Lessons at the close of World Cup 2010

Yesterday Spain beat Netherlands to secure its first World Cup win in history. There is much to be said about the match, and the entire 2010 games, really ? like the fact that yesterday's? game had a record number of yellow cards, or that Paul the Octopus's accurate predictions about who would win have been sort of creepy. Ohio Gadfly has had fun looking at education statistics for each nation over the course of the tournament (see the full analysis of all 16 countries, head-to-head comparisons of games, stats on each team's captain, and Gadfly Studios' video on Netherlands, which is below).

Better Know a World Cup Country's Education System: The Netherlands from Education Gadfly on Vimeo.

Spain is reeling with its first World Cup victory, which no doubt fueled the futbol aspirations of thousands of Spanish boys (and girls) who play the game. On the whole, those kids are pretty well served by their education system: in terms of enrollment ? Spain has higher participation in both primary and secondary school than the US, and kids attend school for about as long (180 days, 990 hours per year) as American students.

Unfortunately, not every nation has an education system as comprehensive as those we've looked at. For every inspiring tale we found ? such as the soccer academy plucking kids from the streets and out of poverty in Africa's Ivory Coast ? there seem to be just as many statistics we uncovered about either educational inequality between a nation's haves and have-nots (the US understands this well, as does Germany apparently) or low educational attainment. Kids in Ghana receive less than ten years of schooling, while Mexico and several South American nations also rank shockingly low in terms of how long students stay in school.

And of course, hardly any of our analyses have touched on academic performance at all. Comparisons across nations are incredibly hard to make ? especially for those nations not participating in international exams like PISA or TIMSS. And lots of databases (UNICEF's, UNESCO's, etc.) that attempt to provide this information fall short in a lot of ways ? for instance, how can nearly every country we featured have a literacy rate that is 90-some percent?

In conclusion, we come away from the World Cup games with several non-futbol related lessons. Outside of the US and other industrialized nations, good data is hard to come by. Measuring academic performance or comparing it across the globe is incredibly tricky and while we spend a lot of time complaining (rightly so)?about the low bars created by state assessments, the discrepancies between state tests and NAEP, etc. ? throughout the World Cup we're glad to at least have some kind of starting point by which to diagnose our students. Many countries have to resort to using inputs to measure educational quality ? figures like the amount spent on education, participation rates, time spent in school, etc.

And, just as we've been acutely aware of the level of competition in the World Cup tournament (we're proud of the US for making it to the final 16!)?we're reminded of just how critical it is to improve educational opportunities for our nation's neediest kids so as to remain economically competitive. As much as we want to see the US national team make it further in the 2014 games, we'll take improved education performance and competitiveness (especially among America's neediest students) over a winning soccer team any day. And that's saying a lot, coming from futbol fans.

- Jamie Davies O'Leary and Bianca Speranza

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