Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Why skills matter

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

It’s the time of year when young people in the northern hemisphere are finishing their formal studies for the year – or for the foreseeable future. Some will soon be working at their first jobs, some are just beginning to look for a job, some may have been looking for months with nothing to show for it. What links the classroom and lecture hall to the workplace? Skills.

Three years ago, the OECD published the First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills, a product of our Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or PIAAC. That report found that adults who are highly proficient in the information-processing skills measured by the survey – literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments – are more likely to be employed and earn high wages. They are also more likely to report that they trust others, that they have an impact on the political processes, and that they are in good health.

Since those first results were published, nine more countries and economies have joined the survey. While the results from these countries/economies, published today in Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills, broadly confirm those from the countries/economies that participated in Round 1 of the survey, some messages have emerged more clearly.

For example, in Singapore, one of the nine countries/economies that participated in the second round of the survey, young people perform much better than older adults in all three domains assessed. While younger adults outperform their older compatriots in many of the countries/economies surveyed, in no other country is the difference between the proportion of 25-34 year-olds with tertiary education and the proportion of 55-65 year-olds who have attained that level of education as large (53 percentage points) as it is in Singapore. Only 2.4% of Singapore’s 55-65 year-olds demonstrate strong literacy skills, while young Singaporeans now benefit from one of the world’s most advanced education systems. This shows that even as Singapore expanded access to education over the past few decades, the country was able to maintain the quality of the education provided – adding further strength to the argument that expansion of education does not have to come at the expense of the quality of education.

Jakarta (Indonesia) is also among the nine Round 2 countries/economies. Although adults in Jakarta score lower in literacy and numeracy, on average, than adults in any other participating country/economy (more than one in two adults in Jakarta score at or below Level 1 in literacy), their participation in the survey confirms that valuable data on education and skills can be gathered in less economically developed countries. For example, several participating countries and economies, including Jakarta, have large populations of adults who perform poorly in literacy; but none of these populations can be said to be illiterate. How do we know that? The survey includes a special assessment for these adults to pinpoint where their difficulties in literacy lie. Most of these adults recognise words, but have trouble determining whether a sentence makes sense logically in a real-world context.

In both rounds, there is a relatively strong link between performance in the survey and in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for the age cohorts covered by both surveys. The performance of a particular age group in PISA is a reasonably good predictor of that group’s performance some years later in the Survey of Adult Skills. The message is loud and clear: if countries want a highly skilled work force, they have to get compulsory education right. This is not to say that acquiring and developing literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills stops once people leave school. In fact, the evidence shows that proficiency continues to improve over time, and that developing and maintaining – or losing – skills over a lifetime is affected by such factors as participation in work and training, which, in turn, can be influenced by policy. But school is one of the key places in which these skills are acquired, and the failings of schooling can be costly and difficult to rectify.

Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills
The Survey of Adult Skills: Reader's Companion
OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills
For OECD work on skills: www.oecd.org/skills
Follow: #OECDSkills

Friday, June 24, 2016

Understanding how the brain processes maths learning

by Francesca Gottschalk
Consultant, Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD

Numbers are universal and constantly confronting us in daily life. In fact, they are so omnipresent that most of us perform basic mathematical calculations every single day without even realising it – when we glance at the clock, count change for a morning coffee, or even when we check the calendar to plan the weeks ahead.

It is, therefore, no surprise that student performance in maths is not only a key indicator for potential academic achievement, but also of future employability and overall participation in our “knowledge economy” society. Without the ability to make sense of the numbers that surround us, one would be completely lost in our modern world (even with a smartphone in hand!).

The question of how we actually learn maths and whether everyone has the ability to do so is thus a crucial one and should be of interest to parents, teachers and policy-makers alike. A new Education Working Paper entitled “The Neuroscience of Mathematical Cognition and Learning” explores the development of numerical cognition and explains that numeracy is actually an innate skill, inherent in humans from birth and further enhanced through formal education. Research indicates that babies as young as one day old are able to judge whether different quantities of objects are equal or not, and by the age of six months, infants often have the ability to discriminate up to three or four objects. It is then through schooling that children learn basic numerical principles –  for example addition and subtraction tables – and the more their ability to process these becomes automatic, the more they are able to devote brain resources (such as attention and working memory) to more complex numerical tasks.

Another way in which we can see the development of innate numeracy skills is through language, as language and maths learning go hand in hand. In literate cultures, number symbols and counting are integral for learning more complicated maths functions that go beyond approximation and simple counting. Illiterate cultures have also developed various trading and counting systems, allowing them to quantify objects and carry out basic maths operations. French researcher Pierre Pica, who spent time examining Amazonian groups, reported that although these groups are illiterate and cannot count, they still exhibit basic trading and approximation systems (illustrated through their daily transactions). This suggests the universality of basic maths systems in the human brain and the importance of the development in tandem of advanced maths and literacy skills. In order to effectively perform arithmetic operations and subsequently learn more complex functions, we need to have culturally transmissible and understood number symbols, which presuppose literacy within a population.

If our numerical abilities are innate, and literacy rates across OECD countries are relatively high, why then are there so many people who struggle with maths? The answer lies in the complexity of learning more advanced maths, which involves many regions of the brain. While it may seem that learning addition and subtraction tables should be a breeze for many students, when we start looking at the complicated processes involved in these different systems, we can understand that disruptions in these pathways can have huge impacts on learning abilities. We can see these effects, for example, in students with developmental dyscalculia (DD) or maths anxiety. In DD, it is thought that there is a deficient level of connectivity between various brain regions, whereas maths anxiety involves a number of cognitive processes such as emotion regulation and attitudinal factors that can hinder maths performance and learning. For example, results to questions about anxiety towards mathematics in the 2012 cycle of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed that students in low-performing countries tended to report higher levels of anxiety towards maths in comparison to countries scoring above the OECD average.

What does this mean for the teaching of maths in schools? This paper highlights the fact that there are neither “good” nor “bad” math learners. While there is the potential for students to suffer from various missteps in the maths path, the innate ability for humans to understand numbers and gain numerical skills shows promise even for those students who struggle to grasp basic mathematical concepts, and this is encouraging. For example, the new PISA report, Equations and Inequalities: Making Mathematics Accessible to All”, illustrates how the use of innovative teaching methods can foster students’ motivation to overcome barriers in maths learning. If teachers and policy-makers better understand how maths learning occurs in the brain, we can start to uncover and implement new strategies to assist students in need, helping them keep their maths path as clear as possible.

Working paper No. 136: The Neuroscience of Mathematical Cognition and Learning, by Chung Yen Looi, Jacqueline Thompson, Beatrix Krause, and Roi Cohen Kadosh
Understanding the Brain: The Birth of a Learning Science
Equations and Inequalities: Making Mathematics Accessible to All
Photo credit: Book shelf in form of head on formulas backgrounds @Shutterstock

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Closing the gap between education and employment

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

Employer engagement in education and training has become a hot topic for policy makers and practitioners around the world. Over recent years, Governments and other stakeholders have invested significant resource in promoting and enabling closer links between employers and schools, colleges, universities and training providers.

Policy objectives have included:
  • Tackling skills shortage/skills mismatch
  • Improving youth skills relevant to dynamic labour market demand
  • Harnessing community resources to improve attainment
  • Putting coherent pathways in place for young people moving through educational and training provision
  • Addressing inequalities in outcomes, promoting social mobility and challenging gender stereotyping.
The OECD has looked at the question of employer engagement from the perspectives of skills provision Learning for Jobs, gender inequality The ABC of Gender Equality in Education and currently with specific emphasis on careers provision and school-to-work transitions within projects such as Skills Beyond School and Work-based Learning in Vocational Education and Training. The EU has funded work connecting schools with STEM industries as part of a strategy to tackle skills shortages Ingenious  and CEDEFOP and the Inter-American Development Bank have explored the relationship in terms of skills mismatch and youth demand for vocational training. The World Bank has looked at connections between classrooms and workplaces in terms of enterprise education, exploring ways to encourage and enable entrepreneurialism particularly in developing countries. UNESCO and the International Labor Organisation have focused particularly on the theme from the perspective of youth employment.

In England, the Department for Education has looked to secondary schools to integrate employer engagement within careers provision; and, in response to the Wolf report, embedded employer links as a core element of 16-19 provision in schools and colleges, particularly to enrich vocational delivery and enhance pupil preparation for employment. Similar steps have been made in Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy and the actions of the governments in Wales and Northern Ireland. Employers are seen as central to the future of apprenticeship programmes for young people and adults alike.

In sponsoring University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools in England, the Department for Education has supported new institutional models designed to enable profound employer engagement across the curriculum. Around the world, employer engagement has become a mainstream element of educational and training provision – with significant practice in Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Switzerland and the United States.

Two upcoming events will offer a timely opportunity for closing the gap between education and employment:

On 29 and 30 June the Skills Summit in Bergen Norway, will convene ministers with responsibility for a range of skills-relevant portfolios, including education, employment, economic development, regional policy and government co-ordination. Drawing on this wide range of perspectives, The Skills Summit 2016 will provide Ministers with an opportunity to discuss the benefits and challenges of building effective whole-of-government and whole-of-society skills strategies, while at the same time providing a forum to exchange views on how best to maximize countries' skills potential to boost productivity, innovation and social inclusion.

Next month sees an unprecedented coming together of researchers, policy makers and practitioners at the international Conference on Employer Engagement in Education and Training held in London on 21 and 22 July, with the participation of OECD Director for Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher, and Senior Policy Analyst Simon Field. This conference aims to take stock of the best quality research exploring the impact and delivery of employer engagement in education and training in order to understand the implications for effective, efficient and equitable policy and practice.

The Skills Summit, Bergen, Norway 2016
London Conference on Employer Engagement in Education and Training
Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills
OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training: Learning for Jobs
The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence
Photo credit: Job as target in the careers road @Shutterstock

Monday, June 20, 2016

Making all students count

by Chiara Monticone
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Mario Piacentini
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Films about mathematicians have become incredibly popular: many of us now know about John Nash’s beautiful mind. Fewer people have heard the extraordinary story of Srinivasa Ramanujan, a genius of comparable stature to Nash. Ramanujan was nothing more than a promising 16-year-old student from a poor family in South India when he came across A Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure and Applied Mathematics, a compilation of thousands of mathematical results used by English students. Starting from the textbook, Ramanujan taught himself mathematics. After failing to get into university in India, he sent a letter to one of the great scholars of that time, Godfrey Harold Hardy, who noticed his talent and invited him to Cambridge.  Hardy quickly understood that, in spite of his amazing feats in mathematics, Ramanujan lacked the basic tools of the trade of a mathematician. If he was to fulfil his potential, he had to acquire a solid foundation in mathematics. The Cambridge mathematician worked tirelessly with the Indian genius to harness his creativity to the then-current understanding of the field without destroying his confidence. One good textbook and one outstanding teacher changed the fate of a man and the evolution of number theory and analysis.

There are poor students like Ramanujan who show that achieving great results in their education and professional life is possible. But “possible” is not sufficient: education and social policy should make poor students’ success “probable”. This month’s PISA in Focus and a new OECD report, Equations and Inequalities: Making Mathematics Accessible to All show that millions of students around the world – especially those from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds – often have few opportunities to develop their mathematics skills.

Many students who participated in PISA 2012 reported that they have hardly been exposed to fundamental concepts in mathematics, like arithmetic means or linear equations, which form the basis of the numeracy skills that they will need to thrive as adults. Disadvantaged students are even less exposed to these concepts. For example, the share of advantaged students who reported that they know well or have often heard the concept of quadratic function is 20 percentage points larger, on average across OECD countries, than the share of disadvantaged students who reported so; and the difference between these two groups of students is larger than 30 percentage points in Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, New Zealand, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, the United Kingdom and Uruguay. The relationship between the content covered during mathematics class and the socio-economic profile of students and schools is stronger in countries that track students early into different study programmes, that have larger percentages of students in selective schools, and that transfer less-able students to other schools.

Exposure to formal mathematics tasks and concepts (involving equations or functions, for example) has an impact on performance, particularly on the most challenging PISA tasks; and differences in familiarity with mathematics are strongly related to the performance gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students.  On average across OECD countries, differences in familiarity with mathematics account for about 19% of the performance difference between these two groups of students. In Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Hungary, Korea, Portugal, Switzerland, Thailand and the United States, more than 25% of the performance difference between advantaged and disadvantaged students is related to familiarity with mathematics. The report shows that exposure to applied mathematics tasks (like working out from a train timetable how long it would take to get from one place to another) has a weaker association with performance in PISA, but can stimulate engagement with mathematics and boost self-confidence, particularly among low-achieving students.
Widening students’ opportunities to learn mathematics is not an impossible task, but it may require certain readjustments, from reforming the structure of the education system to improving curriculum focus and coherence, and sharing teaching practices that use time more effectively. For example, Finland, Germany, Poland and Sweden have reformed their school tracking systems to reduce the impact of socio-economic status on students’ access to mathematics and achievement. At the school level, some charter schools in the United States have shown that longer instruction time, individualised support to students, strict behaviour norms, a strong work ethic among students and high expectations for all students can improve the achievement of students in low-performing, disadvantaged schools. Teachers need to be supported in using pedagogies, such as flexible grouping of students or co-operative learning, that increase learning opportunities for all students in mixed-ability classes.

In the end, disadvantaged students’ success in mathematics should become a common tale, not a hyped, romantic screenplay for a Hollywood blockbuster.

Equations and Inequalities: Making Mathematics Accessible to All
PISA in Focus No. 63: Are disadvantaged students given equal opportunities to learn mathematics? Chiara Monticone and Mario Piacentini
PISA à la Loupe No. 63: Les élèves défavorisés bénéficient-ils des mêmes possibilités d’apprentissage en mathématiques? (French version)
Getting beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence from New York City
Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Why should we improve learning opportunities for young kids?

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

More than hundred years ago, nations that are now members of the OECD introduced legislation to set the age compulsory education. Most countries obliged families to send their children to school from the age of 6 or 7. The gradual abolition of child labour and the need for a workforce with elementary skills – two consequences of the ‘second industrial revolution’ – convinced countries to impose compulsory education. Since then, education policy has focused on ensuring that all students are provided access to – and participate in – compulsory schooling. Many countries have also gradually increased the upper age limit of compulsory education. But for younger kids – under the age of 6 – families were seen as the most optimal environment for children’s care and upbringing.

But as more women entered the labour force and two-income families became the norm, the context in which children grew up changed dramatically. Working parents had to find a way to keep their children safe during their absence. But next to guaranteeing safety and physical care daytime crèches and child minders were not supposed to exert any pedagogical interference. Even when the realities of family life were changing, families – and mothers in particular – could keep up the belief that they and no one else were raising their offspring. Conservative romanticism about family life and ideals about motherhood – also shared by radical feminists – contributed to upholding the traditional pedagogical contract. When things didn’t work out well in practice, individual mothers were to be blamed, and many developed feelings of guilt and shame when professional and private roles came into conflict.

Things have started to change in the past few years. In many countries, not only has early childhood education expanded rapidly, but it has begun to evolve into different kinds of education targeted to distinct groups of children. The most recent Education Indicators in Focus brief, based on recent Education at a Glance and PISA data, documents the expansion of pre-primary education for children between the ages of three and six. This level of education – between childcare and early childhood development programmes for children under the age of 3 on the one hand, and primary education on the other – is now internationally recognised as a discrete step on the education ladder. In most OECD countries, well over 90% of 4-year-olds are enrolled, although participation among certain segments of the population remains low.

But is the expansion of pre-primary education changing the views on educating young kids? The recent research literature from the fields of developmental and cognitive psychology, neurosciences and economics is convincing on the benefits of early education – provided by specialised education programmes – for the cognitive, social and emotional development of children. Early childhood education is rapidly becoming a major area of policy attention, shared between education and social-welfare ministries. Apart from expanding provision policies now concentrate on raising the qualifications of staff and increasing the quality of the educational environments and pedagogical interventions at large. Early childhood education is no longer about offering children a safe and comfortable shelter while parents are out working, but about creating a pleasant, learning-rich environment from which young children can benefit. Some countries are now imposing pedagogical regulations on pre-primary education, much in the same way as they do for other levels of education, and for good reason. At the same time they also refrain from turning pre-primary education into a school-like environment. The pedagogy of stimulating kids to learn through play and joyful activity fortunately gains ground.

Evidence from PISA shows how beneficial early education can be. The chart above shows the relationship between students’ attendance at more than one year of pre-primary school and the mathematics performance of these students when they are 15 years old. Even after controlling for socio-economic status, gender, immigrant background, language spoken at home, family structure, location of student's school (rural area, town or city), grade repetition and programme orientation (vocational or general) students who had not attended any pre-primary education are almost twice as likely to be low performers in mathematics as students who had attended at least one year of pre-primary education.

The arguments and evidence in favour of early childhood education are now so powerful that they have flipped the traditional question of who should educate young children on its head: should governments stimulate families more to send their children to early childhood education? Families increasingly understand that high-quality early education programmes offer their children more than a safe place to spend a day; they can offer the kind of play and instruction that are the building blocks of healthy cognitive and social development. And governments come to realise that securing high-quality learning environments, with highly qualified staff, also require sound policies specifically tuned to the needs of these young kids.

What are the benefits from early childhood education? Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 42, by Diogo Amaro de Paula
Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators
Chart source: OECD (2016a), Low-Performing Students: Why They Fall Behind and How to Help Them Succeed, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Towards better tools to measure social and emotional skills

by Anna Choi
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Koji Miyamoto
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Common sense and hard evidence point to the significant impact of socio-emotional skills such as perseverance and responsibility on children's lifetime success. Empowered children are much more likely to finish college, maintain healthy lifestyles and be happy. Both parental and teacher experiences as well as emerging studies also underlie that social and emotional skills can be particularly malleable from childhood until adolescence.

*Sample limited to white males with at least a high school diploma
The OECD report: "Skills for progress report" shows that American high school students who were at the highest decile of social and emotional skills distribution are 4 times more likely to self-report completing college than those who are in the middle decile (median). Needless to say, a growing number of evidence indicate how these skills can have lasting positive effects on a wide-range of outcomes, such as life satisfaction, emotional health, and well-being (see the report for further evidence and review).

Moreover, we have started to understand that some of these social and emotional skills that drive children's lifetime success are malleable and can be developed during childhood and adolescence. Yet currently, there appears to be only a few countries and school districts that have wide-ranging policies in place to foster social and emotional skills. This may in part be due to the fact that existing evidence doesn’t yet provide sufficient details on what works, for which skills, for whom, when and under what conditions. This may come as a surprise since social and emotional skills are not necessarily difficult to define or measure than cognitive skills for which we have good evidence-base. Perhaps we simply have not paid as much attention to conceptualise measures of conscientiousness or leadership skills as algebra or reading comprehension?

Why is the evidence base still limited? An important reason is likely to be the lack of reliable and well-defined measures of the range of social and emotional skills that matter for people's lives. The most popular measures we currently use are children's self-reports or ratings by parents and teachers. While these measures can provide valuable information, they also can be subject to a variety of biases including acquiescence, social desirability, faking and reference groups. There are a range of methods that are designed to account for these biases (e.g., anchoring vignettes and forced choices), but they have not been extensively tested. There are also measures that are arguably designed to directly capture these skills (e.g., performance tests and experimental games), but they have also not been subject to extensive tests.

The OECD's Longitudinal Study of Social and Emotional Skills in Cities is addressing the measurement challenges by developing valid and reliable measures of social and emotional skills that are comparable across different cultural contexts. This study will explore a variety of methods to measure these skills to better understand their development during childhood and adolescence as well as the learning contexts that could help drive this process. The OECD will spend 2016-19 on developing measurement instruments, which will be followed by the longitudinal follow-up of primary and secondary school children in grade 1 and 7 in several major cities around the world. In parallel, the OECD is working on various projects designed to understand how different learning contexts (such as family, teachers, school, and community) can help improve children's social and emotional skills using existing longitudinal data sets.

By developing robust measurement tools and longitudinal data through the Longitudinal Study of Social and Emotional Skills in Cities, we can help not only students, parents, and teachers, but also employers and society at large. Through this study, the students can have a better picture about their capabilities and their development over time. The parents can better understand how the home learning contexts related to the development of these skills and how other learning contexts are coherent with those at home. Teachers can use different measurement tools to define and assess student's social and emotional skills and provide insights on how to embed pedagogies into existing classes and curriculum to teach these skills. This study can also help school administrators, policymakers, and community leaders to better learn about how various learning contexts in schools and communities can work together and enhance these skills. Moreover, results from this study can inform employers about the types of skills the future employees may bring and enable companies to better prepare training programmes and adapt the workplace. Finally, the society as a whole can benefit from improvements via reduced inequality, happier and more responsible citizens.

Would a development of perfect metrics and evidence-base necessarily lead to a wide stakeholder engagement in social and emotional learning? For this to happen, we also need to conceptualise these skills in a way that educators can better understand and relate them into ongoing instructional systems and social and emotional learning practices.

For more information:
Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social and Emotional Skills
OECD working paper: Fostering and Measuring Skills: Improving Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success, by Tim Kautz et al.
Chart source: Skills for progress report (OECD, 2015)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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