Live from Bali: Benchmarking Education Systems Pilot Rolls Out Across East Asia and the Pacific


This page in:

Cecilia Maria Velez, former Minister of Education of Colombia shares lessons learned from Colombian education reform at the SABER East Asia Benchmarking Conference in BaliBali was the scene for an exciting international event this week, as the World Bank launched the first phase of its flagship Systems Assessment and Benchmarking for Education Results (SABER) initiative in East Asia and the Pacific. Joined by education policymakers from 14 East Asian economies, we presented the first ever region-wide diagnosis of policies in place in East Asian countries and an assessment of how to improve their education systems.

The four-day conference took stock of progress in student achievement levels in the region and beyond, documenting the policies in place in several education policy domains including – information systems, assessment, teacher policies, autonomy and accountability, information and communication technology (ICTs), vocational tracking and tertiary education systems – and compared East Asian education systems.  Indonesia’s Minister of Education, Mohammad Nuh, opened the ministerial forum and was joined by education experts from the World Bank, UNESCO, the OECD, the Asian Development Bank, and AusAID, as well as experts from Australia, China, Colombia (represented by former Education Minister Cecilia Maria Velez, pictured above), Japan, Korea and Poland, all of whom shared lessons of successful education reform from their own country experience. 

As organizers we hoped to demonstrate that while it is quite easy to rank education systems; more challenging is the task of identifying the policies that foster good performance and that provide for rich, rewarding learning experience for students.  This event served as a launch for the multi-year SABER program to document the policies, structures and procedures of education systems across the world. 

The success story of South Korea’s rise in education is well-known, as is Singapore’s and Japan’s.  Also celebrated is the fact that at least four of the top five performers in the OECD’s international student assessment in 2009 were from East Asia.  Less well known is that the top performer in all three subjects – reading, math and science – was Shanghai, China.  East Asia dominates in international achievement tests rankings – or benchmarks; other top performers include Canada, Finland and New Zealand. 

Most countries in East Asia have made great progress in expanding access to schooling in recent years.  However, there is a stronger need to make sure that young people also learn the skills that will help them meet the changing demands of the labor market.  As countries such as Korea have demonstrated, the proper policy environment and stewardship of the education system can help countries improve their competitive edge in the increasingly complex and globalized world economy.

It is important to invest now in education, and to invest smartly, as suggested in the World Bank’s new Education Strategy.  Studies show that spending on education leads to economic growth and poverty reduction.  On average, an additional year of schooling raises earnings by 10 percent, and as high as 20 percent in lower income countries.  For the nation, higher quality schooling raises earnings and productivity even more.

The costs of not investing in human capital are huge. The loss associated with one less year of schooling is around 16 percent of per capita income.  To put it differently, a higher human capital level would enable middle-income countries to double their per capita income in five years.  Andreas Schleicher of the OECD used his keynote address to extol the benefits of using international comparison to inform domestic policymaking.  The conference provided a forum for building networks, partnerships, and alliances among East Asian education policy-makers who share common goals.

At the same time that East Asia has some of the best performers in education – and not coincidently in terms of economic growth – several middle-income countries in the region lag far behind; several others do not avail themselves of the opportunity to measure their system by participating in international student assessments.  The lessons for policy makers from the success stories of the world are nearby in the same region.  Moreover, some of the middle-income countries in the region are making progress in international assessments, including Indonesia in recent years in the OECD’s PISA tests; the Philippines in the IEA’s TIMSS tests from 1999 to 2003; and Thailand stopped the slide in test scores in the most recent PISA.

While test scores are a good proxy for measuring learning outcomes, decision makers need to know the policies, programs and institutions responsible for creating the education success stories and for the rapid increase in some countries.  East Asia experience in Hong Kong (China), Korea, Japan, Singapore – and now China (Shanghai) – provides countries with information not just on performance, but the policies needed to achieve those results.

Read media coverage in the Jakarta Post (English) and other news outlets (Indonesian.)

Photo credit: Hana Yoshimoto


Join the Conversation

Shanti Jagannathan
June 10, 2011

The SABER Conference was an excellent opportunity to engage policy makers and practitioners on working towards high standards and cocrete results from education improvement. If this leads to the development and use of high quality information systems on policies to realise outcomes in education, it would provide a valuable service to countries in the region and elsewhere.

Such a tool needs to be flexible, forward looking and adaptable to change and be in tune with countries' education information systems. While benchmarking to high standards is a good way to know where countries have to reach, the journey of getting there is as important and would vary depending on the country context. Articulating high universal standards is thus only a first step and a roadmap of how to get there needs calibration with adequate financial and human resource investments. Attention is needed on building capacities to use tools for system assessment and benchmarking for well crafted strategies and time bound action plans to improve quality and performance.

This is a great start of such a journey. Good initiative, Harry.

June 10, 2011

This sounds like a very interesting initiative -- something we could probably look to adopt in the LAC region?

June 10, 2011

Great article! It would also be interesting to hear whether a standardized model can be applied to good effect across the board and/or what adjustments might need to be made from one country to the next. No doubt I need to read your Education Strategy! Thank you.