The 5 Least Educated Countries in the World

Education is always a hot-button topic that gets the masses fired up -- but thanks to some new data, the least educated countries in the developed world may surprise you.

Source: Sean McEntee.

Each year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) compiles an aggregate ranking known as the Better Life Index, which looks at 11 different factors in 36 countries and brings them all together to see which countries are the best places to live. The categories range from the typical like income, jobs, and health, but also to the less easily quantified community, civic engagement, and life satisfaction.

All of this creates a level playing field to see that countries may excel in certain areas -- but have room for improvement in others. For example, the United States is the leader in housing and income. But that comes at a cost, as it ranks in 28th place when it comes to work-life balance. 

While this is not a sampling of every country in the world, it does give an interesting perspective on which of those countries in the developed world are among the best when measured across a variety of factors, and of course an important factor is education.

Why education matters
Education is one of the most important things the OECD measures, as it notes:  

Education plays a key role in providing individuals with the knowledge, skills and competences needed to participate effectively in society and in the economy. In addition, education may improve people's lives in such areas as health, civic participation, political interest and happiness. Studies show that educated individuals live longer, participate more actively in politics and in the community where they live, commit fewer crimes and rely less on social assistance.

Put simply, education is one of the biggest contributing factors to the well-being of a country, as it impacts so many different other areas of life.

The OECD looks at three key areas to determine the relative education score for each country, including the education attainment (the percent of people with an equivalent high-school degree), the average years people spend in education, and a student skills test measuring reading, math, and science scores.

The five least educated countries are below, and each of them has room for improvement on the scale, which was topped by Finland with a reading of 9.5.

5. Portugal -- Education Better Life Index Ranking: 4.3
Despite being in the top third for years in education, (ranking 11th at 18 years), Portugal was actually the second lowest when it came to its citizens receiving the equivalent of a high-school degree. Only 36% of Portuguese adults had an equivalent degree, compared to the OECD average of 74%.

The OECD noted that while the learning outcomes show improvement, "the high share of students leaving the education system too early with low skills remaining a major problem."

4. Chile -- Education Better Life Index Ranking: 4.0
Chile did a much better job when comparing the number of students who receive high school degrees when compared to Portugal, ranking 26th at 71%. However, it ranked among the lowest in its student skills reading of 439 (versus the 497 average), and it also placed 32nd with an average education of 16.2 years.

3. Turkey -- Education Better Life Index Ranking: 1.5
Turkey actually fared the lowest when it came to educational attainment, as only 31% of its adults have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, and only 42% of those between 25 and 34 have, well below the average of 82%. This gap is even more stark when comparing men and women, as 36% of men have a high school degree, and only 26% of women. All of this has led to a low student skills ranking (455) and years in education (15.2).

2. Brazil -- Education Better Life Index Ranking: 1.5
Of the 36 countries measured, Brazil placed last when it came to the student skills assessment, with a score of 401, 96 points below the OECD average, and 142 points below leading Finland. Brazil also did not score highly on years in education with an average of 16.3, ranking 31st, and it was 33rd in educational attainment at 41%.

1. Mexico -- Education Better Life Index Ranking: 0.7
Finally, there was Mexico, where the average education was 14.9 years, ranking last. It was second to last in student skills, with an average result of 420, and it was the third lowest in educational attainment, with only 36% of its population having a high-school equivalent degree. On the bright side, the OECD did make note that nearly all children in Mexico between 5 and 14 find themselves in school.

Education that pays off
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Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 11:44 PM, Tysan wrote:

    Mexico #1 for having the most people who are uneducated. I freaking knew it!

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 1:32 AM, dstnrunner wrote:

    Education is only one factor. There are many Third World countries where highly-educated people work as taxi drivers or in other low skilled jobs because they cannot find anything better.

    In this country, the media and government have misled many into obtaining a college degree at any cost. As a result of easy access to student loans, thousands of Americans have gone into debt to obtain worthless degrees. For many, there is another meaning to that certificate that says "B.S.".

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 4:04 AM, freedem wrote:

    Did you know there was a time where there even existed any license or certificate or even a school and for many still there is no school today and yet there always have bin smarter people on this planet then others? Is there a President school? A certificate or license for being a President? Is there a license for being stupid? Is there a license to kill for some people? (accepted world wide)? There is also no licenses in some countries where you need one in another. Is the one with a license smarter then the one without it? Hello no !!! I know many licensed and certified people yet they cant reach my level of knowledge besides it isn't the only about IQ but it is more important the lever of being nice, well mannered, friendly that counts more then your paper work with a logo and stamp on it and somebodies signature and date on it.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 4:11 AM, freedem wrote:

    About the 5 countries above. Turkey, Mexico, Brazil etc. Mexico where beheading is normal way of killing this can't be very smart for sure or Turkey where blood shad let people kill even there own family members and friends just because of small problems which are not even problems at all to others but more welcome then other ways, this don't seam to be smart either or Brazil where most killings in the world happen, is that smart? Well not to us but are they stupid because of it? I don't think so. I think many of the criminal are very smart and highly educated. Have certificates even and licenses in there pockets od does anybody think in jails they are all idiots?

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 10:58 AM, Yamadutra wrote:

    Funny how they left of most of Africa and all of the middle east.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 2:24 PM, RicBarnett wrote:

    It is a serious mistake to confuse education with intelligence or ignorance with stupidity. We all know some exceptionally well educated people that are painfully stupid.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 8:03 PM, jimmychurch wrote:

    They may not hold a diploma, but they have common sense to survive. This country sits while the water rises and then complains that no one came to get them out of their houses.

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Patrick Morris

After a few stints in banking and corporate finance, Patrick joined the Motley Fool as a writer covering the financial sector. He's scaled back his everyday writing a bit, but he's always happy to opine on the latest headline news surrounding Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett and all things personal finance.

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