“Your education today is your economy tomorrow,” says Andreas Schleicher from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, who has become one of the world’s most influential figures in education.
And next week, the state of today’s education standards across the developed world will be revealed with the publication of the results of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, better known as the “Pisa tests”.
This mammoth, three-yearly exercise, will produce international education rankings for more than 60 countries and dozens of regional administrations, based on tests in reading, maths and science taken by more than 500,000 15-year-olds.
And in the future it could get even bigger, with Mr Schleicher saying he wants to develop OECD rankings for universities.
Global league table
This latest world cup of school standards will reveal whether the Asian school systems, such as in Shanghai in China, Singapore and South Korea, remain world-beaters.And will the old Western powers, such as the US, the UK and France, remain stuck in the “must do better” category of this global classroom?
But what’s the point of this vast piece of number crunching?
Mr Schleicher, now courted and quoted by education ministers, says the idea began in the 1990s with the simple recognition that governments were being compared on how much cash they were spending on education, rather than levels of achievement.
It was all about what was going in and nothing about what was coming out.
So the idea was launched for pupils in different countries to take pen and paper tests in core subjects and see how they compared.
And the name Pisa was chosen, not for any link to the Italian city, but because it was an acronym that was spelt the same in English and French.
Mr Schleicher says that in a globalised world the key comparisons are with other countries – and this is true for education as much as economics.
“Your country’s competitiveness and your individual job prospects are heavily influenced by what happens in other countries,” he says.
“In a global economy improvement by national standards is not a measure of success. You compete globally.”
Only relying on national exams, where the grades seem to keep improving, is a dishonest disservice to young people, he argues.
“It’s like telling a disadvantaged student in your classroom, ‘It doesn’t matter how you compare with people in other schools, I’ll give you a good mark because you’re doing the best you can.’
“That’s very nice, but once the student gets out into the labour market they’re going to feel the brunt of reality.”
“It is very important to know how well our students are prepared for a global economy.”