Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wednesday Search Challenge (5/20/14): How much does a country spend on schools?

BECAUSE I teach a lot of students all around the globe, I've been thinking a good deal about how different countries think about their schools.  As I go from place to place, it's clear that countries differ greatly on their degree of investment.  

Naturally, I'd really like to see some data about this.  It's too easy to be impressed by one or two school visits, but not have any real sense for how an entire country actually manages their schools. 

That led me to create the following graph as an example of the kind of data I'm looking for.  

This is a chart of some data from a reputable source that shows a measure of how much four different countries (Serbia, the US, Singapore, Finland) spend on their schools.  The number is measure of how much is spent per pupil as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product per capita.  It shows (more-or-less) how much investment a country puts into its school system. 

There's an interesting paradoxical result here, though.  Singapore and Finland both have highly regarded school systems, but Finland (and the US) spend about 2X as much as Singapore on each student.  Then Serbia spends about 6X as much as Singapore!  

Today's challenge has two parts.... 

1.  Can you find the data on which my graph is built?  And, once you find it, can you create a chart showing the investment-per-pupil for Serbia, Singapore, US, Finland (and maybe one or two other countries of your choice)?  
2.  If you've got the time and inclination, can you discover why Singapore manages to spend so little per student, and still have a great school system?  (This is clearly extra credit.)  

Get schooled! 

Search on. 


  1. Good day, Dr. Russell, fellow SearchResearchers


    [Education percentage Gross Domestic Product per capita]

    Public spending on education, total (% of GDP)

    Searched there:
    Feature indicators.
    Expenditure per student.
    Added United States and Serbia.

    In the URL, noticed these data are for primary education. Secondary and tertiary are also available

    [Singapore Education]
    [Singapore education success key factors]

    Building a strong and effective teaching force
    Education in Singapore, Wikipedia

    [Singapore education vs American education]
    How does American education measure up to schools around the globe?
    Lessons learned from Singapore’s proactive education system


    1. Can you find the data on which my graph is built? And, once you find it, can you create a chart showing the investment-per-pupil for Serbia, Singapore, US, Finland (and maybe one or two other countries of your choice)?
    A: Worldbank.


    2. If you've got the time and inclination, can you discover why Singapore manages to spend so little per student, and still have a great school system? (This is clearly extra credit.)

    For what I read, teachers are proud of their job, are well paid and always improving their skills. It is not easy to be a teacher day. Also, articles mention that Singapore helps poor students to thrive.

  2. Using Fusion Tables I first searched public data “Web Tables” such as the World Bank and Wiki but I didn’t find 2004..2010 range. I exported the data to verify that the snippets were showing complete years. Checking a few other possibilities from snippets only (I’m not sure if this is the right term but the sampling provided on the SERP). I didn’t find the correct date range.

    I then switched to “Fusion tables” ( tables created by others and made publicly available) but no results either. So now I went back to google search.

    Query [education % gdp] and found an interactive database at World Bank.

    I recreated the graph with available data at the website. I’m not sure if this will be shown in the above link but I did it for the same date range and countries. I added Canada just for personal interest. Not the same numbers as Dr. Dan found and I haven’t figured out why the discrepancy. I will do some more research ensuring I’m using the same indicators.

    1. Thanks Ramón for pointing out that the original graph is primary students only. Whereas my graph is the percentage of public spending which is a good lead into the article I posted regarding Singapore percentages. Perhaps these can be combined to give a total picture?

    2. Hi RoseMary. I did try to add the data from countries in a Google Spreadsheet. I had not luck...Yet!

      a. Not every country has data for all the years.
      b. Each country has a different row in the data. One in primary, one in secondary and one in tertiary.
      You need to create a filter and be sure that the formula is for the actual row not the one in the "base" sheet. For example, after filter Mexico could be in row 4 and in the original data set is in 154.
      c. Data doesn't look so clear for that reason in my chart. Therefore, is not good for showing.

      At least, I learned how to work more with Google Spreadsheet and different parts and sheets.

    3. Ramon can you share the Google Sheet with us? You're right the charts won't show good data when you have empty or contradicting types of information in the cells. There is a process of "data validation" in Fusions & it will be there in Google Sheets as well. Cleaning up data is worth the effort to get good charts. I will see what I can do.

    4. I’ve created a merged table and chart for all three levels of education.

      Like you said Ramón, Singapore has a lot of missing data but the results don’t impact nearly as much as when you look at Serbia’s results. Now that country was at war for eight years until 2000. That impact alone has caused disruption to the countries education and economic growth. Changes to the education system are most obvious at the primary level. Here’s a paper that discusses the issues they face. I’ve rounded numbers to simplify and trends still are apparent.

    5. Great job, RoseMary. I was all day without electricity and I could not work. Looking your data what looks interesting is the change from secondary to tertiary. In other countries, movement is normal and in Serbia primary, versus secondary and tertiary makes a U. Very interesting.

      I was trying yesterday with Google table fusion and was thinking to do exactly as you did. We needed another name in order to visualize data. Other option could be adding data and just watching a total.

      When I was trying to do the chart. I just could choose Node chart. How you changed that?

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Well a quick query gets a good start with: "educational expenditure per student international" which gave me an OECD report with some useful info in, but although a "Reader's guide" was referred to (for country codes, etc.) no link was provided! So I used the base URL ( to get to*B002*B003*B004*B005*B006*B007*B010*B011*B012*B013*B014*B015*B016*B017*B018*B019*B020*B021*B022*B025*B026*B027*B028*B029*B030*B031*B032*B033*B038*B039

    That didn't seem to have all the data though, so going back to the original search, gives which has more data, but is split by primary and secondary. The source is given as UNESCO, so obviously we go there, which does give the correct figures (although see below - this is only for primary education).

    I actually had a lot of cross-checking here, because I got confused between the mismatch on education expenditure as a % of GDP ( and ) and the per capita figure you're using here.

    Out of interest, as part of that I tried a different approach, with the query ["61.5" "2009" "serbia" education gdp] (so as an aside, I can now also tell you that "As the government was fighting effects of crisis the public debt has doubled in 4 years: from pre-crisis level of 29.2% to 61.5% of GDP"). This takes me back to the world bank So it turns out you were using the primary education tag after all, and the source for this data is the unesco site above.

    Incidentally, using e.g.: to get good sources would also have been an option.

    On part b, a little bit of reading suggests a) there's a relatively high incidence of private tuition (and fees in schools), and b) the pupil-teacher ratio

  4. This article appears to explain why the % of gdp is consistently lower than other countries. It’s a matter of methodology. It underlines the need to understand the sources and compare apples to apples.

    1. I created the same graph in Fusion Tables (shared link)

      It is likely possible to download the Secondary & Tertiary Levels of Education & merge. Looks however like Serbia is of even more interest. Why is there % so high?

    2. And if you want to simplify even easier than using the World Bank data set head over to UNESCO Institute for Statistics There you have more selection in customizing datasets. For example I selected all levels of education for same date range. Now you have a menu that allows you to switch between six categories (primary, low secondary, upper secondary etc.) and you can export data, create charts or maps with data all in one location.

  5. I forgot to mention that I found the article linked with the query [singapore low education % gdp]

  6. 1. Can you find the data on which my graph is built? And, once you find it, can you create a chart showing the investment-per-pupil for Serbia, Singapore, US, Finland (and maybe one or two other countries of your choice)?

    Yes, I found the data almost instantly SEARCH [investment per pupil] leads to

    From there I clicked on "graph" and then added your countries; saw there was a perfect match with your graph, then added my country Canada but noticed there are no data so deleted Canada and added Iran for which data exists.

    2. If you've got the time and inclination, can you discover why Singapore manages to spend so little per student, and still have a great school system? (This is clearly extra credit.)

    SEARCH [how does singapore spend so little on education] leads to which contains an item on education "Having few natural resources, Singapore invested heavily in education in order to build and maintain a well-educated work force. Currently, approximately 20% of government spending goes into education." and "Students work hard and do more hours of maths and science than the OECD average. Not only do the students feel a notable pressure from their "tiger parents" as well as the society in whole, there's also a sharp focus on the teachers."

    Teaching in Singapore is a highly respected profession. They are selected from the top third of each cohort, and to keep them on track with the newest teaching techniques they are entitled to 100 hours of professional development every year.

    There is a link to OECD report on education performance around the world

    SEARCH also found this How the world’s best-performing schoolsystems come out on top

    e high-performing school systems consistently do three things well:
    ¶ They get the right people to become teachers (the quality of an
    education system cannot exceed the quality ofitsteachers).
    ¶ They develop those people into effective instructors (the only
    way to improve outcomesisto improve instruction).
    ¶ They put in place systems and targeted support to ensure that
    every child is able to benefit from excellent instruction (the only way for the
    system to reach the highest performance is to raise the standard of every

    How teachers are slected "Singapore has implemented a single, state-wide selection
    processthat is managed jointly by the Ministry of Education and the National Institute
    for Education" Only 1 in 6 applicants is selected for the highly regarded profession.

    Singapore says it succeeded because of strong central control. THere are not dozens or thousands of school boards with duplicated personel. It has a mission to be an oasis of excellence. Central control offers great efficiencies so all the local stuff is handled thru a central ministry.

    Yet another fscinating look at something I'd never have done otherwise


  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. sorry for the long link click list ⍨ (most of it is about Google Public Data and how impressive I thought the PD Explorer was with all the options to graph and modify
      the data inputs and how well I thought the interface was designed & worked. [gush.gush])
      working off sjgknight's wiki list point, I found the UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME and reading through some of it made
      me think it might be a more useful gauge than GDP/student spending - which seems inherently skewed to misinterpretation - imo…
      anyway, these are quick clicks; contain no definitive answers, but may provide some insight and tools.
      I am always getting schooled, often in the corner with the <:-( on… thanks again Mr. Knight - I was going to pass on this challenge, but your research prodded me to look…

      Human Development Report:
      2013 Human Development Report, UNDP
      about the HDR

      Google Public Data… Finland, Serbia, Singapore, U.S. + — just a few options:
      bubble chart
      specific bubbles
      line chart
      bar chart
      world map chart
      Google public data
      about GPD

      Singapore… & more:
      the Singapore approach
      at the higher ed level, National University of Singapore…
      the other U of Sing…

      I bid adieu with a possible musical response… brick* after brick after brick after brick after brick after brick…
      is YT banned in Singapore?
      all too familiar problem, with or without bitcoins being exchanged

  8. Anne and I started by doing a search "international data per pupil OR student spending" the first result led us to the National Center for Education Statistics. On their site they had information by country. This site had links to reference tables that showed Gross domestic product per capita and public and private education expenditures per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student, by level of education and country: Selected years, 2005 through 2010 From this table you could get the data for the countries that are shown in the challenge. We will try to create a table in Fusion Tables (although to be honest it only took us about 10 attempts to successfully complete the Analyzing Data course!).
    We may just use Unknown's suggestion and go to the World bank data and create the graph from there. Or, just noticed on our site we can download to Excel, we can create graph from there.
    Second question: We started by going to our online subscription databases but then realized we needed more general information to start. So we went back to Google and started by searching Schools Singapore and Google filled in "why are singapore schools so good" We went with that search and the second result was a very interesting article from the National Center on Education and Economy "" This article gave us a lot of detail on how and why they became such an educational powerhouse. They do seem to have much larger class sizes which may help to explain the lower per pupil class sizes. We are going to continue to look for more information on this.

  9. I remembered that we had a challenge similar to this with data so I began searching with [ world bank ]

    Answer: How can you map world literacy rates?
    Headed over to the World Bank Data and drilled down to Education Expenditures where I found 2 different data sets. The World Bank data can't be used to compare countries so I go over to UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

    I clicked on Statistical Tables and proceeded to selecting the countries.

    After selecting the countries and years, I went to Financial Resources > Government Expenditure per student > Expenditure on education as % of GDP (from government sources) and selected several of those datasets. I went through the data until I could find your clue about Serbia in 2009 with a value of 61.5. I found the 61.5 in Expenditure per primary student as % of GDP.

    Tried the different charts they offer and couldn't get it the same. Exported as a CSV file and uploaded to Google Sheets. Tried several different chart types. Then tried reorganizing the data and even learned about the TRANSPOSE function but still didn't get it.

    That's when it hit me that I had helped a 5th grader with a science project where to make any sense of the data we had to use a motion chart. Even though the sample shown is like a scatter chart you can also demonstrate it in a bar chart or a timeline. My attempt at creating a copy of your chart is here.

    Now off to try number 2.

    1. …am still mulling that last sentence hovering near tmi, branly speaking ;-) /////
      ¯\_(⍥)_/¯ the " wow, thanks Fred" emoticon - enjoyed the article!
      ┐(´-`)┌ interesting musical selection. ¯\(°_o)/¯
      a retinal/aural workout…
      glitch art
      a how to

    2. Mr. FD, you're killing me - too funny… ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ thanks again for a chuckle - does that make you a "disrupter"?… not that there is anything wrong with that…

      fwiw (just so I'm not wandering too far afield): an example of Ed application of Google Public Data Explorer - 2012 lesson plan…
      GPDE support
      from the past, but still useful
      Ola Rosling, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
      OR twitter
      father: Hans Rosling
      Gapminder & data representation
      and just for grins & comparative results: Wolfram for Singapore
      p.s. you are killing it with your +page posts, nice mix, nicely done… imho

    3. UI=IU… user interface_equals_interactive user—emoticon… sensing DrD (ಠ_ಠ) & (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

  10. I know, tl;dw,dl,dr,dd, dwhawha?… busy, busy, input overload… but worth at least skip/dip through - give it a chance.
    MIT Tech TV (fascinating that there are NO comments)
    one cautionary observation - if the U.S. attempts to replicate what Singapore, Shanghai, Findland, et al are doing now, 30 years from now they
    will be even further behind the curve and the education leaders at that time (maybe Mongolia or the Free State of Detroit?) will be even more innovative - the Passenger pigeon wasn't able to save itself by becoming more like the Dodo… it just became another Dodo. The institutional education system is already being circumvented, but it will not go down/evolve easily… too much self interest and turf invested.
    Mongolian MOOC to MIT
    backstory, NYT
    cultural impacts need to be looked at, not just educational outcomes… or can you have Yale without Yale?

    Larry's right - a key component moving development along will be simple, readily available access… but as somebody said, (Upton Sinclair?) there will be blood - knowledge/information is the new oil… or orange is the new black… Darwinism is messy… yik is the new yak… or something like that. The Borg are on line one… and the hive is restless. "Resistance is futile." > "Perfection is fungible"

  11. a small slice of ephemeral, temporal education and a glimpse of a few directions/futures… a multi-level webtical based organism, largely self-regulated & monitored?
    The Emerging Global Web
    (check slide 103…)
    a little background on a couple of the examples as the rest of the 3-5 billion come aboard — in their own, often leapfrogging and unpredictable, ways.
    Alibaba Group

  12. Ramon I realized from your other comments that my previous comments didn't apply so I deleted them to avoid confusion. I hope my other comments helped.

  13. another tool of interest - not encouraging that data is dated & seemingly not well curated… from the Library of Congress - FRD
    Mission Statement:
    The Federal Research Division provides directed research and analysis on domestic and international subjects to agencies of the United States Government, the District of Columbia, and authorized Federal contractors. As expert users of the vast English and foreign-language collections of the Library of Congress, the Division’s area and subject specialists employ the resources of the world’s largest library and other information sources worldwide to produce impartial and comprehensive studies on a cost-recovery basis.

    LoC, Federal Research Division
    Country Studies Series
    Country Profiles, seriously dated:e.g., Pakistan
    found off Wolfram|Alpha Serbia query, then clicking sources and exploring some of them… the assumption being that the W|A sources would be fairly solid.
    I've overlooked checking these before, but they are a wealth of portal leads.
    W|A page➢External source➢Country data (they also use World Bank data, w/a)
    WB Data Catalog
    American Memory - fun, if odd, place to wander

  14. forgot to add this:
    another useful portal -
    UNdata Partners