Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What computer skills can do for you

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Information and communication technologies (ICT) permeate every aspect of our lives, from how we work, to how we “talk” with friends, to how we participate in political processes. But what are the returns to “digital skills” – the capacity to use digital devices and applications to access and manage information and solve problems – on the labour market? Do they help land a job or earn higher wages?

Our new OECD report, Adults, Computers and Problem Solving: What’s the Problem? provides first-of-its-kind answers to such questions. Based on results from the 2012 Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), the report demonstrates the impact of the ability to use digital devices to solve problems in everyday life and at work on the likelihood of participating in the labour force and on workers’ wages.

Does having greater proficiency in solving problems using digital devices increase chances of participating in the labour force?

The labour force participation rate among adults with the highest levels of skills in solving problems using digital devices (Level 2 or 3 in the 2012 survey) was 6 percentage points higher than that among adults with the lowest level of proficiency in those skills (below Level 1), on average across participating countries. At Level 2 or 3 adults can complete tasks like evaluating search-engine results against a set of criteria, solving a scheduling problem by combining information from an Internet application and several e-mail messages, and transforming information in an e-mail message into a spreadsheet and performing computations with it.

In turn, adults with the lowest level (below Level 1) of proficiency in solving problems using digital devices and applications had a higher rate of labour force participation – 15 percentage points higher – than adults who had no experience in using digital devices at all, even after accounting for various factors like age, gender, level of education, proficiency in literacy and use of e-mail in everyday life. Those adults can still type, manipulate a mouse, drag and drop content, and highlight text, but they have very little capacity in using these skills to solve common problems encountered when working in digital environments, such as browsing the web for information. Clearly, the labour market advantage of having even basic digital skills is huge.

What about the chances of earning higher wages?

Workers who have no experience in using digital devices earn 6% less per hour, on average, than those who perform at the lowest level in solving problems using digital applications, even after accounting for factors such as age, gender, educational attainment, proficiency in literacy and numeracy, use of e-mail at work, and occupation. So workers with no experience in using digital devices and applications suffer a serious wage penalty. Just over 9% of adults reported that they never use digital devices, such as computers or tablets. This ranged from around 2% in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, to over 15% in Italy, Korea, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Spain.

In contrast, 26% of the wage premium associated with workers who are the most proficient at problem solving using digital applications, compared with those who are the least proficient, disappears when those factors are taken into account. In other words, the wage premium associated with the highest level of proficiency is largely due to other factors, such as workers’ educational attainment, proficiency in literacy and numeracy, and the use of e-mail at work, rather than their greater proficiency in solving problems in digital environments.

Does it matter how often these skills are used at work?

It seems that frequent use of digital applications in the workplace also pays off. The labour force participation rate among workers who use e-mail frequently in their jobs, for example, was nearly 6 percentage points higher, and these workers earned 9% more per hour, on average, than workers who are equally proficient in literacy, numeracy and problem solving using digital technologies, but who rarely use e-mail. So, digital skills must be put to frequent use in the workplace if they are to make a difference in labour force participation and wages.

Given the findings from our new report, it’s clear that governments, education providers and business need to ensure that all adults have access to digital technologies and networks, and are given opportunities to develop their proficiency in using them. Opting out of this increasingly wired world is no longer a viable option.

Adults, Computers and Problem Solving: What's the Problem?
The Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)
Adult Skills in Focus No. 1: Does having digital skills really pay off? by William Thorn and Ji Eun Chung
Adult Skills in Focus No. 1: Les compétences numériques : un investissement vraiment rentable? by William Thorn and Ji Eun Chung
Image credit: © OECD

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Are we getting returns on our investments in education?

by Daniel Salinas 
Analyst, Education and Skills Directorate

Countries and economies participating in PISA have invested substantial resources and used a wide variety of strategies during the past ten years to improve the quality of their schools. Have these efforts paid off? Yes and no. As this month’s PISA in Focus explains, schools are better-staffed and better-equipped today than they were a decade ago, and the learning environment in schools has improved as well, particularly when it comes to teacher-student relations. But other aspects measured by PISA in 2003 and 2012, such as the degree to which low- and top-performing students or socio-economically disadvantaged and advantaged students attend the same school (i.e. schools’ academic and social inclusion, respectively), show no clear progress across OECD countries during the period.

OECD countries significantly increased their expenditure in primary and secondary schools during the past decade, and a significant part of this investment has focused on teachers. For example, in 2012, 17% of students across OECD countries attended schools whose principal reported that a lack of qualified mathematics teachers hinders instruction; in 2003, 22% of students attended such schools. In 29 out of 38 countries and economies with comparable data, the quality of educational materials available to schools, such as laboratory equipment, textbooks and computers, also improved during the period. The improvements were particularly striking in Poland, the Russian Federation, Turkey and Uruguay. And the quality of schools’ physical infrastructure, including school buildings and heating and cooling systems, also improved significantly during the past decade, on average across OECD countries.

PISA has shown that without positive learning environments, improving the quality of resources will not yield higher student achievement. The good news is that during the past ten years, the learning environment in schools has also improved in many ways. For example, teacher-student relations were better in 2012 than in 2003 in all the countries and economies that participated in PISA in both years, except Tunisia. Discipline in class also improved, and the incidence of student truancy fell.

But countries and economies still have work to do to make their schools more inclusive. The degree to which students from different socio-economic backgrounds attend the same school did not change between 2003 and 2012, while students with different academic abilities and needs were less likely to attend the same school in 2012 than they were in 2003, on average across OECD countries. Schools became significantly less socially inclusive in Hong Kong-China, Latvia and New Zealand, and significantly more socially inclusive in Italy, Japan, Korea, Switzerland and Turkey.

So two thumbs up and one thumbs down: better educational resources and better learning environments will necessarily have only limited impact if disadvantaged and struggling students don’t have access to them.

PISA in Focus No. 52: How have schools changed over the past decade?
PISA in Focus No. 52: Établissements d’enseignement : quelles évolutions au cours des 10 dernières années ?
Photo credit: Chalk drawing of hopscotch game with dollar signs / @Shutterstock

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

It's a matter of trust

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

The world is rapidly becoming a different place, with globalisation and modernisation imposing huge challenges to individuals and societies. Schools need to prepare students to live and work in a world in which most people will need to collaborate with people of diverse cultural origins, and appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values; a world in which people need to decide how to trust and collaborate across such differences, often bridging space and time through technology; and a world in which their lives will be affected by issues that transcend national boundaries. These days, we no longer know exactly how things will unfold; often we are surprised and need to learn from the extraordinary; sometimes we make mistakes along the way. And it will often be the mistakes and failures, when properly understood, that create the context for learning and growth. Resilience has become key to success, the capacity to cope in an imbalanced world, recognising that the world exists in constant disequilibrium - trying, failing, adapting, learning and evolving in endless cycles.

Studies show that interpersonal trust is fundamental for promoting the resilience of our societies, but many individuals say that they have little trust in others. Just released work on the Educational Roots of Trust finds that, on average across the communities that participated in the 2012 Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), only around 2 in 10 people across participating countries reported that they trust more than just a few people and even fewer disagreed with the statement that unless they were careful, people would take advantage of them. Levels of interpersonal trust are highest in the Nordic countries and lowest in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy and the Slovak Republic. Low levels of trust in society could have a negative impact on communities and interpersonal co-operation.

What explains the level of trust? Some forms of diversity, such as income inequality, are negatively associated with overall levels of interpersonal trust (i.e the greater the inequality, the less trust between people); but others, including immigrant background, are not. Our new report shows that education systems can play a role in fostering high levels of interpersonal trust even in uncertain times. Communities with higher levels of literacy enjoy higher levels of interpersonal trust than those where adults are less proficient in literacy.

The report uses data from the Survey of Adult Skills to show how and why education matters in building interpersonal trust. First and foremost, education can enhance cognitive skills to the extent that individuals feel they can then trust others, in general, because they believe they have the capacity to distinguish between trustworthy and untrustworthy people or institutions at any one time. In addition, specific education pathways may give individuals greater knowledge of, and insights into, how groups and communities operate. Different levels of educational attainment may also be associated with different occupations, where individuals exercise different levels of autonomy, and hold different expectations for working with and trusting others.

Ultimately, this report shows that when education systems are not inclusive and perpetuate the large disparities in skills that are related to socio-economic status, not only do they inadvertently hamper economic and social mobility, but they hinder social cohesion and the development of the next generation’s social capital. In other words, they undermine their society’s economic and social well-being. As our countries emerge from the economic crisis, we have to do more to strengthen the social contract among individuals, particularly as growing inequality threatens to tear societies apart. Education systems can do their part by helping all students to acquire the skills they need to prosper in 21st-century societies, and to build strong, trusting relationships with the people and institutions around them.

The Educational Roots of Trust, OECD Working Paper No. 119, by Francesca Borgonovi and Tracey Burns
New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC)
Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)
Survey of Adult Skills
Photo Credit: Boys athlete acrobats perform acrobatic figures in the arena / @Shutterstock

Friday, June 05, 2015

No one left behind?

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

Average annual growth rates in below upper secondary and tertiary education 2013

When societies move forward, not everyone benefits in the same way or to the same extent. Some social groups change faster than others, while other groups risk falling behind. Change in education is no exception. In understanding social change it is critically important not only to look at the average change, but also to look at how change affects the entire population.

The rapid expansion of education opportunities in OECD countries over the past decades was most visible at the top of the distribution, that is, in the growing share of tertiary-educated adults. But education opportunities also opened up at the bottom of the distribution and, as a result, the number of low-educated people decreased. In other words, the entire distribution of educational attainment moved upwards.

However, the speed of change can be different at the two ends of the attainment distribution. If the change at the top exceeds that at the bottom, then inequality in educational attainment increases. When people are left behind as access to education expands, social cohesion is threatened. There is ample evidence that educational exclusion comes with huge risks to health, employment, income, and even such intangible outcomes such as interpersonal trust, tolerance and adherence to democratic values. A lack of education opportunities also seems to be one of the main channels through which poverty and social inequality are transmitted from one generation to another.

By contrast, a process of inclusive growth, with equivalent growth at both ends of the spectrum, or when the bottom end improves even faster, seems to be a good thing in itself. When societies become highly educated, education and skills become the main route towards many other opportunities in life.

The new Education Indicators in Focus analyses the growth of educational attainment at both ends of the distribution between 2000 and 2013 in OECD countries. The share of tertiary-educated adults grew by 3.1% per year on average, while the share of people without an upper secondary education decreased by 2.9% per year on average. So, on average across OECD countries, the educational attainment distribution widened slightly.

But, as is clear in the chart above, the differences among countries are huge. The chart shows the average annual growth rates at both ends of the distribution and compares the extent of both. At the left are Sweden, Finland, Israel and Canada, where the average annual rate of reduction in the share of people without an upper secondary education was more than 2 percentage points greater than the average annual rate of increase in the share of tertiary-educated adults. Over this period, these countries prioritised reducing the number of low-educated individuals over increasing the number of high-educated individuals, partly because they had already expanded the top end of the distribution. In these countries, the breadth of the distribution of educational attainment narrowed.

At the other end of the distribution are Portugal, Turkey, Italy and Switzerland, where the average annual rate of increase in tertiary attainment was more than 2 percentage points greater than the average annual reduction in the share of people without an upper secondary education. In these countries, the distribution of educational attainment widened. Denmark is a special case because it is the only country in which the share of people without an upper secondary education increased between 2000 and 2013. Still, with increases at both ends of the spectrum, the distribution widened in Denmark too.

The total length of the two bars provides an indication of the overall growth in educational attainment. The greatest change took place in the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Poland and the Slovak Republic, closely followed by Ireland and Korea. In contrast, the overall change was smallest in Mexico, New Zealand and the United States. But the size of overall change is unrelated to differences in the annual rate of growth at each end of the spectrum. This suggests that it is not the speed of change that determines whether the expansion of educational attainment is more or less inclusive.  Rather, it is the policy environment around educational change that determines whether individuals at the bottom of the distribution also see their education opportunities improve.

Countries that are in the process of becoming higher-educated societies, where education qualifications and skills determine income, well-being and many other life chances, should invest in improving opportunities across the population, not only among the most educated. With the right inclusive education policies in place, no part of the population risks being left behind and out of reach of the social and economic benefits that accrue to more educated people.

Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 32, by Dirk Van Damme
Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 32, French version
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 Online Education database, www.oecd.org/education/database.htm

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Lessons learned in Lyon

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

At the OECD, we tend to look at French education through the lens of statistics. These show one of the largest gaps between the learning outcomes of children from poor and wealthy families. And the opportunity gap keeps widening.

And yet, local initiatives can win against all odds. I just saw one of the most amazing shows in the Maison de la Danse in Lyon, performed by amateurs from one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city. Some of the actors, aged 4 to 92, had never before set foot in the place, and even fewer would have attended a classical music concert. And yet this past Sunday these artists danced to music from Mozart, which they interpreted from their own cultural perspectives. And they did so with a level of tolerance and recognition of the cultural identity and aesthetics of others that reveals what can be possible if we see the diversity of cultures, generations and social backgrounds not as the problem but as the potential of 21st-century societies. Finding a way to fuse hip-hop and breakdance with contemporary jazz dance may be nearly unimaginable for many young people, yet these performers tore down the cultural walls that keep people apart.

Given a history of poor participation in educational and cultural activities in this district of the city, the organisers had recruited 200 volunteer performers in the hopes of ending up with 100. But no one dropped out and an additional hundred showed up spontaneously after news of the project spread across the city. So the project had to be creative in accommodating 300 actors. Some of the young performers may have never received a passing grade in school or heard an encouraging word from their teachers, but that night they received an ovation from an audience of well over 1,000 people, none of whom remained untouched for very long.

The magic of this initiative is its simple formula for success, one that could and should inspire education everywhere. This formula is about using artistic expression to overcome rigidities in our identities and minds that keep people apart; uniting the best and most inspiring professionals with amateurs to show to those who may have the skills, but not yet the confidence, that they too can play a role; demanding rigour in practice and setting the highest aspirations for everyone involved to bring about artistic perfection; working with choreographers who don’t insist on their own ideas, but rather are capable of helping the participants to see and develop co-ordination and interaction that express their own ideas; and integrating all this into a grand design that instills a desire in everyone to work together for over a year until every detail fits perfectly together. The budget for all this seems so incredibly small compared with the result and its impact, and many times smaller when judged against the social cost of leaving people on the street without the hope and motivation such projects can generate.

What impressed me most when speaking with some of the actors, choreographers, social workers, teachers and school leaders involved was learning how this work is creating ripples in the wider community. Every participant I spoke with told me how much the work had helped them grow; and the words I heard most frequently were tolerance, identity, respect, fairness, social responsibility, integrity and self-awareness—precisely the kinds of things that school systems are now looking to cultivate in their students. A parent who said how reluctant he was to send his daughter to this social experiment explains how much his daughter developed because of it. Other parents worried that the time their children spent practicing the arts would cut into their school work, only to find that their child’s academic performance improved over the year. And a primary school teacher described how much her class was inspired and how much her own teaching was enriched by working with non-teaching professionals.

On my way back in the train to Paris, with the world and all its real problems passing by at  breathtaking speed, I wondered how the French education system can and will respond to the mounting challenges it faces, and how open it will be to such innovative experiences. There are few other things that will be as important for the future of France – a future in which schools need to prepare their students to live and work in a world in which most people will need to collaborate with people of diverse cultural origins, and appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values; a world in which people will need to decide how to trust and collaborate across those differences; a world where what happens half a world away may affect their own lives. Of course, having certain key knowledge and skills will always remain the cornerstone of success in life, but these are no longer enough. The future will judge French schools on their capacity to help students develop autonomy and an identity that also recognises the reality of national and global pluralism, to equip them to join others in life, work and citizenship and to help them transition from situational values – “I will do anything the situation allows me to do” – to sustainable values.

Links: www.babel83.com/

Photo credit: © Christian Ganet

Friday, May 29, 2015

Are schools ready to join the technological revolution?

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

When it comes to technology, education seems stuck in the age of chalkboards. But at an international conference on technology in education, held in Qingdao, China, last week, I got the feeling that educators and education ministers might finally be ready to join the technological revolution.

Right now, at a moment when information and communication technologies are changing the way we live in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, only around 37% of schools in Europe have high-end equipment and high-speed Internet connectivity, a figure which ranges from 5% in Poland to virtually 100% in Norway. But when asked, between 80% and 90% of school principals say that their schools are adequately equipped when it comes to computers and Internet connectivity – even principals in the many countries where the equipment is clearly substandard. So is technology not that important? Or are school leaders not aware of the potential of ICT to transform learning?

The situation is even more puzzling than that. PISA measured students’ digital literacy and the frequency and intensity with which students use computers at school (look out for the PISA report on digital technology in education to be published in September). One might think that the more students use computers at school, the better their digital skills. But in fact, the relationship is not so simple. Students who use computers moderately at school have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who rarely use computers; but students who use computers frequently at school do a lot worse, even after accounting for their socio-economic status and other background factors.

Put these data together and one can draw two conclusions:

One is that building deep, conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking requires intensive teacher-student interactions, and technology just distracts from this valuable human engagement.

Another is that we haven’t yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; that adding 21st-century technologies to 20th-century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching. If students use smartphones to copy and paste prefabricated answers to questions, that’s surely not going to help them to become smarter. If we want students to become smarter than a smartphone, we need to think harder about the pedagogies we’re using to teach them.

Technology can amplify great teaching, but great technology cannot replace poor teaching. We also know from our TALIS survey that even in the best-performing school systems, teachers cite improving their ICT skills as the second most important priority for their professional development.

What can we take away from all this?

First, education is a personalised service, so technology can only go so far in improving learning outcomes.

Second, the impact of technology on education delivery remains suboptimal because we tend to overestimate the digital skills of both teachers and students, because of often naïve policy design and implementation strategies, because of a poor understanding of pedagogy, and because of the generally poor quality of educational software and courseware. Few children would choose to play a computer game of the same quality as the software that finds its way into many classrooms around the world.

What could we gain if we fixed these problems?

The most obvious gain would be to dramatically expand access to content. Why should students be limited to a textbook that was printed two years ago, and maybe designed ten years ago, when they could have access to the world’s best and most up-to-date textbook? Equally important, technology allows teachers and students to access specialised materials well beyond textbooks, in multiple formats, with little time and space constraints, as we saw at the Qingdao conference.

Second, technology provides great platforms for collaboration in knowledge creation, where teachers can share and enrich teaching materials. It can also make feedback to students, teachers and parents faster and more granular.

Third, technologies can support new, inquiry-based pedagogies that focus on learners as active participants. For example, we can enhance experiential learning, with remote and virtual labs, we can pursue project-based, hands-on and collaborative learning, and we could deliver more formative, real-time assessments. The conference in Qingdao displayed some interesting developments to that end, including highly interactive, non-linear courseware, based on state-of-the-art instructional design, sophisticated software for experimentation and simulation, social media to support learning and teaching communities, and using games for instruction.

But if we continue to dump technology on schools in a fragmented way, we won’t be able to deliver on any of these promises technology holds. Countries need to have a clear plan and build teachers’ capacity to make that happen; and policy makers need to become better at building support for this agenda.

Given the uncertainties that accompany all change, educators will always opt to maintain the status quo. If we want to mobilise support for more technology-rich schools, we need to become better at communicating the need and building support for change. We need to invest in capacity development and change-management skills, develop sound evidence and feed this evidence back to institutions, and back all that up with sustainable financing. Last but not least, it is vital that teachers become active agents for change, not just in implementing technological innovations, but in designing them too.

International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Post-2015 Education
PISA in Focus brief: Are boys and girls ready for the digital age?

Photo Credit: Digital classroom / @Shutterstock

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Young people are our future: invest in their skills

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

More than 35 million 16-29 year-olds across OECD countries are neither employed nor in education or training (NEET) – and around half of all NEETs are out of school and not looking for work. These young people are likely to have dropped off the radar of their country’s education, social and labour market systems.

The OECD Skills Outlook 2015: Youth, Skills and Employability, launched today, asserts that this unacceptable waste of human potential stems partly from the fact that too many young people leave education without having acquired the right skills (according to the 2013 Survey of Adult Skills, 10% of new graduates have poor literacy skills and 14% have poor numeracy skills); and that not enough young people have experience in the world of work (less than 50% of students in vocational education and training programmes, and less than 40% of students in academic programmes in the 22 OECD countries and regions covered by the Survey of Adult Skills participate in any kind of work-based learning).

But even young people with strong skills have trouble finding work. Many firms find it too expensive to hire individuals with no labour market experience. In fact, young people are twice as likely as prime-age workers to be unemployed.

And those young people who have managed to gain a foothold in the labour market often must overcome institutionalised obstacles, including regulations that make it costly for firms to convert fixed-term contracts into permanent contracts, in order to develop their skills and advance in their careers.

As the Skills Outlook makes clear, youth unemployment and underemployment have adverse and long-lasting consequences for both the individuals and the countries involved. Struggling students need to be identified early and given the appropriate support so that they acquire at least basic skills; regulations need to be adjusted to reduce the cost to employers of hiring young people with little work experience; and employers and educators need to agree on the meaning of education qualifications to reduce the incidence of skills mismatch on the job. Only through a concerted effort – by education providers, the labour market, tax and social institutions, employer and employee organisations, and parents and young people themselves –will young people be able to improve their employability and make a smoother and faster transition from the classroom to the workplace.
OECD Press Release: Governments must step up efforts to tackle youth unemployment, says OECD
OECD Skills Outlook 2015: Youth, Skills and Employability

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thrown in at the deep end: support for teachers’ first years

by Katarzyna Kubacka
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

The first day at work can be stressful for anyone. But what if that day involves teaching in front of a classroom filled with disruptive students? This may not be the reality for every new teacher, but as the new Teaching in Focus brief “Supporting new teachers” shows, it is the case for many.

TALIS 2013 finds that in many countries, new teachers (with less than five years’ teaching experience) are more likely to work in challenging schools than more experienced teachers. This means that they may be teaching in schools where more than 10% of students have special needs; or they may be located in a rural area, where schools often have fewer resources than urban schools.

Research shows that new teachers often lack the necessary skills to keep order in a classroom. As a result they spend less time teaching and more time managing students’ behaviour, which leads to their classrooms having a poorer climate than those of their more experienced colleagues. Teachers’ confidence in their abilities as teachers (i.e. their self-efficacy) also tends to increase with experience. Therefore, for many new teachers, their ability and confidence are outmatched by the difficult working conditions in which they are placed. 

To help remedy this mismatch, education systems can support new teachers through induction or mentoring programmes. Induction programmes are formal and informal activities that have been completed during a teacher’s first regular position, while mentoring programmes involve more experienced teachers mentoring their colleagues. Both induction and mentoring programmes can be an important link between teachers’ pre-service training and the day-to-day practice of classroom teaching. The added benefit of mentoring programmes is that they can strengthen collaboration between teachers and, thus, improve school climate.

Across most TALIS countries, the majority of teachers have access to formal or informal induction or mentoring programmes. However, TALIS 2013 shows large differences between countries in terms of programs’ availability: 44% of teachers work in schools where principals report access to formal induction programmes for all new teachers; 22% working in schools where such programmes are available to teachers new to teaching only; 76% of teachers work in schools with access to informal induction.

In most countries, fewer teachers report participation in induction and mentoring programmes than principals report the existence of such programmes. For example, in the Netherlands, 71% of all teachers work in schools with reported mentoring programmes, while only 17% report having a mentor. This suggests that many systems should carefully investigate the barriers to teachers’ and consider creating incentives for participation in such programmes. To illustrate, in many countries the lack of participation might be due to programs’ costs or teachers’ other work commitments.

Investing in teachers’ first years of work is not only about making the workplace easier for new teachers.  Such support also has long-term effects, as TALIS shows that those who participate in induction programmes are more likely to become mentors and participate in professional development later on in their careers. Hence, if teachers are helped to manage those first days, weeks, and years as a teacher, they will go on to help others, creating a virtuous cycle of teacher learning and peer collaboration.

Teaching in Focus No. 11: Supporting new teachers
TALIS 2013 Results
Photo source: Businesswoman is making speech at conference room/ @Shutterstock

Friday, May 15, 2015

Are efficient schools more inclusive?

by Tommaso Agasisti
Thomas J. Alexander Fellow, Directorate for Education and Skills

Distribution of efficiency scores by country
Click here for full size

Analysing the efficiency of education systems and organisations is at the forefront of today’s policy and academic debate. Various factors make efficiency more important than ever: declining public budgets, rising competition across public services for limited public expenditures, increasing demand for transparency in information about the costs and results of schools’ activities. From this perspective, fiscal consolidation in many countries depends on the ability of governments to proactively use information concerning the efficiency of public spending. When focussing on education, providing clear quantitative information about the efficiency of educational institutions has become more important than ever.

In the working paper, we propose an innovative use of PISA data for measuring the efficiency of schools in an international comparison; more specifically, we compare the efficiency scores of more than 8 600 schools in 30 countries using PISA 2012 data. The study deals with the following key research questions:

a)    How relevant are the differences in the efficiency of schools across the selected 30 countries? Are these differences driven more by between-schools or between-countries variance?
b)    Which factors are associated with schools’ efficiency scores? And, are these factors common across all countries?
c)    Is there a trade-off between efficiency and equity at school level?

All three questions can have policy and managerial implications, and each of them also opens the door to potential benchmarking exercises that can prompt school principals to look at the most efficient schools in the world, investigating the drivers of their performances.

Using a non-parametric technique, called Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA), that measures efficiency scores from 0 to 1 (where 1 is maximum efficiency level observed in the sample), we find that efficiency scores vary widely both between and within countries. When considering all schools together – so allowing for the existence of an international common benchmark – we find that on average schools can raise their scores by 27%, ranging across countries from 15% for schools in Singapore to more than 33% for those in Slovenia. The Figure 1 highlights how dispersed efficiency scores are within countries; these efficiency scores of schools within countries encompass the entire range of the international distribution of efficiency, underlying the fact that country average efficiency scores mask substantial internal variation.

When we compare each school with those operating in the same country, the average improvement in output is estimated at 15%, ranging from 6%, on average, among schools in Ireland to 22% among those in Slovenia. This result suggests that it could be necessary to consider an international benchmark for efficiency analysis; indeed, the room for improvement is much larger when considering in the sample institutions from various contexts. International benchmarking exercises are really options for opening the mind to more ambitious performance goals – and at lower cost.  

We also investigate if are there factors at the school and country levels that are associated with efficiency. These second-stage variables have been classified in three main groups: students’ characteristics, other than socio-economic status, general characteristics of the schools, and schools’ practices and processes. This last group of variables can help policy makers and school managers to act for improving institutions’ efficiency. The results reveal that the characteristics of the student intake in each school (i.e. the proportion of girls and immigrants, the diversity of socio-economic background, etc.) explain most of the variation in efficiency across schools; however, school-related factors (i.e. practices such as extracurricular activities, principals’ leadership style, etc.) also play a role in describing differences in efficiency across schools.

In the last part of the study, we discuss how we find no evidence of a trade-off between efficiency and equity; in other words, more efficient schools tend to be more inclusive. Efficiency scores are related to greater inclusion, as measured by the percentage of students in the school who score above proficiency Level 2, the baseline level of performance in PISA.

Limitations on methods and data sources imply that the estimated efficiency scores are only proxies for true efficiency. Most importantly, they do not provide precise measures of efficiency at the school level and any attempt to use these measures to rank schools would be ill conceived. Yet, these estimates provide a clear picture of the distribution of schools’ efficiency scores across and within countries. 

We hope that this contribution can help to direct researchers’ attention towards this topic, to explore further the factors that affect efficiency in education.

The Efficiency of Secondary Schools in an International Perspective
PISA 2012 Key Findings
Thomas J. Alexander Fellowship
Photo source: Authors’ elaborations on PISA 2012 data, www.oecd.org/edu/Figure2.pdf

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Education post-2015

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Knowledge capital and economic growth rates across countries*
Next week, UNESCO will convene the world’s educational leaders in Incheon to set the agenda for educational development over the next 15 years. Those who think that’s mainly an agenda for the developing world should read our new report Universal basic skills - what countries stand to gain. The report shows the scale of the effort that is ahead even for many of the wealthiest nations to develop the essential skills that can transform lives, generate prosperity and promote social inclusion. And with a new global metric of the quality of learning outcomes, the report demonstrates that the world is no longer divided between rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly educated ones.

Importantly, the post-2015 agenda is no longer just about providing more people with more years of schooling, but about making sure that individuals acquire a solid foundation of 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.

The first thing the report shows is that the quality of schooling in a country is a powerful predictor of the wealth that countries will produce in the long run. Or, put the other way around, the economic output that is lost because of poor education policies and practices leaves many countries in what amounts to a permanent state of economic recession – and one that can be larger and deeper than the one that resulted from the financial crisis at the beginning of the millennium, out of which many countries are still struggling to climb.

Among the countries compared, Ghana has the lowest enrolment rate in secondary schools (46%) and also the lowest achievement levels for those 15-year-olds who are in school (291 PISA points). While it is difficult for Ghana to meet the goal of universal basic skills any time soon, if it did, it would see a gain over the lifetime of its children born today that, in present value terms, is 38 times its current GDP. This is equivalent to tripling Ghana’s discounted future GDP every four years during the working life of those students with improved skills. For lower-middle income countries, the discounted present value of future gains would still be 13 times current GDP and would average out to a 28% higher GDP over the next 80 years. And for upper-middle income countries, which generally show higher levels of learning outcomes, it would average out to a 16% higher GDP.

The goal of universal basic skills also has meaning for high-income countries, most notably the oil-producing countries. Many of them have succeeded in converting their natural capital into physical capital and consumption today; but they have failed to convert their natural capital into the human capital that can generate the economic and social outcomes to sustain their future. The report shows that the high-income non-OECD countries, as a group, would see an added economic value equivalent to almost five times the value of their current GDP  if they equipped all students with at least basic skills. So there is an important message for countries rich in natural resources: the wealth that lies hidden in the undeveloped skills of their populations is far greater than what they now reap by extracting wealth from national resources. And there is more: PISA shows a significantly negative relationship between the money countries earn from their natural resources and the knowledge and skills of their school population. So PISA and oil don’t mix easily.

One interpretation is that in countries with little in the way of natural resources education is highly valued, and produces strong outcomes, at least partly because the public at large has understood that the country must live by its knowledge and skills, and that these depend on the quality of education. In other words, the value that a country places on education may depend, at least in part, on a country’s view of how knowledge and skills fit into the way it makes its living.

One might be tempted to think that high-income countries have had all the means to eliminate extreme underperformance in education and should already have achieved the education post-2015 goal and targets. But the report shows otherwise. For example, 24% of 15-year-olds in the United States do not successfully complete even the basic Level 1 PISA tasks. If the United States were to ensure that all 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. So even high-income OECD countries would gain significantly from bringing all students up to basic skills by 2030. For this group of countries, average future GDP would be 3.5% higher than it would be otherwise. That is close to what these countries currently spend on their schools. In other words, the economic gains that would accrue solely from eliminating extreme underperformance in high-income OECD countries by 2030 would be sufficient to pay for the primary and secondary education of all students.

The message of these rather complex analyses is simple: there is no shortcut to improved learning outcomes in a post-2015 world economy where knowledge and skills have become the global currency, the key to better jobs and better lives. And there is no central bank that prints this currency. We cannot inherit this currency, and we cannot produce it through speculation; we can only develop it through sustained effort and investment in people.

That raises the question of whether the improvements in learning outcomes suggested in this report are realistic – and how they can be achieved by 2030. The answer to the first question is unambiguously positive. PISA shows that top performers in education, such as Shanghai in China, Korea and Singapore, were able to further extend their lead over the past years, and countries like Brazil, Mexico, Tunisia and Turkey achieved major improvements from previously low levels of performance – all at a speed that exceeds, by a large margin, the improvements described in this report. So the world is full of examples of improvements in education, and there is no time to lose. Without the right skills, people end up on the margins of the society, technological progress doesn’t translate into economic growth, and countries face an uphill struggle to remain ahead in this hyper-connected world. Ultimately in this scenario, the social glue that holds our societies together will disintegrate. The world has become indifferent to past reputations and unforgiving of frailty. Success will go to those individuals, institutions and countries that are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. The task for governments is to help their citizens rise to this challenge by ensuring that by 2030 all of their people are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need for further education, work and life.

Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain
UNESCO World education Forum, 19-22 May 2015, Incheon, Korea
The World Bank Education for Global Development: A blog about the power of investing in people
PISA 2012 Key Findings
Follow on twitter: #UniversalBasicSkills
Chart Source: Hanushek and Woessmann (2015)
*Added-variable plot of a regression of the average annual rate of growth (in%) of real per capita GDP from 1960 to 2000 on average test scores on international student achievement tests, average years of schooling in 1960, and initial level of real per capita GDP in 1960 (mean of unconditional variables added to each axis).
Note by Turkey: The information in this document with reference to "Cyprus" relates to the southern part of the Island. There is no single authority representing both Turkish and Greek Cypriot people on the Island. Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Until a lasting and equitable solution is found within the context of the United Nations, Turkey shall preserve its position concerning the "Cyprus issue". 
Note by all the European Union member States of the OECD and the European Union: The Republic of Cyprus is recognised by all members of the United Nations with the exception of Turkey. The information in this document relates to the area under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tough choices in school choice

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

For those parents who have the opportunity to do so, choosing a school for their child is one of the most important decisions they will make as parents – a decision that could have a lasting impact on their child’s life. What do parents look for when choosing a school for their child?

This month’s PISA in Focus reports on the criteria that parents consider before making this decision. Eleven countries and economies distributed a questionnaire to parents of 15-year-olds who sat the 2012 PISA test that asked them to report on the importance they ascribed to several criteria, including school quality, the distance from home to school, the school’s philosophy and financial considerations. Not surprisingly, the quality of the school – including such factors as academic achievement, reputation, environment and safety – comes first among parents. Yet, PISA finds that many parents value certain indicators of school quality – such as the school’s reputation or safety at the school – more highly than they do academic achievement.

While disadvantaged parents are more concerned than advantaged parents about low expenses and the availability of financial aid when choosing a school, PISA results show that disadvantaged parents often ascribe greater importance to these considerations than to criteria that focus on school quality. That is an important finding, because PISA results also show that the children of parents who consider academic achievement very important score 46 points higher in mathematics, on average, than the children of parents who consider it not important. Although the score-point difference shrinks to 32 points after students’ socio-economic status is taken into account, that difference is still equivalent to nearly an entire year of school.

A previous edition of PISA in Focus noted that competition for students among schools – or school choice, from the schools’ perspective – is related to greater socio-economic segregation among students. As this month’s edition makes clear: learning for some students, particularly disadvantaged students, could suffer tremendously in school systems where parents have to choose between affordability and quality.

PISA in Focus No. 51: What do parents look for in their child's school?
PISA in Focus No. 51 (French version)
PISA 2012 Results: What makes schools successful?
PISA in Focus No. 42: When is competition between schools beneficial?
Photo Credit: Empty Checklist with copy space/ @Shutterstock

Monday, May 04, 2015

How Sweden’s school system can regain its old strength

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

During my days as a university student, I used to look to Sweden as the gold standard for education. A country which was providing high quality and innovative education to children across social ranks, and close to making lifelong learning a reality for all. My professor and mentor, Torsten Husén, was the architect of empirical educational science.

But not long after the turn of the 21st  century, the Swedish school system seems to have lost its soul. Schools began to compete no longer just with superior learning outcomes, but by offering their students shiny buildings in shopping centres, or a driving license instead of better teaching. And while teachers were giving their students better marks each year, international comparisons portrayed a steady decline in student performance. Indeed, no other country taking part in PISA has seen a steeper fall. School discipline has worsened too, with students more likely to arrive late for school than elsewhere.

And yet, Sweden has every chance to become one of the world’s educational leaders again. Among others, it has one asset that few other countries in the Western world offer: The firm belief of Swedes in the power of education to transform lives, generate prosperity and promote social inclusion. And with that comes the unwavering commitment of Swedish citizens and policy-makers from across the political spectrum to do whatever it takes to provide all children with the knowledge, skills and values which they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world.

But some things are in urgent need of change. At the top of the list is the need to raise standards and aspirations for students. The fact that Swedish students think they are doing fine, while their learning outcomes are average at best, underlines the need to significantly strengthen rigor, focus and coherence in school standards. There is a similar need to seriously review teaching methods: According to PISA the majority of math problems which students get exposed to are tasks with relatively low cognitive demand which teacher then try hard to make appear as real-world problems. In contrast, tasks requiring deep conceptual understanding and complex ways of thinking are relatively rare.

Equally important is the belief in the success of every child. Top school systems realise that ordinary students have extraordinary talents and they embrace diversity with differentiated instructional practices. The fact that a majority of Swedish students in PISA believe that success in mathematics is owed to talent rather than hard work, suggests that Sweden must try harder to lower tolerance for failure and raise students’ sense of responsibility for learning. When students in Singapore or Shanghai were asked the same question, virtually all of them said that if they work hard, they trust their teachers to support them and that they will succeed. And they do.

Sweden also needs to revert to one of the traditional strengths of its school system: support for disadvantage. This should include greater focus on enhancing language skills for migrant students and their parents; high quality reception classes; assistants in the classroom; and improved access for disadvantaged families to information about schools. And yet, the performance challenge is not just an issue of poor kids in poor neighborhoods, but for many kids in many neighborhoods. PISA shows that the 10% most disadvantaged students in Shanghai easily outperform the 10% of kids from the wealthiest Swedish families.

Nowhere does the quality of a school system exceed the quality of its teachers. Despite high job satisfaction, only five in one hundred Swedish teachers considered teaching a valued profession in OECD’s 2013 Survey on Teaching and Learning. Top school systems pay attention to how they select and train their staff. They attract the right talent and they watch how they improve the performance of teachers who are struggling. They also provide intelligent pathways for teachers to grow in their careers. With a new career structure, Sweden has made first steps in that direction, but a lot more needs to be done to advance from industrial to professional forms of work organisation in Swedish schools that encourage teachers to use innovative pedagogies, to improve their own performance and that of their colleagues, and to work together to frame good practice.

Sweden also needs to do more to grow and distribute leadership throughout the school system. School leaders and their employers need to prioritise pedagogical leadership and encourage greater co-operation among teachers and invest more in professional development. A publicly-funded National Institute of Teacher and School Leader Quality would help improve recruitment and the quality of teaching and leadership in the education system.

Sweden has significantly increased spending in education over recent decades, but money alone will only raise education systems up to a point. Among OECD countries there is no longer any relationship between spending per student and the quality of learning outcomes. In other words, two countries with similarly high spending levels can produce very different results. So for countries like Sweden it is not primarily about how much they spend on education, but about how they spend their resources. Whenever Sweden needs to make a choice between a smaller class and a better teacher, it should go for the latter. Sweden should also review how school education is funded. The current funding mechanisms are not meeting the objectives of improving quality while maintaining equity. There are different options Sweden can use, including earmarked funding, defining criteria for municipalities and schools, and student funding formulae, to ensure equity and especially consistency in school funding across Sweden.

Perhaps the toughest challenge is to put in place a coherent national school improvement strategy. A school system must be more than a few thousand autonomous schools. School evaluation and accountability needs to be strengthened so that schools, parents and teachers obtain clear and consistent guidance as to where they stand and how they can improve. That also means that the Swedish Schools Inspectorate should provide much more assistance to schools to follow up on their weaknesses and to bring about a shift in culture from administrative compliance towards responsibility for better results.

Of course, effective policies are far easier designed than implemented. But the world provides plenty of examples of improvements in education, and there is no time to lose. The task for the Swedish government is to help citizens rise to this challenge. The OECD is there to help and our report Improving Schools in Sweden – An OECD Perspective highlights some important lessons from the world for Sweden.

Photo credit: Getty Images International, © Duncan1890

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The global talent pool has taken on a dramatically different look

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

The world is living through one of its most extraordinary revolutions, with game-changing implications, many of them still unknown. The growth rate of adults with tertiary education qualifications, and the knowledge and skills associated with them, has never been higher. In 2013, on average across OECD countries, 25% of 55-64 year-olds had a tertiary qualification, but 40% of 25-34 year-olds had an increase of 15 percentage points over 30 years. But among OECD countries, differences are huge. Some countries had expanded their education systems a century ago, while others started to offer opportunities for tertiary education only recently.

The location of human capital matters: in the 20th century, the United States and several other countries were able to benefit from the pool of skilled people in their populations to progress economically and socially at a much higher rate than their competitors.

In the first decades of the 21st century, things look much different. The most recent data shown in the latest Education Indicators in Focus brief on the geographical distribution of 25-34 year-old tertiary graduates in OECD and G20 countries show that in 2013 China had already surpassed the United States. Some 17% of all tertiary graduates are found in China, compared to 14% in both the United States and India. The brief also provides a projection to 2030 based on current trends (see the chart above). In 2030, China would be home to 27% of the global pool of highly educated people, and India to another 23%. The United States would follow with only 8%. And of the emerging economies, Brazil and Indonesia would follow with 5% each. Together China and India would be home to half of the world’s highly educated youth.

These data are truly startling; it is difficult to imagine all the possible consequences. One thinks immediately of the impact on the global distribution of skilled labour and the resulting changes in trade, economic growth and global value chains. Policies to preserve the creative research-and-design parts of production cycles in the industrial nations of the 20th century seem rather antiquated. Think, too, of the enormous consequences for the countries that accomplished this modernisation in a much shorter time than the “old” industrialised nations did.

Of course, many will immediately question the quality of these tertiary qualifications. The expansion and mass accessibility of higher education have put pressure on traditional notions of academic excellence in many industrialised countries. The countries that have undergone this transformation even more rapidly will feel the same pressure. But such dramatic changes also transform the notion of academic quality itself. There are no indications that China and India will be more content with second-class academic quality than the United States or European countries are. But a better and more honest answer is: actually, we don’t know. We don’t yet have a reliable yardstick of the quality of learning and the quality of skills among tertiary graduates. It is difficult to imagine a world in which qualifications and skills matter so much without anyone knowing the real value of them. We know from the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) that even in the “old world” the skills equivalence of tertiary qualifications can differ enormously.

Still, the map of the global distribution of the tertiary graduates looks very different from the map of academic excellence, at least as measured by the established global rankings of universities. Despite their flaws, these rankings nurture the notion that academic excellence is still concentrated in the university systems in the United States, the United Kingdom and a few other European countries. Universities in the East are only very gradually making their way into these league tables. The discrepancy between the location of academic excellence and the location of demand for tertiary qualifications may create tensions, which are only partially resolved through international student flows and e-learning. The global demand for high-quality tertiary education cannot be met by many more international students or MOOCs. As emerging countries like China or India make huge investments in creating world-class universities, it will only be a matter of time before they will catch up in quality as much as in numbers.

In the end, these data are good news. The world is rapidly increasing – and levelling – its pool of knowledge and skills. Given the state of the planet and the many challenges facing us, we will need all the brain-power we can develop. Raising human capital will be the only sustainable strategy, not only to enhance individual nations’ productivity and growth, but also to address the many global challenges before us through research, innovation and collaboration.


Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 31, by Corinne Heckmann and Soumaya Maghnouj
Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 31, French version
Survey of Adult Skills
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

Related blog post
French version: Talents : un vivier mondial en pleine mutation
Chart source: OECD database, UNESCO and national statistics websites for Argentina, China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa (http://stats.oecd.org/)