Australia ranks 14th behind Finland, Switzerland, Canada and ten other countries in a global education index. Based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data, the report shows Asian countries are currently in the lead and links a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to education and skills development.

According to the latest rankings in the global education index it may be Australia’s turn to be the butt of the joke after ranking behind Finland, Canada and eleven other countries in a global education index. The data compares the mathematics and science test scores for 15-year-olds across 76 countries and explores the links between economic growth, social development and educational attainment and what countries stand to gain from a better education system. Given that many of these students are entering manufacturing, the results are a sobering reminder of where our workforce sits in the global community.

Singapore tops the list, followed by Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Finland is the first non-Asian country listed, followed by Estonia, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Canada. There is some comfort in the fact that the United States falls behind Australia at number 28, although there are other reports with conflict data (where Australia comes in at number 13).

Researchers Eric Hanushek (Stanford University) and Ludger Woessmann (University of Munich) present the economic case for investment in quality education. The report establishes that the standard of education is a powerful forecaster of the future wealth of a country and that “poor education policies and practices” have left many countries in a permanent state of recession. In 2000 Australia was considered “on-par” with South Korea but from then to 2012 we have dropped (or they have improved) by 12 places on the list. As an indication of what this means to Australia’s economy, the OECD predicts that if Australia were to improve by 25 points, GDP would expand by 7.2 per cent; equivalent to $4.8 trillion by 2095.

In Australia the trend is towards a university education – not a great help to a manufacturer’s shop-floor workforce. We currently have (had) a good apprenticeship system similar to the Germans and Swiss and in those countries apprenticeships are hugely popular. Students say: “The vocational training is more hands-on and the path to a good job is shorter”. Franziska Schwarz, Vice Director of the Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology (OPET), which oversees Switzerland’s vocational programs said: “Businesses regard training of young people as their social responsibility”.

With Australia languishing in 14th place in secondary education and our apprenticeship system becoming more expensive; more focused on the employer doing all the training and some trades not being offered at all, where will we be in ten years?

This article and opinion was compiled by Philip Ashley.