Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Boosting growth through better foundation skills

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

The links between income inequality and economic growth are fairly well established: If income inequality becomes too high, large numbers of people no longer have the means to participate in the economy and economic growth suffers, nor will people be able to invest in their skills to climb up the social ladder. If income inequality is too low, no one goes to work and growth suffers too. A conventional way to move between these two undesirables is to redistribute income, e.g. through taxes. But wouldn't it be much smarter if, instead of dealing with the consequences of income inequality, we could address the root of the problem and moderate the sources of income inequality? Then things would not be a zero-sum game but everyone would win.

One such source of inequality in wages is inequality in the skills of people. Our parents told us that we should study hard to get a good job and a decent salary. And that wisdom has never been more true than today. As you can track with our annual publication, Education at a Glance, the highly educated never had better life chances than they enjoy today, while those without baseline qualifications have never faced a greater risk of social and economic exclusion than today. And the rapid rise in knowledge workers in advanced economies has not led to a decline in their pay, which is what happened at the low end of the skills distribution.

Data from OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills, which measures not just the formal qualifications people have attained, but also what they actually know and can do, allow us now to study this in new ways. An OECD Working Paper has just done that and found several things. If all adults were simply to complete an additional year of education (which no doubt would be good for each of them, as well as for the overall economic and social well-being of their country) top earners would actually benefit much more than those with lower wages. So wage inequality would rise. The red line in the chart above shows the increase in wages if people would increase the length of their education by one standard deviation for each part of the wage distribution. Essentially, it shows that the more people earn, the more further improvements in their education boosts their earnings. The data* also show that the financial returns to tertiary education would increase more steeply at the top end of the wage scale, while returns to secondary education would actually decline. This may be because higher education is where individuals acquire the specialised knowledge and skills that are more highly rewarded in the labour market. Another explanation is that technological advances mainly benefit the most skilled individuals, boosting their earnings most. In a nutshell, raising overall levels of educational attainment alone could actually increase the wage gap.

There is another angle to this. The data also show that countries were people are more highly skilled, on average, are also those where skills proficiency is spread more evenly across the population*. So better and more equitable skills actually go together.

The most worrisome finding from the paper is that countries with greater inequality in skills are also those where parents’ education has a stronger impact on their children’s skills**. In other words, where skills are less evenly distributed in the population, young adults are less likely to attain better skills than their parents – and thus inequality in both skills and wages become more firmly entrenched

But the data also show that ensuring that more people acquire essential foundation skills, whatever their skills or formal qualifications, can be an effective way to lead to a more equitable increase in earnings. This is shown by the blue dotted line in the chart above. So increasing investment in foundation skills – by raising the quality of basic education across the board – would not only result in higher productivity and greater employability among adults, but would also ensure that the benefits of economic growth are more equally shared across the population.

* Figure 2, page 10 of the OECD Working Paper "Skills and wage inequality: Evidence from PIAAC"
** Figure 3, page 11 of the OECD Working Paper "Skills and wage inequality: Evidence from PIAAC"

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Are teachers hard-working professionals?

Dirk Van Damme
Head of the Innovation and Measuring Progress division, Directorate for Education and Skills
Average number of 60-minute hours lower secondary education teachers report
having spent on the following activities during the most recent complete calendar week.

Time is no doubt an essential dimension in the identity – and its perception – of the teaching profession. In many countries the statutory definition of the working time of teachers is limited to the actual number of hours spent teaching in classes. To many people this creates the perception that teachers earn more or less equivalent salaries to those in similar professions for working half as many hours. Of course teachers are expected to undertake other tasks on top of just teaching, but their work schedule is flexible and they can do this work autonomously in their ‘own’ time. This flexibility to combine work, family life and leisure, and a comparatively high autonomy in organising one’s work, certainly contribute to the attractiveness of the teaching profession, especially among women who still take on the largest share of household tasks and responsibilities. The problem with this widely shared perception is that it is based on a very poor understanding of the nature of the work of teachers. Since the non-teaching tasks are not very visible, and are mostly executed without the close supervision normally associated with paid labour, they may not be perceived as ‘real’ work. And, more problematically, even teachers might be hesitant to see these tasks as an intrinsic part of their professional life.

The most recent Education Indicators in Focus brief combines data published in Education at a Glance 2014 and data collected in the TALIS 2013 survey, providing a very useful overview of the working time of teachers. It is surprising to learn that in the countries which participated in the TALIS 2013 survey, lower secondary teachers reported a total working time of 38 hours (of 60 minutes) in a typical working week. Only half of this total working time, 19 hours, is spent on teaching classes.

What kind of tasks and activities make up for the other half of the working week? The chart above provides an overview of the additional tasks the average teacher performs in a typical working week. In replying to this question, teachers didn’t use the tasks as mutually exclusive categories, so some overlap is possible and the categories add up to more than the mentioned 38 hours.

Tasks directly related to teaching make up a large share of the non-teaching time, such as planning and preparing lessons (7 hours) and marking/correcting student work (5 hours). Another 6 hours is spent on student counselling, extracurricular activities and communication with parents, suggesting that teachers engage in more comprehensive pedagogic relations with students than just teaching. Teachers take on crucial roles in the social and emotional development of students, thus creating a positive pedagogical climate for students to grow up in. Another 2 hours is spent on a wide variety of administrative and managerial tasks. These data suggest that the actual work load of teachers is much larger and more diversified than what popular perception tells us and in fact effective teaching requires a range of supportive activities and tasks.

The professionalisation of teaching and the evolution of schools into complex, professional organisations have made the work of teachers richer, more sophisticated and more formalised. The volume of working time spent on participation in school management and general administrative work, taken together, counts for almost 4 hours per week and is a further indication of schools changing into complex and modern organisations. The fact that teachers spend another 3 hours on working and discussion with colleagues suggests that their profession is no longer is a completely solitary activity. The evidence of the range of additional tasks expected from teachers challenges the popular perception – and probably also the self-perception of teachers – that teaching essentially is an individual and autonomous job. Instead, teachers are becoming professionals collectively engaged in professional organisations. This process of change probably does not happen without contest or conflict as most of the additional activities of teachers seem to happen in a grey zone of authority and supervision that are  not well regulated by statutory provisions or labour relations.

All evidence therefore suggests that in reality teachers are indeed hard-working professionals. Their total working time does not differ from equally educated professionals. For the popular perception – and recognition – to change however, evidence alone is not sufficient. Legislation and regulation of teachers’ work need to take into account the wide variety of tasks and the changing roles expected from teachers today. It will be necessary to make such tasks visible and to bring the delicate balance between professional autonomy and supervision into the public debate. Public respect for the teaching profession and the attractiveness of the profession would be served well by the recognition that teaching today involves a range of supportive tasks. Teachers deserve to be appreciated and valued for the wide variety of tasks they are required to perform due to the changing nature of their profession.

Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 29, by  Eric Charbonnier and Ignacio Marin
Education at a Glance 2014
OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2013 Results
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus: www.oecd.org/education/indicators
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators: www.oecd.org/edu/eag.htm
Chart Source © OECD, TALIS 2013 Database, Table 6.12 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Got a math problem?

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

Some 37% of students in the Netherlands reported that they often worry that mathematics classes will be difficult for them. In Argentina, 80% of students reported the same worry. What is the percentage-point difference between the two countries in the proportion of students who worry that mathematics classes will be difficult for them?*

While reading the above mathematics problem, did you:
  1. start hyperventilating and repeat to yourself “I  can’t do this;
    I can’t do this; I can’t do this”
  2. grab your mouse with the intent of clicking off this page
  3. feel as though you have never encountered such a confusing
    jumble of words and numbers before
  4. all of the above?
    If you answered a, b, c or d, you’re in good company: on average, about one in three students feels anxious when confronted with a mathematics problem, and more than one in two students reported that they often worry that it will be difficult for them in mathematics classes. Those are alarming statistics – especially because PISA finds that greater anxiety towards mathematics is strongly related to lower scores in mathematics. As this month’s PISA in Focus reports, on average across OECD countries, mathematics anxiety is associated with a 34 score-point decline in mathematics performance – the equivalent of almost one year of school. In New Zealand, Norway and Poland, the decline associated with anxiety towards mathematics is even larger: at least 45 score points.

    More worrying still, in almost all countries and economies that participated in PISA 2012, girls reported greater anxiety towards mathematics than boys. Only in Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates did boys report greater anxiety than girls.

    PISA finds that students’ anxiety towards mathematics is not just about the subject, itself. Students are more anxious towards mathematics when their schoolmates get better marks than they do, on average. In Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands and Slovenia, students who attend schools where the average student performs better than they do in mathematics tend to be considerably more anxious towards the subject than students who earn similar marks in mathematics, but attend schools where the average student performs as well as they do or worse.

    So how can students learn to adopt a more Zen attitude towards mathematics? The answer may lie in their teachers. In 39 countries and economies, among students who performed equally well in mathematics, those students whose teachers consistently tell students how well they are doing in mathematics, give students feedback on their strengths and weaknesses in mathematics, and/or tell students what they need to do to improve in mathematics reported less anxiety towards math. Knowledge is power; and when staring down a mathematics problem, it can relieve stress too.

    * There is a 43 percentage-point difference between the Netherlands (which has one of the smallest proportions of students who worry that mathematics classes will be difficult for them) and Argentina (which has one of the largest proportions of these students).

    PISA 2012 Findings
    PISA in Focus No. 48: Does math make you anxious?
    PISA in Focus No.48 (French version)
    Full set of PISA in Focus
    PISA 2012 Results: Ready to Learn (Volume III) : Students' Engagement, Drive and Self-Beliefs
    Photo credit: The Scream / @Wikimédia

    Thursday, January 29, 2015

    Who enjoys the opportunity to be better educated than their parents?

    by Dirk Van Damme
    Head of the Innovation and Measuring Progress division, Directorate for Education and Skills

    Relationship between the share of upward mobility among 25-34 year olds and the likelihood of participating in tertiary education for 20-34 year olds (values in reverse order) 2012.

    Over the past decades, education systems have expanded enormously. They provide opportunities for many more students than before to access and succeed in secondary and tertiary education. The rapidly increasing supply of skilled labour in the economy over the past five decades was a crucial ingredient for growth and prosperity, for the modernisation of societies, and for the success of democracy. As more young people became more highly educated than their parents, upward mobility in education became the standard of families’ aspirations and individual ambitions. Families invested a lot of resources and energy into the educational careers of their children in order to unlock a brighter future to which education seemed to be the key.

    The most recent Education Indicators in Focus presents some interesting evidence on inter-generational educational mobility, based on data from the Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competences (PIAAC). On average across the 24 national or sub-national systems that participated in the survey, 39% of adults have attained a higher level of education than their parents, whereas 12% have attained a lower level. Across generations there is a slight downward trend in educational mobility: 32% of 25-34 year-old adults had a higher level of education than their parents, compared with 43% of 45-54 year-olds.

    The vertical axis on the chart above shows that between-country differences in educational mobility among young adults are huge. For example, upward educational mobility in the United States and Japan has slowed, partly because these countries already had high levels of educational attainment. Upward educational mobility is racing ahead in Korea, but also in Ireland, Italy and Spain, where educational attainment, in general, was much lower.

    Many policy makers and observers are concerned about slowing social mobility. If social mobility decelerates, the argument goes, the engine moving countries towards greater prosperity and less inequality would start to sputter. Social mobility, of which educational mobility is an important component, is perceived to be an intrinsic feature of cohesive and democratic societies. Therefore, social mobility is thought to be closely linked to equality of opportunity.

    But can we detect a connection between upward mobility and equality of opportunity in the data? The horizontal axis of the chart above gives the relative likelihood that 20-34 year-old students will participate in tertiary education among young adults whose parents have a tertiary qualification, compared with young adults whose parents have a below-tertiary qualification. The lower the odds ratio, the more a country is approaching equality of opportunity, regardless of the educational attainment of an individual’s parents. For example, in France, students whose parents are tertiary educated are about 6 times more likely to participate in tertiary education than students whose parents have not attained a secondary education. In the United States, the odds ratio climbs to 6.8, and in Italy to 9.5. In contrast, in Canada, Korea, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries, the odds ratio is below 3, thus indicating a fairly equitable access to tertiary education.

    But, coming back to our question, the chart also shows no real correlation between upward educational mobility and equality of opportunity to participate in tertiary education. Countries in the lower left quadrant of the chart share greater inequality of opportunity and low educational mobility, while those in the upper right quadrant share greater equality of opportunity and high educational mobility. So they seem to confirm the hypothesis that systems that are more socially selective, in access to tertiary education, go together with less upward educational mobility, and the other way around.

    But what of the countries in the upper left and lower right quadrants that seem to contradict the hypothesis? The Nordic countries and Canada combine greater equality of opportunity with moderate upward mobility. These countries already enjoy high levels of educational attainment, so the relative chance that a young person is better educated than his or her parents is lower than in countries where the expansion in higher education occurred more recently. Indeed, data on educational attainment in Education at a Glance show that these countries already have relatively high levels of education among older adults and less upward educational mobility.

    France, Italy and Poland and, to a lesser degree, the Flemish Community of Belgium and England, have the opposite profile. In these countries, participation in tertiary education is highly selective, yet there is still relatively fluid upward educational mobility. These countries share a more recent history of educational expansion with below-average educational attainment among older adults. They also probably recruit their tertiary students more from the middle classes than from among the most disadvantaged segment of the population. This is observed in Italy and, to a lesser extent, France.

    Decelerating educational mobility doesn't seem to be a real problem unless it is triggered by particularly selective access to higher education. In this sense, the United States seems to combine the worst of both indicators. But systems that exclude disadvantaged families from education opportunities might realise upward social mobility at the expense of social inclusion.

    Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 28, by Etienne Albiser and Gara Rojas González
    Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 28, French version
    OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competences (PIAAC)
    OECD Skills Outlook 2013
    On this topic, visit:
    Education Indicators in Focus: www.oecd.org/education/indicators 
    On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
    Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators: www.oecd.org/edu/eag.htm
    Chart source: © OECD (2014), Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators, Indicator A4 (www.oecd.org/edu/eag.htm).

    Tuesday, January 20, 2015

    A shared aspiration

    By Alfonso Echazarra
    Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills 

    If there’s one word that encapsulates the desires and aspirations of education stakeholders around the world, it is improvement. When the first PISA results revealed the disappointing performance of German students, the country became determined to improve, and shake up, its education system. More recently, after declining results in reading, mathematics and science, Wales introduced large-scale school reform measures with the aim of becoming one of the top 20 performers in PISA reading performance by 2015. While there is no one sure path to improvement in education, this month’s PISA in Focus relays a positive message: any country can improve its performance and equity in education – and relatively quickly.

    This means that improvements in PISA performance are not bound by geography, national wealth, cultural heritage or where the country started off on its way towards excellence in PISA. For example, Singapore, a small, relatively wealthy Asian country (which ranked second in mathematics performance in PISA 2012) has improved its mean score by 4 points per year – as has Brazil, a large, middle-income Latin American country, where two out of three students still do not attain the baseline proficiency Level 2 in mathematics. Countries as diverse as Chile, Germany, Israel, Malaysia, Qatar and Romania have also seen significant improvements in mathematics performance.

    PISA results over the years also show that change can happen relatively quickly, and this is good news for governments setting ambitious goals. Look at Poland: its performance in reading, mathematics and science has improved remarkably since the first PISA results – more than 25 score points in all 3 subjects – to the extent that Poland is now among the 10 top-performing OECD countries. Brazil, Bulgaria, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Serbia, Tunisia and Turkey have also made great leaps forward.

    And there’s still more good news: improvement in performance rarely comes at the expense of equity in education. When countries show improvements in their performance, it is usually because they have managed to reduce the proportion of low-achieving students. For instance, improvements in mathematics performance in Mexico, Tunisia and Turkey, all of which scored well below average in their first PISA tests, are observed mainly among low-achieving students. This usually means greater equity of education opportunities in these countries. In fact, in the majority of the countries and economies whose mathematics performance has improved over the years, the relationship between students’ socio-economic background and mathematics performance has grown weaker, not stronger.

    PISA is a useful tool not only for measuring how students perform now, but how much countries and economies have progressed over time in encouraging – and realising – excellence and equity in education. What eventually makes the difference for education systems is their aspiration to improve, not a desire to be top of the class.

    Education Policy Outlook 2015
    PISA 2012 Findings
    PISA in Focus No. 47: How has student performance evolved over time?
    Full set of PISA in Focus 
    Excellence through Equity, Giving Every Student the Chance to Succeed (Volume II)
    Photo credit: Business occupation - finger people moving step up /@Shutterstock

    Monday, January 19, 2015

    How many young people leave school without any qualification?

    by Dirk Van Damme
    Head of the Innovation and Measuring Progress division, Directorate for Education and Skills

    More education yields better job prospects and higher average levels of income, and is also associated with better (self-reported) health, social capital and political engagement. Year after year Education at a Glance provides the evidence that links educational attainment to these various economic and social outcomes. The economic crisis has underlined the relevance of such findings. The social cost of the crisis, in terms of unemployment and poverty, has been particularly high for those who lacked the risk insurance that education seems to guarantee for the highly educated.

    The latest unemployment data from the OECD (November 2014) show that unemployment rates remain virtually unchanged at very high levels and that there is little prospect for real improvement. The recently published Education at a Glance Interim Report , which includes 2013 data, shows that the relative risk of unemployment among low-educated adults continues to be very high. On average across OECD countries, 13.7% of those without an upper secondary qualification were unemployed, compared to 5.3% for tertiary-educated individuals and 8% among those with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education.

    Countries have every good reason to lift as many young people as possible out of the trap of having to enter the labour market and adulthood without a good qualification. Indeed, many countries have identified the problem of early, unqualified school leavers as a major educational challenge. One just has to glance at the chart above to understand how big the problem is. On average across OECD countries with available data, 16.8% of 25-34 year-olds have to start life without a minimum level qualification. At least one in six young people in 13 OECD countries – including Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway – lacks qualifications. This is a major risk for these labour markets and societies.

    Many countries have expanded their tertiary education systems and have seen the share of tertiary-educated individuals in the 25-34 year-old cohort grow year after year – but the share of low-educated youth does not diminish at an equivalent rate. Between 2005 and 2013, the average annual growth rate in the share of tertiary-educated youth was almost twice as high as the rate of decline in the share of young people who did not have an upper secondary qualification: .94 percentage points compared to .50 percentage points. This also means that the relative share of mid-educated 25-34 year-olds has decreased as well, by .46 percentage points per year, on average.

    Some countries have both a large share of highly educated youth and a large share of low-educated youth. In Spain, for example, 41.1% of 25-34 year-olds are tertiary educated and 34.9% of individuals that age do not have an upper secondary qualification. Austria, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia have the opposite profile, with small proportions of low-educated youth, a large share of young people with an upper secondary qualification, and a comparatively small proportion of tertiary-educated youth.

    Sure, there is progress: the group of young people without any qualification grows smaller year after year; but progress is slow and unevenly distributed among countries. In Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal, Turkey and the United Kingdom, the share of young people without any qualification decreased by an average of more than 1.2 percentage points between 2005 and 2013. But in Denmark, Estonia, Norway and Switzerland, the share of young people in the workforce who had no qualification increased during the same period.

    The message is clear: if countries want to achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth and social progress, they should not only expand their tertiary education systems, they should also work to reduce the share of low-educated youth. Leaving a large share of young adults behind without any educational protection against the risks of unemployment, insecure jobs and social exclusion might, in the end, eat into most of the growth dividend acquired through higher educational attainment. Progress has to be achieved across the educational spectrum.

    OECD Press release: Success of education reforms threatened by lack of oversight, says OECD
    Education at a Glance
    Education at a Glance Interim Report: Update of Employment and Educational Attainment Indicators
    Explore Education at a Glance data on GPS
    Chart Source: OECD (2015), Education at a Glance Interim Report: Update of Employment and Educational Attainment Indicators, Table 1.4, available for consultation on line only

    Shared challenges in reforming education systems: are we getting it right?

    by Beatriz Pont,
    Senior Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

    Let’s be honest, implementing ambitious reforms in education is not simple. Change takes time, often longer than a politician’s 4 year term, and they may face conflicting priorities or even lack evidence on what would work best. More than 12% of government expenditure is invested in education to improve results and enable citizens to benefit from good education systems. Still, 21.5% of 15 year olds don’t reach the minimum level of skills required to function in today’s societies.  The new OECD book Education Policy Outlook 2015: Making Reforms Happen looks into more than 450 education reforms adopted across OECD countries during the past 7 years.

    Written to help policy makers with policy options and country examples, it shows trends and lessons that can contribute to make a difference in their reform efforts. Countries share common challenges and are defining policies accordingly: targeting inequality and ensuring completion and effective transitions into tertiary or the labour market, strengthening the delivery of education in schools, using data for accountability and improvement, and steering and implementing policy effectively.

    Reviewing reforms implemented shows that many countries are using education as a way out of the crisis: numerous reforms focus on preparing students for the future, especially in vocational education and training and tertiary education. Reforms are also prioritising the quality of teachers and teaching, with almost 1 in 4 reforms in this area. Investing in supporting disadvantaged students and schools is at the heart of many reforms. In critical times like today, we need to invest to make sure that we deliver the best possible education for our children. They are our future.

    Good reforms are not only about design. They are about making sure that policies are well implemented and that they have an impact where needed the most. Regrettably, from our study, only 1 in 10 reforms are reported as having evaluations. And we know that there are a number of key issues for success in making reforms happen: adapt the type of reform to respond to the concrete challenges, focus on the classroom and the learning and not on processes, focus on developing capacity of teachers and leaders, engage stakeholders from early on, and make reforms sustainable for the longer term.

    Reforms are not just about strategies, white papers and regulations; they must be transformed into better outcomes for our youth and our future. 

    Review and compare countries on the Data Viz 


    Thursday, January 15, 2015

    Improving school climate and opportunities to learn

    by Gabriela Miranda Moriconi
    Researcher, Department for Educational Research at Fundação Carlos Chagas, Brazil

    January marks the preparation for the academic year in the Southern Hemisphere, where the school year spans from February/March to November/December. More than simply allocating time for classes and other extra-curricular activities, it is an opportunity to reflect on  how to make the best use of classroom time, in order to maximise  learning opportunities for all students. The new Teaching in Focus brief “Improving school climate and opportunities to learn” provides some useful insights into how school climate issues affect actual learning time and discusses some initiatives that could be promoted to make the most of the time that students spend in the classroom.

    Teachers can certainly face challenges in the classroom. In TALIS participating countries and economies, almost one in three teachers report having more than 10% of students with behavioural problems in their classes. Whilst teachers may have different perceptions/ideas/classifications of what behavioural problems are, this shows that it is nonetheless an important source of concern for many teachers. And, as expected, students’ behavioural problems do affect instructional time: in all the countries and economies participating in TALIS 2013, the more challenging the classroom, the more class time teachers report spending keeping order and therefore not actually teaching – almost twice as much time for teachers with more than 10% misbehaving student, compared to classrooms with less than 10% of students with behaviour problems.

    In addition, students miss out on opportunities to learn when they are regularly absent from classes. Across all TALIS countries and economies, 39% of teachers work in schools where absenteeism of students occurs every week. Not only does missing classes consume time that should be used for learning, but it is also related to other negative factors in schools, such as student intimidation or verbal abuse among students. Thus, different factors seem to go together in schools and result in a negative environment, which undermines teaching and learning.

    Nonetheless, building a positive school culture could be one way to reduce behavioural problems and absenteeism, and therefore improve the learning conditions of students. One way to create a more positive environment is to involve students, parents and teachers in school decisions. Indeed, across TALIS countries and economies, teachers who work in schools with a higher level of participation among stakeholders are less likely to report high proportions of students with behavioural problems in their classrooms.

    These results indicate that educational systems and particular schools should make an effort to promote positive relationships among students, as well as between students, parents and teachers. TALIS also suggests that there are many benefits to involving students, parents and teachers in school decisions, for instance, attempts to increase student engagement should in turn improve the use of school time for learning.

    The author(s) received funding from the OECD Thomas J. Alexander fellowship program for carrying out this work.

    The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)
    New insights from TALIS 2013: Teaching and learning in primary and upper secondary education
    The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey
    A Teacher’s Guide to TALIS 2013
    Teaching in Focus No. 9 : Improving school climate and students’ opportunities to learn, by Gabriela Miranda Moriconi and Katarzyna Kubacka
    Teaching In Focus No. 9: Améliorer le climat scolaire et les possibilités d’apprentissage pour les élèves (À paraître)
    International Summit on the Teaching Profession, Banff, Alberta, on March 29–30, 2015
    Photo credit: Illustrated silhouettes of two classroom scenes / @Shutterstock

    Thursday, January 08, 2015

    Education and the modern family

    by Tracey Burns and Roxanne Kovacs
    Directorate for Education and Skills. 
    Sciences Po, Paris

    In an article published in 1993, David Popenoe argued that the middle of the 20th century was the heyday of the traditional nuclear family. This family consisted of “a heterosexual, monogamous, life-long marriage in which there is a sharp division of labour, with the female as full-time housewife and the male as primary provider and ultimate authority”. Popenoe argued that the decline of the traditional family was detrimental not just for families, but for society as a whole.

    He was correct on at least one level: families have changed. The majority of families of the 21st century are much more diverse: Marriage rates have been declining while divorce rates are rising. Couples are choosing to have their children later in life, and more people are having children without getting married at all. In fact, the average age of first marriage (30 years) has now risen above the average age of first childbirth (28 years). Modern families come in many shapes and sizes, including reconstituted families, single parents, multi-racial and same-sex families.

    In addition, the role of women has changed. In 2013, 63% of women participated in the labour force on average across the OECD. Women no longer need to make a strict choice between having a family and having a career in most countries across the OECD. In fact, higher fertility rates are positively related to greater female labour force participation on average. The “decline” of the traditional family has thus benefitted our economies, as well as reported well-being.

    Do our education systems offer the necessary support for children growing up in modern families? To what extent should schools be responsible for what have traditionally been thought of as “family matters”? And does family composition have any effect on education performance? A recently released Trends Shaping Education Spotlight looks at what education providers can do to support modern families and how new family structures have changed demands for learning and care.

    First, it is clear that in many countries children from non-traditional families might need support at school. In PISA 2012, students from single-parent families performed, on average, 4.5 points below students from other types of families, even after controlling for socio-economic differences. Raising awareness of achievement gaps, providing hands-on support, establishing a good relationship with the student and his/her parent(s) or helping with homework and academic difficulties are just a few ways in which educators can help make a difference.

    Another important way in which education can assist modern families is by providing high quality Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). Women are still the main providers of childhood care in all OECD countries and do, on average, 60% of all caring work in the household. Not only can the provision of subsidised ECEC facilitate women’s participation in the labour force, it can also have a positive effect on their children’s educational performance. In fact, 15-year olds who attended one year of pre-primary school performed, on average, 30 points better in PISA, even after taking socio-economic differences into account.

    In addition to being influenced by education, modern families have also changed education themselves. For example, parents have become much more active and powerful, making their voices heard by participating in school boards, parent-teacher associations and extra-curricular activities. If they are unhappy with their children’s school, in many countries they can transfer them to another institution. In doing so, they are holding schools accountable and becoming more involved in the governance and delivery of education. This is important for a number of reasons: improving local accountability and responsiveness to the community, engaging new actors in the system that might have hitherto been silent or excluded, and working to increase ownership and trust in the system.

    However, not all parents are actively involved in their children’s schools. Parents with lower income tend to be less active, and there are increasing reports of parents from all socio-economic strata refusing to accept criticisms of their children, or expecting teachers to handle all education matters without their support. Teachers increasingly report being expected to play the role of the parent as well as the educator, adding extra time and tasks to their already busy workday.

    Successful modern schools must make an effort be open and responsive to the needs of modern families. At the same time, modern families must also accept their responsibility in ensuring the well-being of their children – and that includes taking part in their education. Without this partnership and trust, our schools and communities are less successful – and it is the children who pay the price.

    Trends Shaping Education 2013
    OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 
    PISA 2009 Results: Overcoming Social Background: Equity in Learning Opportunities and Outcomes. 
    PISA 2012 Findings
    OECD, Doing Better for Families 
    OECD, A Quality Toolbox for Early Childhood Education and Care 
    Photo credit: Father reading child a story / @Shutterstock

    Tuesday, January 06, 2015

    The sustainability of the UK’s higher education system

    by Andreas Schleicher
    Director, Directorate for Education and Skills
    Skills have become the currency of 21st century economies and, despite the significant increase the UK has seen in university graduation over the last decade, the earnings of workers with a university degree remain over 80% higher than those of workers with just five good GCSE’s or an equivalent vocational qualification. Sure, not every university graduate will end up with a great salary, but on average they take an additional
    £160 000 home over their working life, and that's even after discounting tuition, forgone earnings, and the higher tax bill that comes with a better salary. Some say these trends are all futures of the past, and that the job prospects of future graduates may look much worse, particularly if bringing in more and more people eventually means including less qualified applicants. But people have been saying these things ever since I began tracking those numbers over a decade ago and the bottom line is that, so far, the rise in knowledge workers has not led to a decline in their pay, as we have seen for people at the lower end of the skills spectrum.
    That brings up the question of who should pay for this, because there simply is no free university education.
    The Nordic countries pay for universities through the public purse and even subsidise the living costs of university students. It makes sense for them because participation is almost universal and they have a steeply progressive tax system so that they can recuperate the funds from graduates who typically end up as the better earners.
    European countries like France, Germany or Spain, too, say higher education is important, but their governments are neither willing to put in the required funds nor allowing universities to charge tuition. They end up compromising quality and restricting access, with the effect that all workers end up paying for the university education of the rich parents’ children.
    The third alternative is to allow universities to charge tuition, and interestingly, OECD data show absolutely no cross-country relationship between the level of tuition countries charge and the participation of disadvantaged youth in tertiary education. In fact, social mobility is worse in Germany which pays for all university education through the public purse than it is in the UK.
    But getting tuition right is not simple either. If countries put the burden for tuition entirely on the shoulders of families, they risk not attracting the brightest but the wealthiest children to attend, which means not making the most out of the country’s talent.
    If countries rely mainly on commercial loans which students have to repay once they finish their studies, they still leave students and families with the risk, because the promise of greater lifetime earnings of graduates is a statistical one, and there is actually very wide dispersion in earnings. The UK, and some other countries too, have tried to square that circle with a combination of income-contingent loans and means-tested grants. That basically means risk-free access to financing for prospective students with governments leveraging, but not paying, for the costs.
    The loans reduce the liquidity constraints faced by individuals at the time of study, while the income-contingent nature of the loans system addresses the risk and uncertainty faced by individuals (insurance against inability to repay) and improves the progressiveness of the overall system (lower public subsidy for graduates with higher private returns). In the UK, the repayments of graduates correspond to a proportion of their earnings and low earners make low or no repayments, and graduates with low lifetime earnings end up not repaying their loans in full.
    But even the best loan system is often not sufficient. There is ample evidence that youth from low income families or from families with poorly educated parents, but also youth who just don't have good information on the benefits of tertiary education, underestimate the net benefits of tertiary education. That’s why it has paid off for the UK to complement the loan scheme with means-tested grants or tuition waivers for vulnerable groups.
    Sure, those loan and grant systems cost money, and have shifted risks to government which will end up paying for any bad debt. Indeed, it is very likely that repayment rates will end up a lot lower than what the government anticipated. But these costs are just a tiny fraction of the added fiscal income due to better educated individuals paying higher taxes. Keep in mind that the added tax income of those graduates who end up in employment, on average over £80 000 in the UK, is many times larger than any conceivable bad debt.
    There is lots the UK can do to further improve its approach to financing universities. For a start, it can do better with aligning course offerings with societal demand. I also worry that the loan repayment parameters mean many middle income workers – such as teachers, health professionals, public sector workers - will end up paying more for their education than better earners such as lawyers and bankers. But among all available approaches, the UK offers still the most scalable and sustainable approach to university finance.

    This article originally appeared on the Research Professional website, International Comparison of Tuition Fee regimes.
    Education at a Glance 2014 country note: United Kingdom
    Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators (See Indicator B)
    Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Lives: A Strategic Approach to Skills Policies

    Photo credit: Students pulling and pushing heavy stone / @Shutterstock

    Monday, December 22, 2014

    Skills and wage inequality across labour markets

    by Dirk Van Damme
    Head of the Innovation and Measuring Progress division, Directorate for Education and Skills

    Mean monthly earnings in USD (using Purchasing Power Parities) of individuals, by literacy proficiency level, gender, age and educational attainment (2012)

    In a completely open labour market, earnings from employment would compensate individuals for their contribution to the organisation’s economic success. The price put on one’s labour also depends on the abundance or scarcity of the individual’s specific set of skills in the market. But economic price-setting mechanisms do not operate in a vacuum, and are heavily influenced by political and institutional factors that, in themselves, are often the outcome of long histories of social conflict and compromise.

    Governments tend to regulate minimum wages and other framework conditions, while sectoral collective labour agreements set rules for salary increases by seniority or educational qualifications. Such arrangements serve to set minimum wages and living standards for vulnerable workers. In fact, some of the rationales underlying wage differentials across the labour market are increasingly scrutinised for their harmful social impact. For example, several countries are debating the social and economic impact of regulations favouring older workers simply because of their age.

    It has now been well established that wage inequality has increased. Increasing social inequality also seems to have an adverse impact on growth. Even if inequality and well-being should be seen as multi-dimensional, incorporating many more factors than just wages, the income generated from employment lies at the core of social inequality. The latest Education Indicators in Focus, presenting data from the Survey of Adult Skills (a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or PIAAC), presents a snapshot of how different factors, such as gender, age, educational attainment and, especially, skills, affected the distribution of wages in 2012. The snapshot doesn’t provide trend data, but shows where we are now.

    As the chart above illustrates, on average across the 24 countries and regions that participated in the survey, the wage differences between various categories are significant. Gender, age and educational attainment all have an impact on wages. Labour markets and wage-setting systems tend to closely reflect educational qualifications, often through institutional frameworks. Wages also reward professional experience and seniority of older workers. And the gender bias in wages partly echoes different labour market participation patterns between males and females.

    But the most interesting finding of the chart is the very significant impact that skills have on earnings within each category of the gender, age and education variables. Skills differentiate wages to an almost similar degree within both sexes. With age we see a different pattern: as people grow older, their wages depend more and more on their skills level. But the wage differentiation only happens at the top of the skills distribution: higher skilled older workers earn higher wages than younger colleagues, while lower skilled workers don’t see their wages increase with age.

    The interaction between educational qualifications and skills in setting wages again, is of a different nature. Labour market arrangements are still heavily based on educational qualifications. But educational qualifications do not always accurately describe the qualification-holder’s level of skills. Wages vary widely, even within each qualification level, by the actual skills people have; this is especially evident among tertiary-educated workers. If an individual is not equipped with a set of skills commensurate with his or her qualification, then the qualification in itself does not seem to secure a high wage. Better-skilled individuals with a mid-level qualification earn more than low-skilled tertiary graduates. At the same time, tertiary educated workers with low skills still get a higher wage than mid-skilled workers with lower qualifications.

    Several countries are in the process of reforming their labour market arrangements. In general, such reforms aim to open up labour markets with more flexible arrangements, while at the same time protecting vulnerable workers and containing the overall level of wage inequality. In this context, the question whether skills and experience should have a higher impact on wages than seniority, gender or educational qualifications is becoming a critically important policy issue.

    Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 27 by Eric Charbonnier and Simon Normandeau
    Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 27, French version
    OECD Skills Outlook 2013
    On this topic, visit:
    Education Indicators in Focus: www.oecd.org/education/indicators 
    On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
    Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators: www.oecd.org/edu/eag.htm
    Chart source: © OECD

    Friday, December 19, 2014

    The efficiency of Italian schools in an international perspective

    by Tommaso Agasisti,
    Politecnico di Milano School of Management, and TJ Alexander Fellow at OECD

    Performance in PISA and (Data Envelope Analysis) efficiency scores

    Budget cuts in public services are today common across countries. For schools, as everywhere else, we constantly hear calls for ways to do more with less. Efficiency, it seems, has crept up to the top of the policy agenda. The question is whether the quality of learning is suffering due budget cuts, and if the quality of learning is compromised by fewer resources.

    In most countries, educational results have not progressed in line with the increases in resources used by schools. Large scale international assessments, such as PISA, opens the door to new research on efficiency. Using PISA 2012 data, we estimated efficiency for almost 9 000 schools operating in 30 countries. In this context, efficiency is defined in a technical sense: inputs are the number of teachers per student, the number of computers per teacher (measures that provide us with an idea of the amount of human and material resources available to the school) and students’ average socio-economic background (a measure of the environment the school operates and the family background of the students that attend the school), while outputs are measured by the average test scores in mathematics and reading of the students in the school. Using international data, the efficiency at school level is not determined only by national efficiency standards in a particular country, but by schools in all countries.

    The results highlight that among the 30 countries being examined, the average efficiency of school stands at 0.73. This means that PISA test scores could be raised by 27% if resources were used at the optimal level of efficiency (those attained by top performing schools for each combination of resources). For Italian schools, the average efficiency score is 0.71, which implies that on average, the PISA scores could be raised by 29%. By way of comparison, the country in which efficiency scores are the highest is Singapore (0.84), followed by two other Asian countries (Korea and Japan), then Poland and Estonia (see Figure above).

    The empirical analysis compares Italian schools with a sample of schools in other countries Many Italian schools are comparable with the best schools in the world, while others struggle with underwhelming results (both with regards to achievement and efficiency). One of the most striking findings of this research is the amount of variation in efficiency across schools within each country. In this sense, the “typical, average” Italian school simply does not exist.

    The PISA data allows less efficient schools to observe the characteristics of more efficient ones, by studying their organisation and activities, regardless of the country where they operate. Drawing inspiration from these data, each school can adopt the mix of resources, practices and processes that they consider most suitable for improving their operations (in terms of achievement scores and efficiency). In addition, by collecting information at different points in time, schools can monitor improvements and its determinants, eventually adjusting activities and strategies if satisfactory results are not achieved.

    An evaluation system of this kind is no substitute for the experience of teachers and principals, rather it can stimulate them, and other stakeholders, into considering the measurable characteristics of their work without renouncing to the more intangible aspects such as cultural and educational values.