countries around the world develops global citizens by imparting a combination of identity, knowledge, skills, and action-both explicitly and implicitly-to engender concern for making the world a better place. Examine curricula designed to focus on global citizenry, including the International Baccalaureate and instruction created by Oxfam....

32 min
The Problem with Teaching's Best Practices
21: The Problem with Teaching's Best Practices

Explore ways that teachers and students behave in classrooms across the globe, focusing on what seems to work in a few key systems. Discover why practices that produce a great outcome in one place-such as lengthening the school year-don't necessarily lead to success in another....

29 min
A School inside Your Phone?
22: A School inside Your Phone?

New technologies are being implemented as teaching tools, combining traditional teaching methods with more self-directed learning. Consider efforts such as the One Laptop per Child organization, and see why even when such technology does exist, its use is not always sustainable....

30 min
The Rich-and-Poor Learning Cycle
23: The Rich-and-Poor Learning Cycle

How should we measure academic success? By standardized tests and school grades? By transition and mobility within an education system? See how true success in education is a delicate balance between school factors and non-school factors, which can look quite different depending on the context....

30 min
How to Fix Education: Heart, Head, Hands
24: How to Fix Education: Heart, Head, Hands

Assuming something is "wrong" with schools, how might they be fixed? Analyze how the larger forces of imposition, invitation, and innovation can lead to change through examples from Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and Myanmar, where Buddhist monks have established non-religious schools at their monasteries to remedy the poor quality of government-provided education....

35 min
Alexander W. Wiseman

Knowing how the world learns is a stepping-stone to understanding how students acquire skills and knowledge, teachers teach, and education systems function in the best (and worst) ways.


The Pennsylvania State University


Lehigh University

About Alexander W. Wiseman

Professor Alexander W. Wiseman is an Associate Professor of Comparative and International Education at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. He received his Ph.D. in both Comparative and International Education and Educational Theory and Policy from The Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Wiseman has more than 19 years of professional experience, working worldwide with government education departments, university-based teacher education programs, and community-based professional development programs for teachers. He also has been a classroom teacher in both the United States and East Asia, and he currently serves as a frequent strategic planning and development consultant for ministries of education and national education organizations worldwide. He is a co-chair of the Committee on International Accreditation for the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Professor Wiseman is the author of many research-to-practice articles and books. Recent articles have appeared in Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education; Prospects: Quarterly Review of Comparative Education; American Behavioral Scientist; Computers & Education; and Research in Comparative and International Education. In addition, Professor Wiseman serves as the series editor for the International Perspectives on Education and Society volume series and as the chief editor of the Annual Review of Comparative and International Education volume. He also is the senior editor of the peer-reviewed journal FIRE: Forum for International Research in Education.

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