Education policy and football: Can you be good at both?

What do policymakers, football managers and parents have in common? Answer: they worry about trade-offs. Should we fund health or education with the public budget? Should we bring on an extra midfielder or bolster our defense? Should we give her an apple … or let her have chocolate?

But surely we don’t need to choose between good education policy and a winning football team!? As a concerned parent, football fan and policy advisor, I took a closer look at the 23 countries that both participate in the OECD’s PISA survey and have qualified for Brazil 2014.

PISA maths v FIFA World Ranking

The results are alarming! On average, countries drop about 7 points in PISA maths for 100 additional points in the FIFA world football rankings. Maths whizz Korea is ranked 57 in FIFA, while tiki-taka-loving Spain lies PISA 70 points behind Korea. According to the PISA team, that gap equates to almost two years of schooling!

But let’s not give up on football just yet. Countries like Switzerland and Germany show us that goals can be scored both in the classroom and on the pitch. Countries like Portugal and Russia have managed to improve both their maths scores and their football rankings since 2003. And we’ll also need to look more closely at countries that don’t participate in PISA.

Finally, let’s remember that education and learning are not just about maths exams. In every game, top footballers show us that they have acquired crucial life skills – teamwork, creativity, discipline, problem solving and many more. I wonder whether the presence of these skills is more closely correlated with the FIFA world rankings.

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2 responses to “Education policy and football: Can you be good at both?

  1. Don’t forget to add corruption to your calculation. Might be bad for our Swiss friends though… By the way: why always Maths? What about PE? Far more important than Maths, but never a topic in the PISA studies…. Pity!

    • Great comment on corruption, Tilo! I’ll try to have a closer look at Transparency International’s report on corruption in education. As for corruption in football, it’s all over the news these days, thanks to the Qatar business.

      PISA and other tests measure much more than maths these days, but I haven’t seen a comparative test on PE education. I wonder how you’d do it??? In any case, you’re right to underline the benefits of PE!

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