Do you remember the story about the boy who lost his bicycle key one dark evening? He had no torch in his pocket, and the mobile phones with such accessories had not yet been invented. After a while, the he gave up searching for the key where he thought he had lost it. He decided to go a bit up on the street because there was a lamppost there.

 “But why do you search here? This was not where you lost the key; that must have been further down the street”, his friend said. “Yes, I know. But this is the only place there is light”, the boy replied.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has published education ranking reports. We all flock to see how the various countries do, as if it were a sports competition. We don’t quite want to believe that OECD behaves a bit like the boy who lost his bicycle key, but perhaps that’s what it is. They measure things that can be measured, not necessarily what is important.

This time, OECD’s reports are about performance in mathematics and science subjects. Languages were excluded, but they are usually there when performance surveys are made by OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Also, the ranking this time is of schools rather than pupils. But the age group is the usual 15-year olds. All the 34 OCED countries are included and a slightly larger number of countries from the rest of the world; 76 in all. (Pakistan, India and our nearest neighbouring countries were not in the sample.)

Asian countries top the list, and the 12 best countries globally are: Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, followed by Finland, Estonia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, Poland, and Vietnam.

I congratulate them. Yet, I also feel sorry for them. They have done well in what has been measured. I am worried about what they have not measured, about the schools having becoming performance or broiler factories, not so much educational institutions.

And then, when middle-income countries perform better than the rich countries in the old world, we get puzzled. When USA and UK are down to somewhere around the middle, we raise our eyebrows. Indeed, we get surprised when in USA and several other countries, up to a quarter of the pupils don’t acquire the basic learning skills.

When the OECD reports were out last week, the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, was quick to let its voice be heard, saying that the gross development product (GDP) can be boosted by up to twenty percent if countries maximize their citizens’ talents, including through education and skills development. True, especially if they include creativity, allowing students to ask questions and remain curious, be creative and cooperate and help each other. It is happy and confident children that also help us grow the GDP. In the end, they are more innovative and smart than those who are specialists in rote learning and become examination and test stars.

Good and well. Of course, there is something to the reports, and we should read and learn from them. But in sum, OECD goes too far. They have become pretentious technocrats obsessed with measuring something about education and ranking schools, pupils and countries, not necessarily the most important.

A good school, perhaps the best possible school, may be ranked as poor in the OCED survey as it doesn’t measure creativity and happiness. The technocrats don’t realize that most of what children learn in school will soon be obsolete. Thus, schools should rather help pupils to learn to learn, to ask questions. And again, schools should help children to feel good about themselves and about learning and finding out – not be anxious and worried, feeling they are losers if they don’t score well at ‘stupid tests’. Besides, often, it is not necessary to measure things in formal ways; good teachers and parents know when they do things right; also children know that.

In the latest OECD reports, I am particularly skeptical to the surveys comparing the performance of schools in different towns and counties, making us believe that there are some sort of global standards. True, certain things about a good school are universal, and a good deal in math and science subjects don’t change across borders. But much is also local and has to do with local values and utility. I don’t think science subjects can be made exiting either unless they are made meaningful to the pupils in their own classroom and community, with the broader dimensions to follow thereafter. No, we cannot use a stop watch and measure how good as school is the same way as we can measure how fast somebody runs; it is much more complicated to measure education, with its varying curriculum content, relevance, utility and more. And we may not want to measure everything.

I am not surprised that we in our technocratic decades carry out surveys and make rankings in education the way OECD does. But I am saddened by it. It is time that we begin to evaluate the evaluators. How are the OECD experts thinking, and what are their values and objectives? It is important to know because they influence the thinking of all of us, since we all believe they are such great experts, even telling countries what they should do – so they can rank higher in next test.

But countries and schools don’t have to follow what the OECD surveys measure. They should improve their schools based on local thinking and goals. Often, the schools may not even need to improve and change. Many schools are good enough the way they are. And local communities should be proud of them, their teachers and pupils.

It is important that children learn moral values and life skills, not only cognitive knowledge. They should learn to help each other, work hard and be happy. Such children will become good citizens. They are great even if they do not rank higher than average in surveys. Besides, many of the survey’s top schools may actually be bad ‘broiler factories’, creating unsettled and value-less people. The ‘hidden curriculum’ that OCED reports tell us is good, may simply be built on the wrong education values, content and processes.

The wise and clever, the OECD experts and consultants, may indeed have branched off from what is important. It is certainly not only about jumping high and running fast. Let us send the experts back to look for the key where they lost it – not search for it under the lamppost just because that’s where there is light.