Comparing Education Systems Course

N.B. The Comparing Education Systems course and the Global Education Policy Accelerator programme have the same core content – the difference is in the delivery.

This course will take you on an educational journey around the world, introducing you to the approaches of some of the world’s top-performing education systems.

International comparisons in education are made frequently by politicians, think tanks and education NGOs, and are often used to justify reforms that affect students and teachers, for better, and for worse. This course enables students to take a critical look at the tools and methods by which these comparisons are made, supporting them to consider the cultural and policy contexts within which education practices take place, and enabling them to learn from other systems, carefully and critically.

This course gives students the theoretical and conceptual tools to support their own explorations in the world of education policy, and for informed decision-making in their own contexts.

                                                                     Student Testimonials

“An eye opener! Both interesting and useful to know how different educational systems operate and why.”

“How would I improve the course? No idea! It’s great as it is.”


Course Content Overview

Topic 1: Introduction to International Benchmarking

This unit introduces students to large-scale international assessments, considers their impact (for better and for worse), provides a brief history of comparative education and asks the questions: Is comparative education a science? Should it be?

Topic 2: Research Methods for International Comparisons

This unit introduces students to different types of comparative study, and to a divide between ‘user-focused’ and ‘theory-focused’ research. It examines the difference between policy borrowing and policy learning, and asks the question: Can we trust PISA data?

Topic 3: GERM (the Global Education Reform Movement) and Finland

This unit introduces students to the ‘Global Education Reform Movement’ and its constituent policies, such as test-based accountability and school choice. It examines the history of Finnish education policy in this area, and asks the question: Is Finland immune to GERM?

Topic 4: Cultural Approaches to Learning

This unit examines philosophical, psychological and cultural differences in approaches to learning, predominantly between ‘The East’ and ‘The West’. It compares Aristotelian and Confucian ideas about learning, looks at psychological research on how students in different countries think about it, and addresses five stereotypes about East Asian education.

Topic 5: Approaches to Studying Comparative Pedagogy

This unit introduces students to different ways of studying comparative pedagogy, and considers why there is relatively little comparative pedagogical research. It presents a framework for dividing up pedagogy which draws upon the existing research, and will be referred to in future units.

Topic 6: Pedagogy in the Nordics, East Asia, and Worldwide

This unit presents qualitative comparative research on pedagogy in two regions and quantitative survey data across seventy-two countries. Finnish pedagogy is compared and contrasted with three Nordic neighbours, key features of Japanese and Chinese pedagogy are explicated, and relationships between pedagogical practices and PISA outcomes are examined.

Topic 7: Beyond Reading, Maths and Science

This unit looks at evidence on other important outcomes of education in different countries, often referred to as 21st Century skills. We hear from Swedish teachers about their approach to teaching Citizenship, and consider differences in approaches to the early years across top-performing countries.

Topic 8: Comparative Insights on Curriculum

This unit examines global trends in curriculum design, and in particular the move towards competency-based ‘New Curricula’. This approach is compared with curriculum research conducted during the early TIMSS studies, which identify common features of curricula in top-performing countries. It asks the question: who should control and create the curriculum?

Topic 9: Equitable Education: Inclusion and Fairness

This unit looks at how various policies relate to equity in education, through the lenses of international quantitative data and small-scale qualitative case studies in equitable systems. Policies and practices examined include tracking, student support and approaches to curriculum.

Topic 10: The Importance of Teacher Policy

This unit brings a comparative lens to three areas: the work of the teacher, the status of the teacher, and the training of the teacher. It uses data from the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) alongside case studies on individual countries to generate insights and policy options on the perennial questions of how to attract, develop and retain teachers.

Course Delivery

The Comparing Education Systems Course is entirely online, and self-paced. It includes over 15 hours of original audio material in the form of lectures and expert interviews, in addition to curated videos, reading lists, online text, glossaries of key terms and quizzes to check your understanding.

You will have access to the material on the online platform for six months. At the end of this six months, you will be able to keep a book (in pdf form) with transcripts of all the lectures to refer to in the future, and provided you have completed the course and passed the quizzes (50% pass mark), you will also receive a certificate certified by the University of Buckingham recognizing your achievement.

Should you sign-up for the standalone Comparing Education Systems course or apply for the Global Education Policy Accelerator programme (GEPA)?

The online content of these two courses is the same – the difference between them is the addition of 10 seminars (every other week) on the GEPA, with Lucy and a small (maximum 8), select group of educators and policy professionals.

The GEPA would therefore suit you if you would benefit from:

  • small group discussions to help you deepen your understanding;
  • some gentle accountability (having seminars gives you a nudge to engage with the respective online content);
  • connections with education and policy professionals from around the world;
  • ten hours of live access to an expert in international education policy over six months.

If these additional features would suit you, you can find more information about the GEPA programme here.

If these things are not particularly important to you but you still want to develop your understanding of education systems, you can get instant access to the standalone Comparing Education Systems course here.