We like to compare. How many medals does your country pick up at the Olympics? How far did you travel? Comparing educational systems can have several reasons, but lately it is often inspired by economical motives. A country that scores higher on e.g. the PISA-tests is working on smarter kids and will win the race in a knowledge society. So, what does everybody do if they want to do better? Look at the top to see how they do, off course. That is why everybody nowadays is looking at Finland, being at the top of the PISA-rankings most of the time. Btw, Poland can also be of interest as they have successfully adapted a change in education.
This post is not to say that Finland are wrongly at the top (I do think they are doing a great job, actually), but to describe the difficulty to pinpoint a reason for success.
First of all, what does it mean to have a successful educational system?
The background of PISA is economical and they look at how pupils in regions do at math, language or sciences and possible influences. Means being good at these topics that your education is good? Good question, but what about feeling good? Some of the countries at the top of the PISA-rankings are also on the top of youth-suicide (this does not mean that there is a causal relation).
Secondly education is embedded in a society with specific characteristics and traditions. Some examples. Is the country rich or not? A very young population or rather old? A tradition of free schools or public schools? Btw, ‘free schools’ can have many different meanings depending the region or country.
This is a third problem, words can sound and look the same, but have sometimes very different meanings. I took part myself in several international educational projects and quite often there is a phase of defining what everything means to each other.
These are just 3 problems you can encounter, 3 of many more. Just to say, blind copying an approach or parts of an approach can be very dangerous. Finland has a comprehensive education system but one can’t say for sure this is the success factor, because other ‘comprehensive countries’ are doing much worse even with systems very close to what Finland does.
No, comparing is for inspiration and inspiration can only be found if you thoroughly analyse the educational system including as much of the context from the country or region you can get.