Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Education will fortify Indonesia’s future

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

In a crowded and scorching school yard, little Jabal, whose bony arms protrude from his yellow t-shirt, sits by himself.  Nearby, in a cloud of sand dust, his classmates are laughing and running around playing football. Teacher is late again today and Jabal looks downhearted.  When asked “what’s-up?” he slowly explains that he is worried. “Why?”

Watching the scene from his office, the school principal is pensive. He knows Jabal’s family and their story. How they came to his city school from the rural region of Banten.  How he enjoys coming to school and learning to read. How bright he is at maths. He also knows that time is running out for Jabal. That if he doesn’t get the teaching he needs to support him to reach his potential, he will probably leave school early (for a dead-end job in the nearby factory) and never fulfil his dream of becoming a manager in a haulage company.

The Indonesian education system is immense and diverse. It reflects aspects of its past, with a diverse ethnic and religious heritage, and a struggle for national identity. It has grown rapidly but access to good quality education is uneven. Over 50% of Indonesian 15 year olds don’t master basic skills in reading and maths.

The progress that has been made over the past decades in the economy has already pulled millions out of poverty. This has been done by encouraging and supporting education, health care and shifting actively to sectors like manufacturing. Nevertheless, much more needs to be done. Indonesia currently has 43% of its 250 million population under the age of 25 years old. What an opportunity this is, to be able to work now with these young people to advance their skills and learning. By investing in its human resources, Indonesia can propel growth further, which would permit better living and health conditions for citizens, as well as allowing the potential for added economic and social improvements.

Teachers have a critical role to play in the transformation process of the education system. Likewise, they need more support  to improve their professional abilities, and become more accountable for the results of students, as highlighted in this new OECD and Asian Development Bank (ADB) book: Education in Indonesia: Rising to the Challenge. In addition, more improvements are needed to the quality of education and skills training given to youth, along with a widening of the numbers that can participate in it, fundamentally so that all regions and social groups can benefit from it. Unquestionably, all youth deserve an equal chance to progress in their learning and to be able to reach higher levels of education. So the Indonesian government has made universal senior secondary education a priority in its 2015-2019 development plan.

Sadly, Jabal’s story is very similar to millions of others from all across the globe. On the other hand, what makes his story special is that now he can have hope. Because he is lucky enough to be living in Indonesia, where the government is committed to implementing structured educational reforms aimed at giving all youth equal opportunities to learn. Quality education enables social and economic progress, it will improve Jabal’s life and enable a more stable and happy future for him, and for all Indonesian citizens.

Photo credit: Dieng Plateau, Java, Indonesia - Sept 15, 2012 / @Shutterstock

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How should our schools respond to the changing demands of the twenty first century?

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

This is the question addressed in a new publication featuring interviews with eight leading commentators on the relationship between education and employment.*

A number of common themes from the eight interviews are picked out in an introductory essay by editors Anthony Mann (Education and Employers Research) and Prue Huddleston (University of Warwick). Contributors note the ways that in the UK (and other OECD countries) the labour market has become notably more hostile to young people over the last generation with lower levels of qualification especially vulnerable.  A number of distinct trends relating to technological change, globalisation, competition from older workers and changes in recruitment practice have all worked to the structural disadvantage of young people. With an hour glass labour market hollowing out, the risk of becoming stuck in low skill, low pay employment has increased for young people.

Interviews highlight ways in which schools can, and should respond, to specific changes in the relationship between education and employment.

Firstly, as the labour market has become more complex, it has become more difficult for young people to make informed investment decisions about the education and training (human capital) they accumulate, contributing to significant mismatch between skills demanded by the labour market and those possessed by young people, increasing the importance of high quality careers provision informed by real workplace contacts.

As Ewart Keep argues: It is absolutely apparent that if we want to do anything to make transitions into an increasingly complex working world easier for young people, it is essential that high quality careers information advice and guidance is available.  Without that, we might as well give up, it is that important. …We need to help young people become far more discerning consumers of the provision available to them.

Secondly, dynamic, deregulated labour markets demand new skills from young people both in terms of what is needed to successfully navigate ever more fractured transitions from education into sustained employment, and with regard to skills (crucially, in the effective application of knowledge) associated with the most successful transitions.

As Andreas Schleicher argues: Schools need to stop preparing young people for the jobs that existed a generation ago and start preparing them for jobs which do not yet exist. For example, entrepreneurship education is much more important now than it was a generation ago because it teaches those skills and personal attributes which oil the modern labour market.  It should not be taught separately but written into every subject.  

The interviews tell a story of a labour market undergoing considerable change over the last generation, changing the character of work in ways which make young people less attractive propositions to employers.  In a youth labour market characterised by growing complexity, increasingly fractured transitions and employers demanding new skills, there is a call on schools to respond, notably, through improved careers education advice information and guidance, by the introduction of better preparation for recruitment and embracing approaches which enhance personal resiliency and the ability to apply knowledge effectively in unfamiliar situations.  In all of this, there is a very simple proposition: that for young people to go into the labour market with better prospects, the distance between the classroom and the workplace needs to be narrowed.

* The OECD’s Andreas Schleicher; Professor Chris Husbands (head of the UCL Institute of Education); Professor Ewart Keep, chair of Education, Training and Skills at the University of Oxford; Professor Lorna Unwin of the Journal of Vocational Education and Training; Professor Hugh Lauder of the Journal of Education and Work; David Pollard (of the Federation of Small Businesses); Peter Cheese (of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development); and Kay Carberry of the Trades Union Congress.


OECD work on skills: Skills.oecd
How should our schools respond to the demands of the twenty first century labour market? Eight perspectives. 
Skills beyond School Synthesis Report
Skills Outlook
How does educational attainment affect participation in the labour market?
Photo credit: Are you ready? Written on the road @shutterstock

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Why aren’t more girls choosing maths and science at university?

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

Percentage of tertiary qualifications awarded to women in tertiary-type A and advanced research programmes, by field of education (2000,2012)

Last Saturday, 14 April, Equal Pay Day reminded the world again of the large gap between men’s and women’s wages. Eradicating unjustifiable gender inequalities in earnings seems to be very hard to accomplish. Under-representation of women in jobs with higher salaries, different patterns of professional mobility and divergent occupational choices all seem to contribute to the gender gap in wages – in addition to outright gender discrimination. Closing this gap requires more than changes in wage structures, since occupational choices often reflect complex, gender-specific educational choices and schooling trajectories that are decided at least a decade earlier. Gender preferences, stereotypes, role models and forms of streaming and tracking frame decisions about education throughout childhood, and have profound consequences for both careers and earnings in adulthood.

But the gender gap in earnings is not only a problem for the individuals concerned; the gap is also indicative of the waste of talent and opportunities for societies and economies. Especially in those fields of study and careers that suffer severe shortages of personnel, such as the STEM fields, it is the lack of women that seems to raise the most immediate concern. That is why campaigns to promote STEM studies and professions in OECD countries often target women. Evidence of the success of these campaigns is scarce and mostly mixed.

But on an aggregate level, have OECD countries been successful in attracting more girls and women into STEM studies? The most recent Education Indicators in Focus issue No. 30 provides some interesting recent data on gender gaps in education and employment. In recent decades, significant progress has been made in raising women’s educational attainment, so that, on average, women now have higher attainment rates than men. Also, the higher the education level, the smaller the gender gap in employment. On average across OECD countries, the employment gap between tertiary-educated men and women now is only 9 percentage points, whereas it is 17 percentage points between men and women whose highest level of education is upper secondary. But this progress has only marginally affected gender inequalities in different fields of study.

The chart above shows that between 2000 and 2012 the percentage of university qualifications awarded to women grew in almost every field of study, except computing. The progress made by women was observed across the fields of study, but did not at all alter the pattern of women's participation. STEM fields did attract more women, but not disproportionally more compared to other fields.

This finding raises important questions  about how and what boys and girls choose to study, how they make those decisions, and the role of schools and education systems in reproducing gender-specific education trajectories. A report based on PISA 2012 data published last week – The ABC of Gender Equality in Education – sheds some light on some of the underlying reasons why more women are not pursuing STEM subjects. The results of the study are discomforting for those who think that more and better education for girls would help to undermine stereotyped notions about studies and careers. Girls seem to lack self-confidence in their ability to solve maths and science problems. Girls – even high-achieving girls – are also more likely to express strong feelings of anxiety towards mathematics. On average across OECD countries, the score-point difference in mathematics performance between high-achieving girls and boys is 19 score points. However, when comparing boys and girls who reported similar levels of self-confidence in mathematics and of anxiety towards mathematics, the gender gap in performance disappears.

These findings resonate with some recent research on the role of early school experiences in shaping one’s identity as a “maths person” or “not a maths person”. The teaching of maths – and, to a lesser extent, science – seems to involve a process of negative selection based on induced anxiety; and this process is heavily gender-biased. Recent neuro-scientific research has shown that teaching maths can be done much more effectively and successfully for every learner, but these insights rarely find their way into teacher training, curricula and educational resources,  where maths seems to be defined as something only a few, mostly males, can master. In a world in which numbers pervade all spheres of life, schools and universities could do a better job in challenging gender-stereotyped ideas about maths and science, both as fields of study and as a career choice. In the 21st century, we simply don’t have the luxury to continue wasting the talents of our motivated and hard-working young women and men.

Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 30, by Eric Charbonnier, Simon Normandeau and Gara Rojas Gonzalez
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus:
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators:
Chart Source @ OECD (2014), Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators, Indicator A3