November 27, 2002
Japan doing well – Germany doing badly

Independent.co.uk has a story about a Unicef report on educational achievement or lack of it around the world. The report is full of the usual disturbing statistics, calculated to get the self-flagellating going and the public money flowing, just about everywhere. Lots of British children are bad at arithmetic. Britain is a haven of educational inequality, where quality of parent determines quality of education more than elsewhere, which confirms for me that British parents lead the world in cleaning up the educational mess caused by teachers, provided they know how. The Anglosphere in general is bad at literacy. (See my Libertarian Alliance Educational Notes No. 33 for a discussion of why that is.) So far so unsurprising.

For me, this paragraph contained the big surprise:

The survey showed South Korea and Japan at the top of almost every table. Germany, extolled until recently as one of the best examples of an efficient education system, came only 19th and had almost twice the British rate of failure in key academic skills.

Germany in educational trouble? That's a new one, to me anyway. Is that just all those East Germans polluting the successes of West Germans? If so, Unicef should have said, and I don't think it can be that.

Germany and Japan are often twinned for analytical purposes. Both started WW2 on the offensive. Both had the militarism smashed out of them, and achieved economic miracles during the peace that followed. Both societies have authoritarian family systems, and both love education. And now they are both said by many to be having similar problems.

But it isn't so. There's a fascinating article in Prospect (November 2002 - "Japan's Fake Funk" by Eamonn Fingleton), which says that Japan is doing fine thank you. This piece had me strongly persuaded, and I hope to have more to say about it over on Samizdata, Real Soon Now.

The truth is that Germany and Japan are now diverging. Japan is no more being laid low by its financial problems than the USA was crushed into insignificance by the Wall Street Crash and the depression that followed that disastrous episode. And Germany and Japan are now diverging educationally as well as economically, which suggest further economic divergence between them in the future.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:20 PM
Category: History
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