Friday, May 27, 2016

How can the Netherlands move its school system “from good to great”?

by Montserrat Gomendio
Deputy Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Activities undertaken by lower secondary teachers at least once per month,
OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2013

A new OECD review of the Netherlands education system offers a roadmap towards excellence. Netherlands 2016: Foundations for the Future, based on data from both PISA and the Survey of Adult Skills, confirms that the country already enjoys a high-quality and highly equitable education system. But it also identifies areas that need to be improved as the country moves its education system, in the words of Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science Jet Bussemaker, “from good to great”.

The Dutch school system is highly stratified, and uses early tracking extensively. For a long time the Netherlands has made this complex school system work well for students: students performed well at school, socio-economic status had a relatively weak impact on performance, and were readily employable when they completed their schooling  (the number of young people who are neither employed nor in education or training is among the lowest across OECD countries). Our analysis shows large differences in performance within educational tracks, and a large degree of overlap in literacy and numeracy performance between tracks. This implies that students in different tracks are equipped with more similar levels of skills than is observed in other countries, probably due to the existence of “bridge classes” and “scaffolding diplomas” which allow for greater flexibility among the different curricula. But evidence points to a worrying trend towards making the system more rigid, which could lead to less movement between tracks and an erosion of the equity levels that the system enjoys today.

The complexity of these issues calls for a coherent policy response. Netherlands 2016, the first report of its kind since the late 1980s, proposes making student selection more objective by giving more prominence to an objective national test; limiting secondary schools' autonomy in selecting students into different educational tracks; and making the system more permeable to ensure that students progress more smoothly through the education system. The latter calls for various measures, including the alignment of curricula of different tracks, more personalised teaching and learning, promoting larger secondary schools that offer all education tracks through financial incentives.

More efforts should also be made to attract talented and motivated people to the teaching profession especially since many teachers in the Netherlands are approaching retirement age. A more systematic approach to the professional development of teachers is needed. The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2013 shows that collaborative working and learning among teachers is not well established in the Dutch school system, yet these practices have proven essential for improving the quality of teaching. These findings stand at odds with the country’s ambitions to develop its schools into learning organisations.

The system has achieved a good balance between a large degree of school autonomy and efficient accountability mechanisms. However, given the extent of school autonomy, more effort should be invested in training school principals.

The quality of early childhood education and care should also be improved. Although participation rates are high, most parents use childcare facilities fewer hours a week than parents in most other OECD countries do. A national curriculum framework, higher staff qualifications and more staff training are needed to ensure all early childhood education and care services are of high quality and deliver good outcomes for children, and long-term benefits for Dutch society as a whole.

Links: 
Netherlands 2016: Foundations for the Future
Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) country note for the Netherlands
Chart source: © OECD

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

No gain without (some) pain

by Bonaventura Francesco Pacileo
Statistician, Directorate for Education and Skills

When Tim Duncan, captain of the the US National Basketball Association’s San Antonio Spurs, was spotted wearing a T-shirt saying “4 out of 3 people struggle with math”, everyone realised that he was counting himself among those who have a hard time with fractions, making the joke even funnier. What is less funny, though, is that PISA 2012 results show that more than one in four 15-year-old students in OECD countries are only able to solve mathematics problems where all relevant information is obvious and the solutions follow immediately from the given stimuli.

As a professional basketball player, Tim Duncan would probably agree that hard work is a prerequisite for attaining individual goals. Working hard is also important in education. According to this month’s PISA in Focus and the recently published report Low-performing Students: Why They Fall Behind and How to Help Them Succeed, most low-performing students share a common trait: they lack perseverance.

In most PISA-participating countries and economies, when students are asked to solve problems requiring some effort, low-performing students are more likely to report that they give up easily. Across OECD countries, 32% of low-performing students reported that they give up easily when confronted with a difficult mathematics problem compared to only 13% of top performers. Differences between the two groups are largest in Jordan, Portugal, Qatar, the Slovak Republic and the United Arab Emirates. This might lead us to conclude that these struggling students are largely responsible for their own academic failures, since they have ultimate control over how much effort they invest in their schoolwork.

But evidence from PISA tells another narrative: low-performing students may be less engaged at school because they believe their efforts do not pay off. This disengagement is obvious when students are asked about the returns to their efforts. While 81% of top performers agreed that they feel “prepared for mathematics exams”, only 56% of low performers agreed with that statement. Low-performing students seem to quit studying when they see their work as an unproductive and unprofitable waste of time. But at the same time, low-performing students often engage in activities that require numeracy skills. Perhaps surprisingly, they are actually more likely to play chess or to be members of a mathematics club.

The good news is that these kinds of activities may be exactly what could help low-performing students develop better study habits. PISA finds that interest in mathematics is greater among students who do mathematics as an extracurricular activity compared to students who do not, and this positive association is stronger among low-performing students. These additional learning opportunities, which could help students gain self-confidence and find enjoyment in mathematics, could be exploited to narrow performance gaps among students.

As Tim Duncan would put it, students need a proper training court where they can learn how to become champions.

Links:
Photo credit: Net Ball just before hitting the rim of the hoop @Shutterstock

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Going beyond education policies – how can PISA help turn policy into practice?

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills




How are policy makers in the United States using data to help districts maximise their impact? And, what tools do districts need to work together in order to build stronger communities?  The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in the United States has transferred a great deal of autonomy to states and districts. These local authorities are now responsible for transforming state and federal policies into strategies and practices that guide teaching and learning in the classroom. This allocated autonomy creates opportunities for states and districts to collaborate, but also adds an element of the unknown, since most decisions used to be taken at the federal level. Data are crucial to understanding the effect policies have on education systems at a local level. But, collecting the right kind of data can be challenging. 

The OECD’s triennial report on the state of education, the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA), can be a good starting point. Tracking trends over time, PISA allows policy makers to link data on student learning outcomes with data on students’ backgrounds and attitudes towards learning and on key factors that shape their learning, in and outside of school. PISA examines the relationships with low performance, what makes schools successful, including autonomy and accountability, and teacher-student collaboration.

A new online course developed by EdPolicy Leaders online aims to unlock PISA to reveal what is possible in education for US policy makers and education leaders. We hope it will enable educators to leverage the experience of the world’s leading school systems to improve policies and practice.

Understanding PISA results is a first step towards defining ways in which PISA data can be used to identify strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. education system. What then follows is creative thinking about what education leaders, schools, teachers, parents and students themselves can do to support policy actions that ensure every student is equipped with the skills necessary to achieve their full potential and participate in an increasingly interconnected global economy.

There is no single combination of policies and practices that will work for everyone, everywhere. PISA’s unique contribution to the education debate is that it shows policy makers and education leaders what’s possible and shares evidence of the best policies and practices across the globe.

For the next round of PISA in 2018, the OECD will take the assessment a step further and work with member countries to build a new framework which goes beyond testing students on their cognitive abilities. PISA will also examine if schools are helping students develop trust and respect, and are preparing them to be able to collaborate with others of different cultural origins.


Links:
PISA online course: How Do We Stack Up? Using OECD'S PISA to Drive Progress in U.S. Education
PISA 2012 Key Findings
PISA 2015 Assessment and Analytical Framework
OECD proposal for a framework to assess Global Competence in PISA 2018

Friday, May 20, 2016

Time, working and learning

by Viktoria Kis
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Seven years is the right length for apprenticeships – thought Queen Elizabeth I of England as she lifted her feather to sign the Statute of Apprentices in 1563. Seven years would ensure that everyone benefits: apprentices would receive good training and masters would gain from their apprentices’ labour – although it must be admitted that back then, many apprentices died before finishing their training or ran away from masters who starved them.

Today policy makers, employer and employee representatives have different considerations in mind, but the dynamics of costs and benefits matter just as much. Those dynamics need to be built into the design of apprenticeships and other work-based learning to make it attractive to both employers and learners. A new OECD study funded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, entitled Work, train, win: Work-based learning design and management for productivity gains casts a spotlight on these issues.

At the beginning of work-based learning programmes employers make an investment. This pays off later on when, after receiving high quality training, skilled trainees achieve higher productivity and contribute to production. That final period when trainees are more productive than they cost is essential, as it helps employers recoup their initial costs. But if it is too long, then trainees will find it unattractive. Of course, not all occupations are the same. For example an apprentice in retail can quickly become productive so a work-based learning scheme for this occupation should be shorter, while a person training to be an industrial mechanic typically needs more time to become competent at their job and longer duration would be appropriate.

What exactly trainees do while in the workplace also affects the balance of costs and benefits for both parties. A restaurant benefits both when an apprentice cook peels potatoes (unskilled work) and when they bake a soufflé (skilled work), but gains no immediate benefits when the would-be cook is doing practice exercises that are non-productive, even though they are developing their skills. The good news is that there is often room to build learning into productive work, in ways that benefit the firms and are neutral for the trainees. For example, after observing their supervisor a trainee might practice the skill either through simulations or by doing real work. They improve their skills either way, but doing real work also generates benefits for the firm. Indeed research found that German firms with apprentices reduced the share of non-productive activities by half between 2000 and 2007, and increased the share of productive work – and they did that while maintaining training quality.

The scope for learning through productive work does vary across occupations. An apprentice cook can have a go at their first beurre blanc on day one, but a would-be electrician must undertake substantial training before touching the wires. But whenever possible, learning should take place as part of productive activities and rigorous assessments at the end of the scheme can verify that learning has taken place – if an apprentice electrician is able to correctly install a branch circuit in front of an examiner, there will be no doubt about it.

Putting this into practice requires management capacity within firms, so that they can allocate trainees and supervisors to tasks that meet the twin goals of learning and production. In countries and sectors with a tradition of work-based learning firms have much tacit knowledge (as many employers used to be apprentices themselves) and there is a surrounding infrastructure, such as training for trainers and instructional resources. Developing the infrastructure and enhancing firms’ ability to manage work-based learning is a big job, but well worth the effort and not just for those involved in a work-based learning scheme. Keeping a workplace up-to-date means dealing with new machines, materials and software, so firms that know how to support learning while getting on with productive activities will have a competitive edge.

When Queen Elizabeth I put down her feather, the law she signed remained in place for 250 years. Today policy and practice regarding work-based learning changes much more rapidly – but the main challenge of getting the design of work-based learning schemes right remains just as important as it was in her day.

Links:
OECD Education Working Paper: Work, train, win: work-based learning design and management for productivity gains, by Viktoria Kis
Find out more about Work-based learning
Photo credit: Vector freehand linear monochrome drawing of ancient pen and inkwell @Shutterstock

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Latvia is determined to build on its progress in education

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills



In the 2012 PISA test, urban students in Latvia outperformed rural students by the equivalent of more than a year of schooling – half a year more than the average performance difference between these two groups of students across OECD countries. According to a new OECD report, Education in Latvia, giving equal access to a quality education, for students of all ages, must be a priority.

Latvia has made remarkable progress in improving its education system since independence in 1991. Children now start their education at a young age – younger than in many OECD countries – and many continue into tertiary education. Student performance has also improved significantly since 2000, to the point that Latvian students scored near the OECD average in the 2012 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Will Latvia be able to continue this positive trend? Yes, but only if the country raises its teaching standards and ensures that all of its students can succeed. For example, the low salary and flat pay scale for Latvian teachers and academic staff stand at odds with the government’s ambition to improve teachers’ motivation and professional capacity. But guided by an earlier OECD report, Teacher Remuneration in Latvia: An OECD Perspective, Latvia is piloting a remuneration system as part of a new school-funding model. The aim is to make teachers’ pay competitive with that of other professions. To accomplish this aim, however, Latvian students and teachers will have to accept larger classes and higher student–to-teacher ratios. According to Education at a Glance 2015, in 2013 there was one teacher for every 9 students in Latvia, compared to an OECD average of 13 students per teacher.

Improving the country’s education-information system and its use of research to inform its education reform agenda should also be a priority. In recent years, vocational and tertiary education have benefited greatly from a series of research reports that prompted reforms to improve the quality and (labour market) relevance of education. Such efforts should be expanded to other levels of education.

Latvia’s public expenditure on education and per-student funding at all levels are lower than those in many OECD countries. The country will therefore need to make tough choices in spending if it is to obtain the best value for money. And in the longer run, Latvia should find ways to give education the priority in public policy and spending that it deserves. If Latvia would raise student learning outcomes by a further 25 points on the PISA scale, that could add almost 170 billion US$ to the Latvian economy over the lifetime of today’s school students. So the value of improved schooling will dwarf any conceivable cost of improvement.

Links:
Reviews of National Policies for Education: Education in Latvia
Teacher remuneration in Latvia: An OECD Perspective
Education Country Profile Latvia

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Career education that works

by Anthony Mann
Director of Policy and Research, Education and Employers Taskforce


The benefits of employers engaging with education has long been reported and promoted within policy circles. The UK’s Department for Education, for example, has recently produced guidance for schools stating the need for student learning from the world of work within careers provision. Internationally, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has reported the benefits associated with employer involvement in education. (See, for example: Learning for Jobs).

Despite international interest surrounding the topic, research has failed to keep pace with policy instincts that career education will benefit young people going into the labour market. In a new article, published in the peer-reviewed, international Journal of Education and Work, Elnaz Kashefpakdel and Chris Percy offer new insights into the relationship between career talks with outside people experienced whilst in school and later earnings. They draw upon the limited work that already exists in the area - particularly that of Mann and Percy (2014), which surveyed 1,000 young adults aged 19-24 recalling their school days and found a significant wage premium linked to the degree of exposure young people had with school-mediated employer engagement activities.

This new work analyses data from the British Cohort Study (BCS70), which tracks 17,000 individuals throughout their lives. It provides a rich and reliable set of measurements including socio-economic factors which could potentially affect income, i.e. parental social class, academic ability, home learning environment and demographics. Through statistical analysis, it is possible to take account of such factors in assessing the impact of specific interventions in determining economic outcomes.

The BCS survey offers an interesting data set for analysis related to career interventions due to the timing of its questioning in 1986, when respondents were teenagers. During the 1980s in the UK, government was rolling out the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI). The Initiative aimed to help prepare young people for entry into the labour market and served to drive greater activity within schools. The nature of the Initiative often meant that young people were obliged to attend career talks and related sessions, though these activities varied considerably across schools and local authorities.

Data was collected during 1986 regarding young people’s opinions of any careers talks they encountered and was compared to their earnings aged 26, using statistical analysis techniques. Results revealed that, on average, for each career talk with someone from outside of the school experienced at age 14-15 young people benefited from a 0.8% wage premium when they were 26. These findings are statistically significant at 5%, meaning that there is a 95% certainty this correlation did not occur by chance. This relationship was not found for those aged 15-16, which implies that career talks had a greater value for the younger cohort.

Analysis also found a statistically significant relationship between student perceptions of the career talks that they experienced and later earnings. Students who found career talks to be ‘very helpful’ at age 14-15 were compared with those who found careers talks ‘not at all helpful/not very helpful’. Findings demonstrated that for students aged 14-15 who found career talks ‘very helpful’ witnessed a 1.6% increase in earnings per career talk they attended. This also proved significant for young people aged 15-16; with a smaller affect size, they benefited from a 0.9% earnings boost.

These findings provide a clear relationship between the number of career talks attended, and their helpfulness, and relative earnings at age 26. This provides a solid evidence-base for increasing the volume and quality of career talks with outside speakers in education.  Findings revealed that the impact of careers talks were more pronounced for the younger age group, 14-15, than they were for the elder group, 15-16. The authors argue that at the older age group young people may be more focused on examinations, while the younger group may have been more likely to be receptive to career talks due to the year group being more of an explorative period. Thus, perhaps the most desirable age group to deliver career talks to is 14-15 year-olds.

The authors hypothesis that it is difficult to gain new knowledge and skills, known as human capital, through such short duration episodes of engagement with the labour market. However, they could gain access to new, useful and trusted information and networks while interacting with professionals in an episodic manner. It is in this realm of social and cultural capital accumulation that enables young people to gain resources of meaning from the activities, such as career talks. Additionally, the findings are in line with the argument that through the repeated encounters with people from outside schools, young people are able to find helpful information about pathways to their career ambitions.

To read more about the study, visit the website of the Education and Employers Research.
Photo Credit: Careers bulb word cloud, business concept @Shutterstock


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Who pays for universities: taxpayers or students?

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



There are few issues in education that raise as much political and ideological controversy as tuition fees for higher education. Across many countries a broad consensus has developed that public education in the age of compulsory schooling should be free of charge. Even Adam Smith considered free public education for the young as a central obligation of the state, for which the cost should be shared through taxes. But the question of how to distribute the financial cost of education beyond the age of compulsory schooling – for early childhood education, adult education and training and/or, especially, higher education – has kindled heated debates in recent years, particularly as national budgets shrink and the cost of high-quality education balloons.

Education at a Glance has documented the shift towards greater private funding of higher education in many countries over the past years. The rationale for this shift is the continuously high and even increasing financial returns that a higher education degree generates over a lifetime. Higher education could thus be considered a private investment for which individuals should bear most of the cost. Funding higher education with taxpayers’ money risks a reverse redistribution of social wealth from the poor to the rich, thus aggravating, rather than reducing, social inequality. The state’s responsibility is to design a framework for equitable and transparent funding regimes that also ensures access for students from poorer families through financial support systems of grants and scholarships. These arguments have convinced increasing numbers of governments to shift the burden of financing higher education to students and families.

Yet some countries maintain a welfare state-oriented social contract for higher education, where the cost of universities, like the cost of other social, cultural and educational services, is paid through progressive taxation. The private financial return on a higher education degree is largely skimmed off, through high and progressive income taxes, to become a high public return on the state’s investment. Open access and high enrolment rates prevent the system from working to the advantage of only a small part of the population. However, this model only works in a political system where high income taxes to support general social and educational services are widely accepted.

These divergent views are reflected in the huge differences in the amount that students and families have to pay for a year of university education. The most recent Education Indicators in Focus provides new data on tuition fees. The chart above presents the average annual tuition fees in a range of countries with comparable data. The chart clearly shows that the private cost of higher education, in the form of tuition fees, differs widely among countries. Obviously, within each country tuition fees for individual institutions can also vary; but the national average gives a good idea of the general approach and political preferences of a country.

On the top are countries where the cost is highly privatised; on the bottom are countries where higher education is funded through taxation, hence with no or limited tuition fees. The group on the top includes liberal market economies in the English-speaking world and Asian market economies, but also emerging economies with expanding higher education systems, such as Colombia. The group on the bottom is mainly composed of Nordic welfare states and some transition economies. In the middle section are countries that adhere to a mixture of both ideological positions.

Each model has strengths and weaknesses, not to mention technical challenges. Countries where the cost is privatised need to develop fair and transparent ways to set tuition fees. For example, tuition could be related to field of study and, ultimately, future earnings. These countries also need to determine conditions for loan systems and their income-contingent and means-tested repayment schemes. And above all, they need to secure equitable access to higher education through student support and financial aid schemes. If these policy conditions are met, these systems seem to be able to secure sustainable funding for universities.

Countries with a welfare-state model of funding higher education see participation in higher education as a right to which all capable students are entitled. The high long-term social and economic public returns – generally much higher than the direct costs for the state – ensure that the upfront investments in higher education pay themselves back in higher incomes taxes and lower social security expenses. The main challenge for such countries is to assume the fiscal consequences. Shrinking state budgets and growing resistance to high levels of taxation in such countries might result in dwindling funding for higher education – and for university-based research and innovation that fuels the knowledge economy.

But the most serious risks are for the countries in the middle section of the chart, those that don’t seem to be able to make a clear policy choice.  They might combine the risks of the two models but without enjoying their benefits, leading to a deadlock on both the public and the private side of the funding mix. In these countries, universities pay the price of political indecisiveness.

Ideologies always claim absolute validity of their arguments. Yet in policy making the challenge is to find the smartest approach that yields the best outcomes the most efficiently. What 21st-century knowledge economies need is a system of higher education that generates globally competitive research and innovation and provides high-quality education that is accessible to all talented students. This doesn’t come cheap, and countries have to assume the cost, whether through public and/or private funding. But the long-term price of underfunding higher education is much higher than the short-term cost to both taxpayers and students. An inability to make a clear policy choice seems to be the costliest (non-)choice of all.

Links:
How much do tertiary students pay and what public support do they receive? Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 41, by Eric Charbonnier
Combien les étudiants paient-ils et de quelles aides publiques bénéficient-ils ? Les indicateurs de l'éducation à la loupe, issue No. 41 (French Version)
Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators
Chart source: OECD (2015), Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2015-en, Table B5.1.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Going grey, staying skilled

by Marco Paccagnella
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD

The population is “greying” in most advanced countries as well as in some developing countries. Many governments are struggling to address the challenges resulting from this demographic transition, from rising costs of healthcare, to worries about the sustainability of pension systems.

Increased life expectancy represents one of the great achievements of modern societies: living longer and better has been a dream of past generations. At the same time, it implies changes to many aspects of life. To finance retirement incomes and aged care, many governments have reformed their pension provisions and are asking individuals to work longer for less-generous pensions and to contribute more to the costs of care. When such reforms are passed during times of sluggish economic growth and rising unemployment, they tend to create discontent not only among older workers (who may long to retire), but also among younger adults, who may feel that delaying the retirement of older workers reduces their opportunities. At the same time, older workers may feel threatened by the increasingly rapid pace of technological change, and fear that they will not be able to find a new job, should they be laid off in a highly competitive labour market.

Managing these issues is extremely complex, given the interests involved and the interaction between different areas of social and economic policy. Yet, there is little doubt that skills development will play a central role in solving the puzzle. A big question is whether, and to what extent, skills decline with age. Is it true that older workers are less skilled, and therefore less productive than younger workers? If that’s the case, how can we make sure that people maintain a sufficiently high level of skills proficiency over an increasingly long horizon?

New evidence from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills and examined in the most recent issue of Adult Skills in Focus is extremely relevant to this debate. It provides an accurate picture of the cognitive skills of adults in a wide range of countries, and links such skills to important economic and non-economic outcomes, such as employment, wages, and health status.

The data suggest that proficiency in skills such as literacy and numeracy declines with age, although slowly, and not much. More important, there is considerable variation across countries in the extent and size of differences in skills proficiency related to age, suggesting that policies can play an important role in shaping the evolution of skills over a lifetime. Yet while skills decline with age, wages and employment rates typically do not. This could suggest that older workers are overpaid, given their productivity. If that were the case, older workers would be justified in fearing they are more likely to be dismissed, and that they would have a hard time finding a new job if they were. But productivity is a complex concept, and the cognitive skills measured in the Survey of Adult Skills constitute only a fraction of the skills portfolio that employers reward. With experience, workers are likely to develop an entire range of other skills that are much more difficult to measure than literacy or numeracy, but that are equally, if not more, valuable to employers.

This is not to downplay the importance of cognitive skills. The data also show that proficiency in literacy influences the wages and likelihood of employment among older workers more than it does among younger workers.

What can be actually done to sustain the skills of people as they age? As usual, prevention is better than cure. Improving the quality of education, i.e. ensuring that people leave formal education with the highest possible level of literacy and numeracy proficiency, is likely to yield large benefits, more than simply increasing the time spent in education. Starting working life with high skills increases the chances of entering the virtuous circle in which skills provide access to the opportunities, such as good jobs and training that further develop skills.

Training is clearly important, but targeting access is probably even more important. The overall rate of participation in training appears to have little relationship to the size of differences in literacy proficiency between the young and the old. Countries with large differences in literacy proficiency between younger and older adults tend to be countries in which training is disproportionately taken up by young adults.

As other recent research show, retirement appears to accelerate the loss of cognitive skills. This suggests that policies to delay retirement may benefit the cognitive skills of existing workers, but also that policies to encourage older people to remain engaged are important for those who have left the workforce.

The bad news is that cognitive skills inevitably decline with age. The good news is that this is only part of the story. There is large scope to shape the evolution of skills over a lifetime; and cognitive skills, while important, are not the only determinant of people’s success in life.

Links:
What does age have to do with skills proficiency? Adult Skills in focus, issue No.3 by Marco Paccagnella
Quel rapport entre l’âge et les compétences?
Age, Ageing and Skills: Results from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills
Photo Credit: © OECD

How well are teachers doing in solving problems using ICT?

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


If one were to ask ministers of education what they consider to be the most important factor determining the quality of their education systems, the odds are high that they would refer to the quality of the teaching work force. The saying goes that the quality of an education system can never exceed that of its teachers. Ensuring that the most talented candidates are attracted to the teaching profession is now widely recognised to be the most effective strategy to improve education.

But how does one assess how teachers compare to the rest of the working population? We still lack reliable, robust and comparable measures of some of the essential elements of teachers’ knowledge and skills. A new tool developed by the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, known as the Innovative Teaching for Effective Learning (ITEL) assessment, focuses on teachers’ pedagogical knowledge. It will provide comparative measures of some core elements of the knowledge and skills that we expect from teachers. In the meantime, the results of the Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), provide some insights into the skills of countries’ workforces – including teachers – in key areas, such as numeracy, literacy and problem solving. These data make it possible to compare the skills of teachers with those of other college and university graduates and with the working population as a whole.

A recent OECD report, prepared for the International Summit on the Teaching Profession, held earlier this year in Berlin, found that teachers’ skills in numeracy tend to be similar to those of other tertiary-educated professionals. The Survey of Adult Skills also assessed adults’ proficiency in problem-solving in technology-rich environments. The most recent Education Indicators in Focus brief compares teachers’ ICT and problem-solving skills with those of the working population as a whole and with other tertiary-educated professionals. The chart above confirms that, as with numeracy skills, teachers’ problem-solving skills using ICT more or less match those of other tertiary-educated professionals. On average, 51% of teachers, compared to 31% of the adult population as a whole, demonstrated good problem-solving and ICT skills (proficiency was characterised as “good” when adults demonstrated a high level of problem-solving competence and at least a basic level of ICT skills). But on average, the share of other tertiary-educated professionals who demonstrated “good” ICT skills was 3 percentage points larger than that of teachers. In only four countries/subnational entities (Canada, England/Northern Ireland, Japan and Korea) did teachers outperform their tertiary-educated peers. In many other countries and subnational entities (Denmark, Estonia, Flanders [Belgium], Ireland and Poland) teachers’ problem-solving and ICT skills were significantly weaker than those of other tertiary-educated professionals.

Age could be part of the explanation. After accounting for age, teachers are 4 percentage points more likely than other tertiary-educated adults to have good problem-solving skills using ICT. This finding reinforces the conclusion, consistently noted in Education at a Glance, that policy makers need to take seriously the implications of an ageing teaching force.

When only one in two teachers – and, in several countries, even fewer – are capable of solving problems using ICT, then it is not unreasonable to question their capacity to address complex issues in their professional environment. For example, if teachers lack these skills, they cannot be expected to move away from a routine-based professional practice, controlled by bureaucratic procedures, to a much more autonomous professional culture. And the use of technology to improve teaching and learning environments will depend on teachers’ skills to use ICT creatively and to its fullest potential.

The recent sobering findings from PISA about the role of computers in improving learning outcomes might be partly attributed to a lack of excellence in ICT skills among teachers. But the age gradient in problem-solving and ICT skills is also good news: younger generations of teachers seem to be closing the skills gap. New generations of teachers who are better trained and who participate in professional development activities throughout their careers will probably be able to adopt innovative practices that are more suited to 21st-century learning environments. Governments should not blame older teachers for having poor problem-solving and ICT skills; equally, they cannot afford to miss the opportunity to fill the teaching posts left vacant by retirees with younger, more tech-savvy problem solvers.

Links:
Teachers’ ICT and problem-solving skills: Competencies and needs. Education Indicators in Focus, issue No.40, by Elian Bogers, Gabriele Marconi and Simon Normandeau.
Compétences en TIC et en résolution de problèmes : où en sont les enseignants ? Les indicateurs de l'éducation à la loupe issue No. 40 (French version)
Innovative Teaching for Effective Learning - Teacher Knowledge Survey
Teaching Excellence through Professional Learning and Policy Reform
Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators
Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection
Chart source: OECD Education database, www.oecd.org/site/piaac/publicdataandanalysis.htm.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Colombia’s moment of truth

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Colombia now has an historic opportunity to end one of the world’s longest-running armed conflicts. Will the country be able to seize this chance and realise its huge economic, social and cultural potential? That depends on nothing more than on what happens in Colombia’s classrooms.

Education is the foundation for lasting peace; and, as a new OECD report, Education in Colombia, shows, over the past 15 years, Colombia’s education system has undergone an extraordinary transformation.

Enrolments in both early childhood education and tertiary education have more than doubled over the period and school life expectancy has jumped by two years. Not only that, but Colombia has been one of the very few countries in the world that were able to enroll more children and raise the quality of learning outcomes at the same time. In fact, Colombia was among the top four countries to show a significant improvement in reading in the 2012 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

But as Colombia enters the global economy, its educational success will not just be about improvement by national standards, but about how Colombian children match up to children around the world. For a start, Colombia needs ambitious common learning standards that hold for all students across the country and that set high expectations for all students regardless of their socio-economic background, the place where they live or the school they attend. According to PISA results, 15-year-old students in Colombia are still about three years behind their peers in OECD countries. Developing these standards would give the country a chance to define the knowledge, skills and values needed in a new, inclusive Colombia.

Second, all children should have access to education from the youngest age. The deep inequities observed in access to tertiary education – 9% of students from the poorest families are enrolled in university-level education, compared to 53% of students from the wealthiest families – begin before children start school. Prioritising access to early childhood education for the most disadvantaged children and ensuring that all children start school by the age of five are two of the most effective ways Colombia can bridge this opportunity gap.

Third, teachers need to be empowered to lead this transformation; but that can only happen when they know what is expected of them – and get the support they need to teach effectively. For example, some 41% of 15-year-old students in Colombia have repeated at least one grade; yet PISA results have shown that grade repetition is not only ineffective, but it demotivates students and is costly to the system. Teachers in top-performing countries embrace high professional standards and work together to give each other feedback and support to improve their teaching practices. Professional autonomy in a collaborative culture, in turn, creates the conditions that are most conducive to student learning.

Fourth, investments in education will yield the greatest return if students leave education equipped with the skills that the economy and society needs. This requires cross-government collaboration to define clear education trajectories and qualifications, help students make informed choices about their careers and build effective partnerships with future employers to expand training opportunities. Such reforms must be a priority in rural areas, where stronger links between education and work will be the linchpin for development.

None of these next steps is easy, quick or inexpensive; but only with them, and with a clear and shared vision for the future of its education system, will Colombia be able to reap all the benefits of a hard-won peace.

Links:
Press release: Colombia should improve equity and quality of education
Reviews of National Policies for Education: Education in Colombia
Colombia Highlights
PISA 2012 Results
A silent revolution in Colombia, by Andreas Schleicher
Photo Credit: @Mineducacion

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Making literacy everybody’s business

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills


While poor literacy skills severely limit people’s access to better-paying and more rewarding jobs, data from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills also shows that individuals with poor literacy skills are far more likely than those with advanced literacy skills to report poor health, to believe that they have little impact on political processes, and not to participate in associative or volunteer activities.

Ensuring that all people have solid foundation skills has become one of the central aims of the post-2015 development agenda. This is not just about providing more people with more years of schooling; in fact, that’s only the first step. It is most critically about making sure that individuals acquire solid knowledge in key disciplines, that they develop creative, critical thinking and collaborative skills, and that they build character attributes, such as mindfulness, curiosity, courage and resilience. All of that builds on literacy. Leaders for Literacy Day is a good time to remind ourselves where we stand and how much more progress is needed.

Among 80 countries with comparable data, Ghana has the lowest enrolment rate in secondary schools (46%) and also the lowest achievement levels among those 15-year-olds who are in school (291 PISA points, on average). While it is difficult for Ghana to meet the goal of universal basic skills for its 15-year-olds any time soon, if it did, it would see a gain over the lifetime of children born today that, in present value terms, is 38 times its current GDP. This is equivalent of tripling Ghana’s discounted future GDP every four years during the working life of those students with improved skills.

One might be tempted to think that high-income countries have all the means to eliminate extreme underperformance in education; but the data show otherwise. For example, 24% of 15-year-olds in the United States cannot complete even basic Level 1 PISA tasks. The fact that the 10% most disadvantaged children in Shanghai outperform the 10% most advantaged children in parts of Europe and the United States reminds us that poverty isn’t destiny. If the United States were to ensure that all of its students meet the goal of universal basic skills, the economic gains could reach over USD 27 trillion in additional income for the American economy over the working life of these students.

But can countries really improve their populations’ literacy quickly? PISA shows that top performers in education, such as Hong Kong and Shanghai in China, and Singapore, were able to further extend their lead in literacy skills over the past few years; and countries like Peru, Qatar, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates achieved major improvements from previously low levels of literacy performance. Even those who claim that student performance mainly reflects social and cultural factors must concede that improvements in education are possible. A culture of education isn’t just inherited, it is created by what we do.

So what we can learn from the world’s education leaders? The first lesson from PISA is that the leaders in high-performing school systems seem to have convinced their citizens to make choices that value education more than other things. Chinese parents and grandparents tend to invest their last renminbi in their children’s education. By contrast, in much of Europe and North America, governments have started to borrow the money of their children to finance their consumption today. The debt they have incurred puts a brake on economic and social progress.

But valuing education is just part of the equation. Another part is believing in the success of every child. Top school systems expect every child to achieve and accept no excuse for failure. They realise that ordinary students have extraordinary talents, and they embrace diversity with differentiated instructional practices.

And nowhere does the quality of a school system exceed the quality of its teachers. Top school systems pay attention to how they select and train their staff. They attract the right talent and they work to improve the performance of struggling teachers.

High performers have also adopted professional forms of work organisation in their schools. They encourage their teachers to use innovative pedagogies, improve their own performance and that of their colleagues, and work together to define good practice. They grow and distribute leadership throughout the school system.

Perhaps most impressive, school systems as diverse as those in Finland and Shanghai attract the strongest principals to the toughest schools and the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms so that every student benefits from excellent teaching and school leadership.

But it is far too easy to assign the task of improving literacy skills just to schools. When formal schooling begins, many parents believe that their role as educators has ended. But literacy is a shared responsibility of parents, schools, teachers and other members of society. Results from PISA offer comfort to parents who are concerned that they don’t have enough time or the requisite academic knowledge to help their children succeed in school. The simple question, “How was school, today?”, asked by parents the world over has as great an impact on children’s literacy skills as  a family’s wealth. PISA results show that reading to children when they are very young is strongly related to how well those children read and how much they enjoy reading later on. In short, many types of parental involvement that are associated with better literacy skills require relatively little time and no specialised knowledge. What counts is genuine interest and active engagement.

Links:
Adult Skills in Focus No. 2: What does low proficiency in literacy really mean? by Miloš Kankaraš
Les Compétences des Adultes á la loupe No. 2: Qu’entend-on réellement par faibles compétences en littératie ?
Education Working Paper No. 131: Adults with Low Proficiency in Literacy or Numeracy
OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)
Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
International Literacy Association

Follow: #AgeOfLiteracy 
Photo credit: Pupils in classroom at the elementary school @Shutterstock

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Governing complex education systems

by Tracey Burns
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD

Florian Koester
Consultant, Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD



What models of governance are effective in complex education systems? How can governments set priorities and design polices that balance responsiveness to local diversity with national education goals? And how do we ensure that there is trust, co-operation and communication between the multiple levels and actors in the system?

These are tough questions. Just published, Governing Education in a Complex World brings together state of the art research and insights from country experience to identify the elements necessary for effective education governance. The book challenges our traditional concepts of education governance through work on complexity, reform and new approaches to collaboration and decision-making. In doing so it sets the agenda for thinking about creating the open, dynamic and strategic approaches necessary for governing complex systems in today’s global world.

Effectively governing education systems is not a simple task. There are no magic solutions, no one-size-fits-all recipe that can be rolled out to guarantee success. Work on complexity theory reveals that a certain level of complexity in a system – whether in an education system or a school – can lead to unpredictable reactions or unexpected consequences to even seemingly simple changes. Modern education governance must be flexible at the same time as it steers a clear course towards established goals. It must also be efficient, limited by given funds and time.

The book identifies key elements to modern education governance. First, savviness and endurance are needed to align multi-level systems and it is vital to engage with a diverse set of actors, including students and parents. In doing so, it’s important to include all stakeholders and voices – not only the ones that shout the loudest – in the governance process to strengthen participatory decision-making. And while new technologies provide the opportunity to engage a broader set of actors, they also bring new challenges: instant feedback can mean that expectations rise faster than performance, and lead to short-term solutions rather than long-term vision. This tends to result in reactive decision-making, where the urgent is prioritised over the important. Staying on track and keeping an eye on the long-term is not easy, but it is key to effective and sustainable governance.

Education systems must also be able to resolve system-wide tensions. For example, countries are under pressure to strengthen their accountability systems while at the same time they encourage innovation.  Ideally, a system would have both a strong and constructive accountability system as well as dynamic innovation processes. However, controlled accountability mechanisms generally seek to minimise risk and mistakes to improve efficiency. At the same time, trial and error are fundamental to the innovation process. Finding the right balance of these two elements (or, perhaps more accurately, the right combination of mutually reinforcing dynamics) is key and will depend on the context and history of the system as well as the ambitions and expectations for its future.

Successful governance also requires thinking about the individuals involved, their needs and their aspirations. Any time a reform is rolled out, we need to think carefully of what is needed on the human level to make it happen. Do teachers (and principals, students and parents) have the capacity to deliver on their new responsibilities? If not, is training or other support in place? This is a simple set of questions, but our work demonstrates that it is often this piece of the puzzle that gets lost in the rush to move forward with a new reform or policy. Yet without the required capacity and support, the best plan risks being derailed at the level where it counts most: the classroom.

So what are the elements of effective modern governance systems? Effective governance:

• focuses on processes, not structures;
• is flexible and can adapt to change and unexpected events;
• works through building capacity, stakeholder involvement and open dialogue;
• requires a whole system approach to align roles and balance tensions;
• harnesses evidence and research to inform policy and practice; and
• is built on trust.

The search for new modes of governance for 21st century education systems will certainly continue in the years to come. Governing Education in a Complex World sets the agenda and challenges us to develop the open, adaptable, and flexible governance systems necessary in a complex world. Just as education must move to evolve and grow with our modern world, so too must the systems that govern them.

Links:
Governing Education in a Complex World
OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
Find out more on Governing Complex Education Systems (GCES)
Photo credit: ©Juriah/123RF.COM

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

How far from the tree does the leaf fall?

by Antonio Villar
Thomas J. Alexander Fellow & Universidad Pablo de Olavide


High and Low performers in advantaged and disadvantaged students (OECD, PISA 2012 Results)

Equality of opportunity is a lofty ideal, but some societies get closer to achieving it than others. Regarding compulsory education, results from PISA show that socio-economically disadvantaged students in the OECD have much higher chances of being low performers than their socio-economically advantaged peers. And also, that they have much lower chances of being high performers.

PISA provides information on the competences acquired by 15-year-old students in some 65 countries and large economies. Those competences are classified into 6 different levels of proficiency, each one adding new competencies. Students in levels 5 and 6 are considered to be the high performers whereas those below Level 2 are regarded as the low performers. Level 2 is viewed as the baseline level concerning future outcomes in the labour market and social life. PISA also provides rich information on family characteristics of students allowing one to analyse their relationship.

On average, across the OECD, almost 40% of students coming from disadvantaged families do not reach the baseline level of proficiency and less than 5% achieve the highest levels. The opposite is true for students coming from advantaged families: less than 10% do not reach the baseline level, while 25% do achieve the highest levels of proficiency.

In other words, disadvantaged students are four times more likely to have competencies that put them at risk for their future participation in the labour market and society more broadly. In contrast, advantaged students are five times more likely than their disadvantaged peers to enjoy competencies that give them much better chances for the future.

The ratio between low performers in disadvantaged and advantaged students can be regarded as a rough measure of discrimination “from below”, in an educational system. Similarly, the ratio between high performers in advantaged and disadvantaged students can be regarded as a measure of discrimination “from above”.

The degree of discrimination by socio-economic status varies substantially between the OECD countries. Moreover, the type of discrimination, from below or from above, turns out to be very different within countries. In Iceland, Korea and Norway, the results of advantaged and disadvantaged students are much closer than the OECD average, both for high and low performers. That is, those countries are doing much better than the average OECD country regarding equality of opportunity. The opposite happens in the case of Denmark, France, Hungary and Portugal, where both types of discrimination are much higher than the average OECD.

Discrimination from above turns out to be extreme in the cases of Chile and Greece, with values of 62 and 30 times for those students coming from advantaged families. Mexico, Luxembourg, Israel, the Slovak Republic and Turkey also present high values for this type of discrimination. The contrary happens in Canada, Estonia and Finland, where discrimination from above is much smaller than in the OECD. Chile, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Sweden and Turkey, present very low values of discrimination “from below”. The contrary happens for Belgium, Ireland and Poland.

These data show that equality of opportunity in compulsory education is still an issue in the OECD. There are substantial differences between countries, so that the country in which a child is educated matters a lot. Moreover, socio-economic conditions still play a very relevant role in educational achievements. This role is very different among OECD countries both regarding its intensity and in the way it affects high and low performers.

Links
How Bad Is Being Poor for Educational Performance?  A Message from PISA 2012, by Antonio Villar 
OECD Thomas J. Alexander Fellowship: current call for research proposals closes 23 May 2016.
Chart source: © OECD

Friday, March 18, 2016

Learning by heart may not be best for your mind


by Alfonso Echazarra
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

PISA 2012 Released Mathematics Item (Proficiency Level 6)
Some of the greatest geniuses had remarkable memories. Mozart, according to legend, sat and listened to Allegri’s “Miserere”, then transcribed the piece of music, entirely from memory, later in the day. Kim Peek, the savant who was the inspiration for the blockbuster film, Rain Man, memorised as many as 12 000 books. But unlike Mozart, who composed more than 600 works during his brief life, Peek was unable to distinguish between the relevant and the irrelevant, or discover hidden meanings and metaphors in the texts he had committed to memory.

What do these stories have to do with learning mathematics? Or, put another way: in light of these stories, how would you encourage students to learn mathematics? By understanding what mathematics concepts, procedures and formulae mean and applying them to a lot of different maths problems set in a lot of different contexts? Or by learning them by heart and applying them to a lot of similar maths problems? Sooner or later, the method matters. Students who avoid making an effort to understand mathematics concepts may succeed in some school environments; but a lack of deep, critical and creative thinking may seriously penalise these students later in life when confronted with real, complex problems. As Albert Einstein provocatively said: “Any fool can know; the point is to understand”.

A similar message is relayed in this month’s PISA in Focus and a new OECD paper on education, “How teachers teach and students learn: Successful strategies for school”. The analyses show that students who mainly use memorisation when they study do well on easy questions. For example, “CHARTS Q1”, a multiple-choice question from the PISA 2012 test, refers to a simple bar chart and is considered one of the easiest questions in the mathematics assessment. Some 87% of students answered this question correctly. Students who reported that they use some type of memorisation strategy when they study mathematics, such as learning by heart, recalling work already done or going through examples again and again, had about the same success rate on this easy item as students who reported using other learning strategies.

But complex problems are a different matter; they require more than a good memory. For the most challenging question from the PISA 2012 mathematics test, “REVOLVING DOOR Q2”, students who reported using mainly memorisation strategies were much less likely than students using other strategies, such as connecting ideas or working out exactly what is important to learn, to answer correctly. Answering “REVOLVING DOOR Q2” correctly requires substantial geometric reasoning and creativity, involves multiple steps, and draws heavily on students’ ability to translate a real situation into a mathematical problem. Only 3% of participants answered this question correctly.

The findings also show that, contrary to received wisdom, East Asian students are not necessarily the ones who use memorisation strategies the most. Memorisation is used almost everywhere, but fewer 15-year-olds in Hong Kong-China, Japan, Korea, Macao-China, Shanghai-China, Chinese Taipei and Viet Nam reported using it than students in, let’s say, English-speaking countries to whom they are often compared. For instance, 5% of students in Viet Nam, 12% of students in Japan and 17% of students in Korea reported that they learn as much as they can by heart when they study mathematics, compared to 26% of students in Canada, 28% in Ireland, 29% in the United States, 35% in Australia and New Zealand, and 37% in the United Kingdom.

In some situations, memorisation is useful, even necessary. It can give students enough concrete facts on which to reflect; it can limit anxiety by reducing mathematics to a set of simple facts, rules and procedures; and it can help to develop fluency with numbers early in a child’s development, before the child is asked to tackle more complex problems. But to perform at the very top, 15-year-olds need to learn mathematics in a more reflective, ambitious and creative way – one that involves exploring alternative ways of finding solutions, making connections, adopting different perspectives and looking for meaning. So yes, you can use your memory; just use it strategically, lest Einstein call you a fool.

Links:
PISA in Focus No. 61: Is memorisation a good strategy for learning mathematics? by Alfonso Echazarra
PISA á la loupe No. 61: La mémorisation : Une stratégie payante pour l’apprentissage des mathématiques?
How teachers teach and students learn: Successful strategies for school.
PISA Try the Test: Explore PISA 2012 Mathematics, problem solving and financial literacy test question
Source: PISA 2012 Released Mathematics Items

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Is international academic migration stimulating scientific research and innovation?

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



Higher education and academic research are among the most rapidly globalising systems. Today, around 5 million students study and do research in a country other than their own, attracted by the quality of overseas universities and willing to complement their education portfolio with international experience. Employers generally value the impact international education has on the skills and mind-set of graduates, and see international experience as indispensable for future global leaders.

But in an age when governments are increasingly concerned about rising levels of migration and are making their migration policies more stringent, international student mobility is also being scrutinised. Some countries impose stricter visa requirements or limitations on the time for international students to stay in the country. Others make it more difficult for graduates to stay and work in the country where they have studied. The prospect of losing the economic returns from international students and the income provided by fee-paying students does not seem to dissuade some governments from imposing stricter regulations on international students.

The recent Education Indicators in Focus brief looks in more detail at the international mobility of master’s and doctoral students. The mobility of doctoral students is of special concern because of its relevance to research policy. The chart above illustrates the close relationship between the number of international doctoral students in a country and the country’s commitment to research, as measured by spending on R&D in tertiary education. Countries with a large share of international doctoral students are also countries that invest a lot in research.

The chart does not suggest any causality. In fact, there are two ways to interpret the relationship. Countries with relatively high levels of investment in university research are probably well-integrated in global research networks. International collaboration naturally leads to an exchange of researchers. Favourable research climates, high levels of investment and the prospect of collaborating with researchers working at the cutting edge in their fields offer attractive opportunities for young doctoral researchers.

The global research landscape is diversifying. Next to the academic centres in the United States and the United Kingdom, new strongholds of global academic research are emerging in countries such as Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden. These countries have opened up their universities for international researchers, and now 30%, 40% or even more than 50% of the doctoral students in these countries are of foreign origin.

But it could very well be that the causality also works in the other direction. Higher numbers of international researchers probably contribute to the global competiveness of academic research by strengthening integration in research networks or by facilitating international knowledge transfer. We can find support for this hypothesis in comparing our data on the percentage of international doctoral students with OECD data on the share of publications in the top 10% academic journals. The strong country-level correlation between both sets of data suggests that doctoral students have a positive impact on the quantity and quality of scientific research in the host country. In turn, this could prompt governments to increase their R&D spending on universities. Indirectly, international students then contribute to the innovation process and the development of a research-intensive knowledge economy in the host country.

The case of Switzerland is telling. A small country in the heart of Europe that is now fiercely debating migration policy, Switzerland has opened up its universities to international researchers and doctoral students, while at the same time increasing its R&D investment. Anyone who looks at international rankings has noticed that Switzerland is rising rapidly up the global academic hierarchy. Sweden and the Netherlands are close behind. This is no coincidence.

Current debates about international student mobility tend to overemphasise the benefits for the individual student or the financial returns for the host institution or host country. But it is also important to look into the wider benefits of academic migration. Laboratories and research centres at the frontier of their fields cannot do without strong integration in global networks and without international researchers. Progress in scientific research happens by sharing and confronting ideas, questioning established wisdom and looking at the world from different perspectives. International exchange and mobility of doctoral researchers is absolutely critical to this. Countries that curtail academic mobility risk paying a high price.

Links:
The internationalisation of doctoral and master's studies, Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 39, by Gabriele Marconi.
L’internationalisation des études de doctorat et de master, Les indicateurs de l'éducation à la loupe, issue No. 39 (French Version).

Graph sources: OECD Education Database, http://stats.oecd.org/, (accessed 21 January 2016), and OECD (2015a), Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2015-en, Table B1.2.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

We can do better on education reform

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills


A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would equip their students with the skills needed for the rest of their lives. Today, teachers need to prepare students for more change than ever before, for jobs that have not yet been created, to use technologies that have not yet been invented, and to solve social problems that we just can’t imagine. And many of the world’s social and economic difficulties end up on the doorsteps of schools too.

So expectations for teachers are high. We expect them to have a deep understanding of what they teach; to be passionate, compassionate and thoughtful; to make learning central and encourage students’ engagement and responsibility; to respond effectively to students of different needs, backgrounds and mother tongues, and to promote tolerance and social cohesion; to provide continual assessments of students and feedback; and to ensure that students feel valued and included and that learning is collaborative. And we expect teachers themselves to collaborate and work in teams, and with other schools and parents, to set common goals, and plan and monitor the attainment of goals collaboratively.

That’s a long list. But it reflects the transition from an industrial work organisation towards a professional work organisation that many sectors of our economies went through a long time ago. People typically define professionalism as the level of autonomy and internal regulation that members of an occupation exercise. So they look to see whether people work mainly through external forces exerting pressure and influence on them, or whether the work is the outcome of advanced skills, internal motivation and the efforts of the members of the profession itself.

As OECD data show, when rated on their knowledge base for teaching, their decision-making power over their work and their opportunities for exchange and support, teachers still have significant challenges ahead of them. Rarely do teachers own their professional standards, and rarely do they work with the level of professional autonomy and in the collaborative work culture that we, in other knowledge-based professions, take for granted.

But our data also show that where teachers teach a class jointly, where they regularly observe other teachers’ classes, and where they take part in collaborative professional learning, they are more satisfied with their careers and feel more effective in their teaching.

It’s time for governments, teachers’ unions and professional bodies to redefine the role of teachers, and to create the support and collaborative work organisation that will help teachers grow in their careers and meet the needs of 21st-century students. And that’s precisely why ministers and union leaders from the world’s most advanced education systems are gathering in Berlin this week at the sixth International Summit on the Teaching Profession.They are well aware that education reform will always be difficult.

Everyone supports education reform – except when it may affect their own children. Everyone has participated in education and has an opinion about it. Reform is difficult to co-ordinate across an education system, and across multiple regional and local jurisdictions. And the fear of loss of privilege is particularly pervasive around education reform, simply because of the extent of vested interests in maintaining the status quo.

The summit will examine plenty of examples of successful reforms around the world that have already improved student learning outcomes. But education systems can and should be doing better. Both the lack of coherence in reform efforts across successive governments and the fact that just one in ten reforms is subject to any kind of evaluation of its impact or efficacy is inexcusable. It shows a lack of respect for both taxpayers and educators at the frontline. At the OECD, we’ve identified six crucial actions needed to make education reform happen.

The first is to strive for consensus about the aims of reform without compromising the drive for improvement. That means acknowledging divergent views and interests. Involving stakeholders cultivates a sense of joint ownership over policies, and helps build consensus on both the need for and the relevance of reform. Regular consultations help to develop trust among all parties, which, in turn, helps to build consensus.

The second lesson is to engage teachers not just in implementing reform but in designing it too. Policy can encourage that through leadership-development strategies that create and sustain learning communities, linking evidence of teachers’ commitment to professional learning to pay, providing seed money for self-learning in and among schools, or through professional self-regulation through processes and organisations that include teachers.

Third, experimenting with policies on a smaller scale first can help build consensus on implementation and, because of their limited scope, can help overcome fears and resistance to change.

Fourth, backing reforms with sustainable financing will always be central. This is not only about money; it’s first and foremost about building professional capacity and support.

Fifth, timing and sequencing are always critical. We need to acknowledge that it is rarely possible to predict clear, identifiable links between policies and outcomes, especially given the lag involved between the time at which the initial cost of reform is incurred, and the time when it is evident whether the intended benefits of reforms actually materialise. Everyone needs to develop realistic expectations about the pace and nature of reform – even in the heat of debate. Time is also needed to learn about and understand the impact of reform measures, build trust and develop the necessary capacity to move on to the next stage of policy development.

Last but not least, success is about building partnerships with education unions. Putting the teaching profession at the heart of education reform requires a fruitful dialogue between governments and unions. At the end of the day, different perspectives and positions are best addressed by strong social partnerships.