Data from the world's industrialised countries puts the achievments of the UK's education system in perspective, writes David Budge.
Politicians' claims that the UK has been in the vanguard of the schools computer revolution seem to be borne out by the statistical evidence. In 1995, the latest year for which international statistics are available, there was one school computer for every 12 English secondary pupils - a ratio that only one other country, Australia, could match.
The figures suggest that English schools have proportionately more computers than the United States and Canada (one computer for every 13 children) and far more than France (1 in 31) and Germany (1 in 39). These statistics, however, have to be regarded with some scepticism because the picture may have changed substantially since 1995. As the OECD report itself points out, the number of US schools linked to the Internet jumped from 35 per cent to 78 per cent between 1994 and 1997.
The OECD also cautions that how the computers are used is even more important than the numbers available. The Third International Maths and Science Study, which provided the data on computers, found that in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy and Norway, the majority of final-year secondary students said they rarely or never used a computer. "By contrast, more than one in four students in their final year in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland and the US reported using a computer daily."