Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Finding and cultivating talented teachers: Insights from high-performing countries

by Esther Carvalhaes
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills 

Teachers are the backbone of any education system. After all, without qualified teachers, how can governments and schools secure each child’s right to quality education and build a society of educated citizens, capable of shaping their own future?  But selecting the right candidates to the profession – aspiring teachers who hold the promise of becoming great teachers – can often feel like an elusive task. The complications start with the very definition of what a good teacher is.

In a rapidly changing world, having a strong knowledge base in their subject area, good classroom management skills and a commitment to helping students learn may no longer be enough to meet the expanding role of teachers. Nowadays, teachers are expected to teach diverse groups of students, adapt to new technologies and curricular changes, and be attuned to the skills, values and attitudes that their students will need in the near future. The reality is: most teachers develop those skills on the job, which makes it harder to predict from the outset who has the potential to become an effective teacher.

But that does not deter some PISA high-performing countries from keeping a close eye on the pool of candidates entering the profession. As this month’s PISA in Focus shows, in Finland, Hong Kong (China), Macao (China) and Chinese Taipei, for example, those who wish to enter a teacher training programme must pass a competitive entry examination. In Japan, it is not enough to receive training from such programmes: graduates must pass a competitive examination before they start teaching. In Singapore, recruitment starts by looking at the best students from the secondary school graduating class; in addition, teaching graduates must complete a probation period in order to teach. Yet, some of these requirements are also found in low-performing countries, showing that selection mechanisms alone are not enough to ensure a qualified teaching force.

Certification requirements add another quality checkpoint to the profession. Research shows that students learn more from teachers who are certified in the subject they teach compared to those taught by uncertified teachers. In PISA 2015, countries that performed above the OECD average in science have a higher percentage of fully certified teachers (92%) compared to other countries (76%), on average. In OECD countries, even though almost all teachers are certified, a modest but positive association is observed between the proportion of fully qualified teachers and student performance.

High-performing countries also know that great teaching may only occur after a good deal of practice, allowing teachers to deepen their knowledge base and skills. This is why professional development is critical, particularly school-based activities. In high-performing countries, at least 80% of students are in schools that invite specialists to conduct teacher training, organise in-service workshops or where teachers co-operate with each other, while only 40% to 60% of students in Algeria, Brazil, Kosovo and Turkey are in such schools. Within countries, teacher collaboration clearly pays off: students in schools where teachers co-operate by exchanging ideas or materials score higher in science. It makes sense: rather than sitting through hours of mandatory lectures that are only weakly connected to their day-to-day practice, teachers benefit more from learning from each other and from sharing “tried and tested” techniques that work in their own contexts, as TALIS results also show.

These are some of the ways in which countries boost teacher quality: they strive to attract the best candidates to the profession, but also foster a culture of continuous learning by engaging teachers in professional development and in peer networks to strengthen their knowledge and maintain high standards of teaching. Together with the ability to take work-related decisions, these form the pillars of a professional teacher workforce.

Links
PISA in Focus No. 70: What do we know about teachers’ selection and professional development in high-performing countries?
PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education
Teaching in Focus No. 14: Teacher Professionalism

The 2017 International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP 2017)
29-31 March in Edinburgh, Scotland
Join a public webinar on Wednesday, 29 March, 12:00pm Europe Summer Time (Paris, GMT +02:00) with Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Education and Skills Directorate.
Follow on Twitter #ISTP2017


photo credit:friendly senior high school teacher helping students in classroom @shutterstock


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Why do so many women want to become teachers?

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


It is well known that the share of women in the teaching force is growing. According to the latest Education Indicators in Focus brief, the average share of female teachers across OECD countries increased from 61% in 2005 to 65% in 2010 and to 68% in 2014, in all education levels combined. Around 82% of primary school teachers and 63% of secondary school teachers are women. Some policy makers see this trend as a cause for concern, citing, among other things, that the lack of male teachers and role models might play a role in the decline of learning outcomes among young boys. But it seems fair to say that few people would be concerned about a similarly skewed gender imbalance in other professions if it benefited men.

The statistics on the age distribution of male and female teachers show that the gender imbalance in the teaching profession will increase even more in the years to come. At the lower secondary level, women make up 70% of teachers under the age of 30, while they account for 65% of those aged 50 and over. This pattern is observed in 22 out of 35 countries with available data. The larger proportion of women among young teachers raises concerns about future gender imbalances at the lower levels of education, where women already dominate the profession.

Gender imbalances among teachers have a lot to do with gender stereotyping, and the power and prestige connected with certain occupations within the profession. This is seen in the smaller shares of female teachers in the higher levels of education, in (perceived) more prestigious fields of study and in leadership positions. Women fill only 43% of the jobs in tertiary education. In secondary school, women are less frequently found teaching science, mathematics and technology classes. And, on average across OECD countries, 68% of lower secondary teachers are women, but only 45% are principals. This is particularly striking given that principals tend to be recruited from among the ranks of teachers – suggesting that female teachers are less likely to be promoted to principal than their male counterparts. So, the large share of women in the teaching profession is, itself, skewed towards specific jobs: those at the bottom of the education pyramid and the bottom of the hierarchy of power.

So why, then, do so many women want to become teachers? Gender imbalances in teaching are the result of women’s conscious and strategic choices as much as of labour market conditions, social norms and cultural messages. In many countries, women’s increased participation in the labour market coincided with the need for more trained teachers in expanding education systems. Countries where female labour participation in general is low, like Japan, also have the smallest shares of female teachers. In addition, stereotypical views of teaching as a profession that, at times, resembles parenting, probably play a role, especially with younger generations of women who apparently value motherhood more than their own baby boom mothers did. Labour provisions that allow teachers to work part time and to flexibly combine work, family life and the care of one’s own children also seem to be more appealing to women.

But less well-known is that the salaries of teachers, as measured against the average wages of other tertiary-educated workers, are much more attractive for women than for men. As shown in the chart above, on average across OECD countries, male primary school teachers earn 71% of the wages of other tertiary-educated men. But female teachers earn a significantly higher relative wage. Women in primary education earn over 90% of the salaries of other tertiary-educated female workers. While men and women doing the same teaching job in public schools earn nearly the same, the relative value of their earnings in the professional labour market is strikingly different. This is probably why more women are interested in teaching, especially at the lower levels of education.

Paradoxically, introducing a greater gender balance into the teaching profession depends on the extent to which and the speed with which other sectors reduce gender gaps in earnings. But the education sector could do much more to ensure that women are promoted into leadership positions, and to end the stereotyping that prevents women from breaking the glass ceiling in specific subject areas and in universities. It could also do more to attract young men into teaching by offering them better career prospects and labour conditions that can make teaching a more competitive career choice, even if teachers’ salaries still lag behind those of other professionals.

Links: 
Education Indicators in Focus No. 49: Gender imbalances to the teaching profession
Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators
Follow the conversation on twitter: #OECDEAG


Chart source: OECD (2016), Education at a Glance (database)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How Wales can ensure the successful implementation of its reforms

By Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Wales is committed to providing high-quality and inclusive education for all its citizens. The disappointing 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment results however showed Wales was far removed from realising this commitment, which sparked a national debate on the quality and future of education in Wales. This resulted in a broad consensus on the need for change. In 2011 Wales embarked on a large-scale school improvement reform and introduced a range of policies to improve the quality and equity of its school system.

Creating lasting change however is hard, and reports of unaccomplished educational reform efforts continue to come in from around the world. But there are also many examples of successful reforms from which lessons can be drawn. The OECD is there to support countries in translating these lessons to different contexts and extending global knowledge on how to make reform happen – and ultimately improve the learning outcomes of students.

In 2016 the Welsh Government invited the OECD to take stock of the policies and reforms adopted since the 2014 OECD review, Improving Schools in Wales: An OECD Perspective, which provided a number of policy recommendations for further improvement with a longer term perspective. The recently released report The Welsh Education Reform Journey: A Rapid Policy Assessment analyses the strengths and challenges of policies and reforms, with a particular focus on their implementation processes and provides concrete recommendations for improvement.

This report comes at a key moment in Wales’ education reform journey as the country finds itself in the midst of a number of important changes, including a large-scale curriculum reform, a reform of initial teacher education and the revision of its education strategy. Since 2014, the OECD has witnessed progress in several important policy areas, including the various measures taken to support the professional learning of teachers, the increase in school-to-school collaborations and participation in networks, the rationalisation of school grants and the steps taken in developing a 21st century curriculum.

The latter has allowed for refining Wales’ education vision in that all Welsh learners are to develop as ambitious capable and lifelong learners, enterprising and creative, informed citizens and healthy and confident individuals – this vision resonates with the preliminary findings of OECDs Education 2030 project which is constructing a framework to help shape what young people should learn in the year 2030. Realising this vision of the Welsh learner however calls for further strengthening of and bringing further coherence across key policy areas:
  • the development of a high-quality teaching profession
  • making leadership a key driver of education reform
  • ensuring equity in learning opportunities and student well-being, which among others calls for a review of governance and school funding arrangements 
  • moving towards a new system of assessment, evaluation and accountability. This is important also to determine the effectiveness of reforms and policies. 
A key finding of the report is that the Welsh approach to reform has moved from a piecemeal and short-term policy orientation towards one that is guided by long-term vision and is characterised by a process of co-construction with key stakeholders. The commitment to improving the teaching and learning in Wales’s schools is visible at all levels of the education system. Sustaining this commitment and the general support for the reforms Wales has embarked on in recent years will be central to realising the country’s ambitions for education and society over the long term. However, Wales risks reverting to a piecemeal approach, with different actors going their own way. It is therefore vital that Wales consolidates the process of co-construction of policies, and strengthens their implementation through better communication and use evidence on the Welsh education reform journey.

This rapid policy assessment report will be of value not only to Wales but to policy makers around the world looking to ensure the successful implementation of reforms and policies in their education system.

Links:
The Welsh Education Reform Journey: A Rapid Policy Assessment
Improving Schools in Wales: An OECD Perspective
OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
Education 2030 project

photo credit: arrow on asphalt road to the horizon @shutterstock

Monday, February 27, 2017

Doctors and nurses are from Venus, scientists and engineers are from Mars (for now)

By Francesco Avvisati 
Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

There is little doubt that in OECD countries, the chances for boys and girls to succeed and contribute to society have become more equal over the past century. Every International Women’s Day, however, we are also reminded of the remaining obstacles towards gender equality. This month’s PISA in Focus illustrates both the progress that enables girls today to aspire to roles once exclusively reserved for men, and the remaining obstacles on the road to closing gender gaps.

The progress can be readily seen in the health sector. Only a generation ago, in most countries, women represented only a minority among doctors; today, in many hospitals, the majority of young doctors are women. That trend is likely to continue, if you trust current patterns of enrolment in tertiary health-related programmes and in girls’ expectations for their own future careers.

But not all science-related occupations saw similar progress for women. Very few women have top academic positions in physics, for instance, and the last time a Nobel prize in physics was awarded to a woman was in 1963. Meanwhile, new occupations in the emerging information and communication technology industries are often, and overwhelmingly, dominated by men. These trends are unlikely to reverse in the near future, in the absence of targeted efforts. In 2015, when PISA asked students about the occupation they expect to be working in when they are 30 years old, boys were more than twice as likely as girls to cite a career as scientist or engineering professional. Only 0.4% of girls, but 4.8% of boys, said they expected a career as software developer or information and communication technology professional.

Occupational segregation – the fact that women and men work in different occupations, even in closely related fields – is a leading cause of the persistent wage gaps between the genders. Countries that support boys and girls alike in the pursuit of science-related careers may not only reduce pay gaps between men and women, but also ensure that no talent for innovation and growth is wasted – to the benefit of all.

Look at the contributions to society made by Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (who was involved in the work that identified the human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] as the cause of AIDS), Grace Hopper (a US Navy Rear Admiral and computer scientist who was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer and invented the first compiler for a computer programming language) and Marie Curie (a pioneer in research on radioactivity and winner of two Nobel prizes – in two different science disciplines), to name just three women who were innovators in their chosen fields of science. An International Day of Women and Girls in Science, celebrated earlier this month, serves as an annual reminder that women do have a place in these fields and that they should be encouraged to occupy it. But wouldn’t it be more beneficial to everyone if we acted on that understanding every single day?

Links
PISA in Focus No. 69: What kind of careers in science do 15-year-old boys and girls expect for themselves?
PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education
Education at a Glance 2016
Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now
Health at a Glance 2015
International Women's Day

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Knowing what teachers know about teaching

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

In modern societies, most professionals become knowledge workers. Their professional practice is increasingly fuelled and inspired by various forms of knowledge. A good example is the medical profession, where the continuously growing body of scientific knowledge finds its way into professional practices. An important dimension of what constitutes an effective doctor today is the ability to incorporate scientific knowledge within one’s own experience and to translate this into a professional encounter with patients through adequate communication, advice and empathy. Is something similar also happening within the teaching profession?

Teachers are also knowledge workers. To effectively stimulate students’ learning, teachers constantly draw on a vast repertoire of knowledge. And of course, teachers work with subject knowledge. Maths teachers must have a good grasp of the mathematical content, and feel confident in using mathematical concepts. But maths teachers’ knowledge goes beyond that of a mathematician.  They must mobilise the subject knowledge, transforming it into an engaging and enriching teaching and learning experience. Going beyond subject-specific knowledge teachers also must have a profound understanding of the learning process, of what students with their different talents and backgrounds can motivate and inspire. This type of knowledge – pedagogical knowledge – is unique to teaching.

The OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) has launched the Innovative Teaching for Effective Learning (ITEL) project to better understand the pedagogical knowledge of teachers: how it is developed, how teachers acquire it, transform it and put it to use in their teaching practices. The project doesn’t look at pedagogical knowledge as a static characteristic of individual teachers, but as a dynamic, ever changing aspect of the profession. The project delves into questions regarding the knowledge dynamics of the teaching profession to which there are no simple answers. Is pedagogical knowledge up-to-date and well-adapted to the needs of 21st century teaching practices? Through which channels can teachers acquire pedagogical knowledge? Is knowledge continuously updated and improved by new research findings? How do teachers and teacher educators share their pedagogical knowledge? And can we assess the quality of the pedagogical knowledge base in the teaching profession across countries?

CERI’s most recent publication, Pedagogical Knowledge and the Changing Nature of the Teaching Profession, looks into these questions, presenting research and ideas from multiple perspectives on pedagogical knowledge as a fundamental component of the teaching profession. It also looks at knowledge dynamics within the teaching profession alongside the changing demands on teachers and investigates how teachers’ pedagogical knowledge can be measured.

Most important, the report lays the conceptual groundwork for an empirical study on teachers’ pedagogical knowledge that will be published this summer. Over the past two years, the ITEL project has developed a pilot study assessing the pedagogical knowledge among teachers, student-teachers and teacher educators in five OECD countries. The findings from this pilot study will provide a very important starting point for a more ambitious and bigger ITEL Main Study.

Some people define teaching as an art. If this means that teaching takes ingenuity, creativity and artisan-like skillfulness, they’re certainly right. But acting as a creative craftsman is not enough to be an effective teacher, one who leaves a mark on students’ minds and lives. This requires a sophisticated body of knowledge that teachers can employ in everyday practice. Good teachers do not teach from a book, ‘applying’ textbook knowledge. They do something far more challenging: integrating a body of knowledge into their teaching behaviour and constantly mobilising those bits and pieces of knowledge that can steer their professional practice towards the best possible learning experiences for their students. Only by understanding and valuing how this process happens, we will truly understand what it means to be a ‘good teacher’.

Links
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)

photo credit: Katalin Vilimi, Pedagogical Knowledge and the Changing Nature of the Teaching Profession

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Mind the Gap: Inequality in education

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

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … we had everything before us, we had nothing before us "... 

Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities in 1859. Almost two centuries later, his words remind us of what a very serious challenge inequity is.

Inequality has been growing in most OECD countries since the 1980s and is currently at its highest level in 30 years. Forecasts for 2060 suggest that gross earnings inequality could continue to rise dramatically across the OECD if current trends persist.

The widening income gap between the rich and the poor raises economic, social and political concerns. High inequality hinders GDP growth and reduces social mobility. Unequal opportunity results in a talent loss for the individual as well as for society. It also gives rise to a sense of injustice that can feed social unrest and decreasing trust in institutions and political systems. 

Inequality in education plays out in many ways. Disadvantaged students are three times as likely to be among PISA’s poor performers as children from socio-economically advantaged backgrounds. Students from advantaged families are more likely to come from home environments that are conducive to learning, including a quiet place to study and access to the Internet. In addition, their parents are more likely to have the time and ability to help them with their homework and encourage them to study. Students without these opportunities are thus disadvantaged before entering school, and continue to be disadvantaged as they go through the education system.

It has been said before but it bears repeating: greater equity in education does not come at the expense of excellence. Some of the top performers in PISA 2015 had the highest levels of equity, such as Estonia, Hong Kong (China) and Macao (China). Working to improve the educational opportunities of all students, regardless of background, is an important element in the fight against inequality. 

So what exactly can be done? An important first step is providing access to high quality early childhood education (ECEC) for all children. There is now a wealth of evidence, including longitudinal studies, that investing in ECEC yields high returns in boosting cognitive and non-cognitive skills, as well as later success in the labour market, especially for disadvantaged children.

Once in school, the quality of instruction and available resources matter. Improving the performance of disadvantaged schools is crucial: On average, advantaged schools in the OECD have lower student teacher ratios, meaning more individualised attention to each student. They also tend to have more qualified and more experienced teachers. This means that novice teachers are more likely to be placed in lower achieving and more challenging schools. 

This is a real concern. In addition to being in the classroom for the first time, new teachers can find themselves faced with the highest needs students and in the lowest achieving schools. This can lead directly to frustration and burn-out. Mentoring programmes can play a key role in supporting new teachers and school leaders on the job. But so does addressing systemic biases that work against disadvantaged schools.

The latest Trends Shaping Education Spotlight looks at what education providers can do to create school systems that provide equal opportunity for all students, regardless of their background. It offers interesting examples of how systems and schools tackle the inequality challenge. It also identifies where more effort is needed, and some common policies that should be avoided or fine-tuned, such as grade repetition and certain kinds of early tracking.

Education is and will continue to be a critical tool to ensure growth and inclusiveness in our societies. Workers’ skills, educational attainment and ability do not only determine employment and income but are also crucial for health, social and political participation and living standards. Our education systems need to ensure that all students, irrespective of social background, have equal access to opportunity in schools and in the labour market. This means shifting the focus of our schools to academic excellence as well as strengthening equity, because only when excellence and equity go hand in hand will we be able to reduce inequality.

Links:

Photo credit: Boy jumps through hula hoop at the park @shutterstock

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Social inequalities in education are not set in stone

by Carlos González-Sancho
Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Most people see social inequities in education as stubbornly persistent. Children of wealthy and highly educated parents tend to do better in school than children from less-privileged families. Even though historic progress has been made in providing schooling that is universal and free-of-charge, disparities in families’ capacity to support their children (including by getting them into good schools) continue to translate into differences in children’s achievements. And with income inequality at its highest level in 30 years, the socio-economic disparities between families have widened. For instance, today in OECD countries, the richest 10% of the population earns about 10 times the income of the poorest 10%, while in the 1980s this ratio stood at 7 to 1. The growing gap between rich and poor can lead to greater differences in education opportunities because, as income inequality increases, disadvantaged families find it more difficult to secure quality education for their children.

Given all this, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see a change for the worse in equity in education, particularly in OECD countries, over the past decade.

But contrary to that expectation, as this month’s PISA in Focus reports, over the past ten years, equity in education improved in 11 PISA-participating countries and economies, and on average across OECD countries. Between PISA 2006 and PISA 2015, the evolution of several equity indicators was predominantly positive. Take, for example, the indicator that measures how well a student’s socio-economic status predicts his or her performance (what PISA terms the strength of the socio-economic gradient). Over the past decade, the socio-economic gradient weakened by 1 percentage point on average across OECD countries, but by between 6 and 7 percentage points in Bulgaria, Chile, Thailand and the United States, and by between 2 and 6 percentage points in Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Mexico, Montenegro and Slovenia.

PISA can also contribute to a better understanding of the mechanisms through which equity evolves. A sign that greater equity is mainly benefiting disadvantaged students is the increasing proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds who beat the odds against them and perform at high levels (students whom PISA calls “resilient”). Between 2006 and 2015, the percentage of resilient students increased by 12 percentage points in the United States, and by between 4 and 9 points in Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany and Slovenia.

You can also get an idea of how performance among children of blue- and white-collar parents has evolved by using the new PISA trends in occupations tool. The tool allows users to visualise trends in the relationship between parents' occupations and children’s performance between 2006 and 2015. Navigating this tool, you can discover, for instance, that in the United States during that period, children of blue-collar parents (e.g. craft workers, plant and machine operators) narrowed the gap in science achievement with children of white-collar parents (managers, professionals, technicians).

What lies behind this improvement in equity? Education policy. Policies that minimise any adverse impact of students’ socio-economic status on their school outcomes include targeting additional resources to schools with high concentrations of low-performing and disadvantaged students, and ensuring that high and consistent teaching and learning standards are applied across all classrooms. Broader social policies to reduce differences in early life experiences between advantaged and disadvantaged children can also promote both equity and high performance when these children enter formal education.

PISA shows that countries can move from relative inequity in education to the OECD average level of equity in the span of just 10 years – as Bulgaria, Chile, Germany and the United States did between 2006 and 2015. Rather than assuming that inequality of opportunity is set in stone, school systems can design policies with the understanding that they can become more equitable in a relatively short time.

Links:
PISA in Focus No. 68: Where did equity in education improve over the past decade?
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education
PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools
In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All
PISA trends in occupations tool, developed by Przemyslaw Biecek, a former Thomas J. Alexander fellow.

Photo credit: Start Ambition @shutterstock 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Who are the winners and losers of the expansion of education over the past 50 years?

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



Modern education systems, which are open to the middle classes and the poor, not just the elites, were established during the first industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. The growing demand for elementary literacy and technical skills during that period prompted an expansion of school systems and the adoption of the first pieces of legislation on compulsory education. Popular education continued to grow during the first half of the 20th century, corresponding to the so-called “second industrial revolution”, which was ignited by advances in science and technology. In the early 20th century, attainment of primary education became nearly universal, and the system of secondary education began to grow. 

But the great surge in the expansion of education in developed nations, specifically in secondary education, occurred in the wake of World War II, and more specifically from the 1960s and 1970s onwards. At that time, many countries started to see a massive increase in the demand for education, which they had to meet with new infrastructure, a vast effort to recruit and train more teachers, and a corresponding jump in public funding. Unprecedented economic growth and the modernisation of societies, together with an emerging welfare-state consensus that included public education as one of its core components, created the demand for skills and aspirations for upward mobility among large sections of the population – and the political and economic resources to fuel that expansion.


The most recent Education Indicators in Focus brief provides a fascinating statistical account of the growth of secondary education attainment in OECD countries since 1965, spanning half a century to 2015. The chart above highlights the differences in take-off and speed of growth of educational attainment across countries. It ranks countries by the date at which 80% of the 25-34 year-olds in that country attained upper secondary education.


The chart clearly shows that the dominant view of the expansion of education, which is based on data from only a few countries, does not do justice to the variety of developmental trajectories across countries. For example, the United States had developed its system of public education steadily since the late 19th century and had already achieved the 80% benchmark attainment rate by 1969. This remarkable achievement provided one of the foundations for the economic, social and political powerhouse that the United States became in the latter half of the 20th century. 


Germany was also an early achiever in educational development. The Prussian state adopted legislation on compulsory education early in the 19th century. Strong economic development from the late 19th century onwards and welfare-state approaches to public education after Bismarck propelled the development of public education across the country, albeit in a socially segregated system with sharp divisions between the elite education offered in the Gymnasia and the technical-vocational education targeting the working class. 


It is no coincidence that the two most educationally developed nations at the time fought on opposite sides of World War II. But it is also interesting to note that both countries did not make a lot of further progress in the half century after 1965, and that they have been surpassed by a wide range of countries since then. Other countries, including Denmark, Norway and Sweden, have also not been able to build on their impressive position in 1965 and have even seen a decline in educational attainment rates among the younger generation in recent years.


In 1965, fewer than one in two 25-34 year-olds in most OECD countries had attained upper secondary education. The interesting thing to compare is the timing and speed of the expansion of education over the subsequent 50 years. The most impressive – and well-known – story is of course that of Korea. With an attainment rate of just over 20% in 1965 it succeeded in expanding education at an unprecedented speed, especially from 1985 onwards. No other country has been able to match that achievement. Despite doubts about the sustainability of the expansion, especially since it has moved to the tertiary level, and the risks of “education inflation”, it remains an impressive historical accomplishment, which undoubtedly fuelled the economic success of the country.


The chart shows that there are other examples of rapid educational development over the past 50 years, such as occurred in Belgium, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland and Poland. When these countries were transforming themselves from agricultural to largely industrial economies, they managed to grow their secondary attainment rate from below 40% in 1965 to the 80% benchmark between 1990 and 2005. Another group of countries, which includes Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Spain and Turkey, is also making enormous progress, but has yet to reach the benchmark in attainment.


Trajectories of education expansion vary enormously among countries. The differences observed in 1965 were already remarkable, mirroring the diversity of levels of economic development and state formation. Religious divisions within Europe are still apparent in the 1965 data, with countries with a “Protestant work ethic” in the lead and predominantly Catholic countries much further behind. But by 2015, most of these countries have converged in their upper secondary attainment levels, and the ranking in educational attainment looks now completely different from the one in 1965.


It is difficult to disentangle the interplay between social developments and developments in education to determine causality with any certainty; but it is clear that the expansion of education helped countries grow economically, modernise and develop their social and political systems. Of course, rising educational attainment also has a downside: the increased marginalisation and exclusion of those without a good education. Recent social and political events have exposed the fractures in societies along the educational attainment fault line. While expansion is now moving into the tertiary level of education, countries might also have to turn their focus from fuelling continuous growth to catering more to those who have been left behind during this remarkable historical transformation.


Links:

Education Indicators in Focus No. 48: Educational attainment: A snapshot of 50 years of trends in expanding education
Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators
Follow the conversation on twitter: #OECDEAG
Chart source: OECD (2016), “Educational attainment and labour-force status”, Education at a Glance (database). See Annex 3 for notes.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

How student attitudes towards the value of education can be shaped by careers education – evidence from the OECD’s PISA study

by Anthony Mann 
Director of Policy and Research, Education and Employers Taskforce, London, UK
Dr Elnaz T. Kashefpakdel 
Senior Researcher, Education and Employers Taskforce, London, UK

As governments around the world seek to tackle stubbornly high levels of youth unemployment, new attention has been focused on the relationship between education and employment. Both researchers and policy-makers have looked afresh at the capacity of employers to engage in education and training to improve young people’s preparation for the adult working world. Building on two landmark reports, Learning for Jobs and Skills beyond School, the OECD is itself in the midst of a multi-year, multi-country study of work-based learning looking initially at the engagement of employers in apprenticeship provision aimed at youth at risk and incentives for apprenticeship. Last year saw the publication in the UK of a government-sponsored literature review looking at evidence, from OECD countries since 1996, using Randomised Controlled Trials and quasi-experimental (longitudinal) approaches. That review looked for evidence of the efficacy of careers education (covering classic career guidance, work-related learning, employer engagement and enterprise education) in enhancing young people’s prospects. The study looked at 73 studies and found that some two-thirds found evidence of largely positive economic and educational outcomes. In so doing, the review added to a growing awareness that engagement of the working world within the educational process can improve employment outcomes, but also opened up a new area of enquiry: can employer engagement enhance student educational performance and if so, how does it do it? Drilling down into five UK studies, the review found a literature which offered evidence of ‘relatively modest attainment boosts’ linked to a ‘hypothesis that careers education helps young people to better understand the relationship between educational goals and occupational outcomes, increasing pupil motivation and application.’

A new study of PISA data now offers insight into how such relationships might work.  It draws on data from the OECD’s 2012 study in which some countries opted to ask 15-year old participants whether they had taken part in a series of career development activities (CDA). In the new analysis, data from six countries was used (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland and Ireland) in relation to participation in four popular careers-focused activities commonly delivered through schools: taking part in Internships, Job shadowing, Job fairs and speaking with a careers advisor in school. In a regression analysis which took account of a common range of social, demographic and behavioral characteristics which routinely influence student success in education, participation in CDA was tested to see if it influenced attitudes towards schooling. Responses to four statements were tested including School is a waste of time, School helps to get a job and School does little to prepare you for life.

In most cases, a positive and statistically significant relationship between participation in career development activities and more positive attitudes towards the utility of schooling was found. The most consistent positive effects are found in relationship to speaking with a careers advisor in school and attending a Job fair. Relationships are particularly strong in Finland and Ireland. The study offers fresh insight into the complex relationship between education and employment and how young people’s attitudes about education and its value can potentially be influenced by schools and colleges by exposing students to new experiences. Further analysis of the relationship between participation in CDA and performance on the PISA tests is planned.

Links:
OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training:
For more on skills and skills policies around the world, visit: www.oecd.org/skills

Photo credit: Careers Employment Job Recruitment Occupation Concept @shutterstock 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Building strong partnerships to tackle Mexico’s skills challenges

by Gabriela Ramos
Chief of Staff, OECD


Skills are central to the future prosperity and well-being of Mexico’s people 

Skills are the foundation upon which Mexico must build future growth and prosperity. Mexico, being one of the youngest populations among OECD countries, has a strong demographic advantage and thus a unique window of opportunity. But it also faces common challenges to bring the skills of its population up to the requirements of the global digital economy.

The time to act is now. Mexico needs to boost the development, activation and use of skills to drive further innovation and inclusive growth while dealing more effectively with longstanding, but increasingly urgent issues, such as improving equity and reducing informality. To this end, the aim of current educational reform in Mexico is a must to provide quality education to all the individuals.

However, challenges remain. According to the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data many youth in Mexico are not developing high levels of skills with a very high share of students performing poorly in mathematics (56.6%), in reading (41.7%) and in science (47.8%). In addition, due to high drop-out rates only 56% of 15-19 year-olds complete upper secondary education, far below the OECD average of 84%. Similarly, on tertiary level only 16% of the population aged 25 to 64 years old in 2015 had attained tertiary education, which is significantly below the OECD average of 36%. To these outcomes, we should add the fact that young people connect with informal labour market, reinforcing the precariousness of their job opportunities. Therefore, despite recent progress, Mexico still remains in a low-skill equilibrium.

Indeed, Mexico tends to specialise in low value-added activities linked to informal employment arrangements, which are estimated to account for 52.5% of all employment. Workers in the informal economy are, on average, less likely to: receive training, participate in high performance workplace practices that make more effective use of their skills, and find themselves employed in precarious and low quality jobs. Therefore, demand-side barriers which discourage employers from hiring formally should continue to be addressed, as well as the high cost to firms for hiring low income workers, a complex tax system, and heavy labour market regulations. Targeted support will be also needed if young people and women are to enter and remain engaged in the labour market. Over one in five young people are currently neither in employment, education, or training (NEETs), risking becoming permanently marginalised - from the labour market, from education, and from society. Given the differences between boys and girls not in employment or in schools, special emphasis should be placed on women’s conditions, and to sustain their involvement with high quality jobs. Mexico cannot be losing the talent of half of its population.

More needs to be done to improve the use of skills in the workplace. There are significant skills mismatches with a quarter of workers (26%) over-educated and just under a third (31%) under-educated for their current job. Companies and educational institutions need to co-operate to reduce these mismatches at source, while firm-sponsored training could help the low-skilled. At the same time boosting innovation and research are critical if Mexican firms are to continue improving productivity, move up the global value chain, and increase the demand for higher skills. But in 2013, Mexican businesses invested the equivalent of just 0.2% of GDP in R&D. That’s not just well short of the OECD average but well below Korea’s 3.3% of its GDP investment in R&D during the same time period.

Making this all happen in practice requires concerted government action. Mexico has undertaken a number of reforms aiming to enhance the quality of teaching, raise productivity, stimulate innovation and improve integration into global value chains. Actually, one of the positive pieces of news is that productivity has increased recently as a result of recent reforms, particularly in the telecommunications market.

It is necessary to improve effectiveness of government institutions, and formal collaboration arrangements across ministries. The National Productivity Committee is good news in this sense – but much remains to be done. Yet governments cannot achieve better skills outcomes alone. Success will depend on the commitment and actions of a broad range of stakeholders. The help of employers, trade unions, students and trainers is needed. These are the people who, each and every day, invest in skills, set skills in motion and put them to work.

Best practices of other countries 

Countries that are most successful in mobilising the skills potential of their people share a number of features: they provide high-quality opportunities to learn throughout life, both in and outside school and the workplace; they develop education and training programmes that are relevant to students and the labour market; they create incentives for, and eliminate disincentives to, supplying skills in the labour market; they recognise and make maximal use of available skills in workplaces; they seek to anticipate future skills needs and they make learning and labour market information easy to find and use.

The OECD Skills Strategy provides countries with a framework for developing co-ordinated and coherent policies that support the development, activation, and effective use of skills. In Norway, our collaboration clearly demonstrated the value of a whole of government approach to tackle the country’s longstanding skills challenges. The diagnostic and action reports fed into policy measures to improve career guidance and outreach to low-skilled adults – and served as the foundations for the new National Skills Strategy to be launched this year. Portugal used our project to build broad stakeholder engagement in defining the key skills challenges facing the country as it emerged from the worst economic crisis of its history. This year we will be using our shared diagnosis to help design concrete actions to provide adult education and training across the country. Korea has built on the results of its diagnostic report and ongoing OECD support to engage actively with a wide range of stakeholders on critical issues such as youth employability and lifelong learning.

Mexico finds itself in a context with many other countries moving at a high speed. The digitalisation of the economy and the rapid pace of change require not only a good knowledge basis, but also lifelong learning and the flexibility to adapt skills to changing conditions and demands. The future of work and the capacity to anticipate the evolving needs of the markets, due to the rapid technological progress, is a common challenge that all countries are trying to address. Mexico has been participating in the OECD Skills Strategy project to work with us to advance the best practices of other countries that have been able to improve their outcomes in this field.

Mapping Mexico’s skills challenges together

Since March 2016, we have been working closely with Mexico in applying the OECD Skills Strategy framework as part of a collaborative project to build a more effective national skills strategy. The National Project Team established by the Mexican government to oversee this process is co-ordinated by the National Productivity Committee (NPC) and includes representatives from Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Economic Affairs and the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT). The CNP has been critical in this process, as it embodies the spirit of partnership across government ministries and with key sectors of the economy and society as well as focuses on the nexus between productivity, inclusive growth and skills.
The results of this work are published in the OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Report: Mexico that sets out 8 skills challenges for Mexico. These challenges were identified in the course of several rounds of discussions with the National Project Team, technical meetings with Mexico’s leading experts and input from over 100 stakeholders such as employers, trade unions, education providers and experts including from other International Organizations, gathered during two interactive workshops held in June 2016 and September 2016 in Mexico City.

Mexico’s 8 skills challenges

So what are the main skills challenges facing Mexico today?
With regard to developing relevant skills, the report concludes that Mexico should focus on:
Improving the foundation skills of students in compulsory education
Increasing access to tertiary education while improving the quality and relevance of the skills developed in tertiary education.

When it comes to activating its skills supply, Mexico will need to tackle the challenges of:
Removing supply and demand-side barriers to activating skills in (formal) employment.
Boosting the skills activation of vulnerable groups.

Mexico could make more effective use of the skills it already has by: 
Improving the use of skills at work.
Supporting the demand for higher skills to boost innovation

Finally, Mexico could strengthen the overall governance of the skills system by: 
Supporting collaboration across government and stakeholders to achieve better skills outcomes
Improving public and private skills funding.

Building a shared road-map for action

As the first OECD country from Latin America to embark upon a National Skills Strategy country project, Mexico has demonstrated its commitment to leveraging international comparative data and good practice to tackle its own skills challenges. Equally, this analysis of Mexico’s skills system will be of great interest to many other countries around the world.

Throughout this initial diagnostic phase, we have witnessed first-hand a strong commitment to improving Mexico’s skills outcomes across government, employers and trade unions, as well as education and training providers.

The true test lies ahead, in designing concrete actions to tackle the skills challenges facing Mexico. Government cannot achieve better skills outcomes alone, so moving from diagnosis to action will require a whole of government and a whole of society approach.

The OECD stands ready to contribute to Mexico’s ongoing efforts to achieve its ambitious goals in designing and implementing better skills policies for better jobs and better lives.

Follow the conversation on twitter: #OECDSkills

Photo credit: Hands were a collaboration concept of teamwork @Shutterstock

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Education and skills foster health and well-being, but why is this a problem?

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



Knowing, for example, that tobacco is bad for one’s health influences smoking behaviour much less than being able to control one’s own lifestyle. Schooling, together with non-formal and informal learning experiences, has been found to foster the acquisition of skills that matter for health behaviour. It is one of the great insights of recent educational research that education is a very important driver of social progress, and that this happens through the transfer of knowledge and the development of cognition, but probably even more so through fostering the social and emotional skills that allow people to control and change their behaviours.

Traditional economics measure the benefits of education and skills in its economic gains in employment or earnings. These measures include for example the ‘rate of return’ of an individual’s investment in educational attainment or skills acquisition as the annualised average financial benefit, in much the same way as interests rates on capital investment are calculated. This is more or less equivalent to measuring, at an aggregate level of a country or region, the growth rate in the ‘gross domestic product’ (GDP) or total economic output to indicate economic growth.

Whilst such economic measures remain important and influential, they have been increasingly criticised for being one-dimensional and reductionist. They poorly reflect the diversified and holistic nature of human and social progress, well-being or happiness. The publication of the so-called Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report, named after the three chairs of the Commission established by ex-French President Sarkozy to develop new measures of economic performance and social progress, was a pivotal moment for the international community that GDP did not tell the whole story of human development. International organisations – and together with the World Bank and others the OECD has taken a leadership role in this – have started to develop the measurement tools and methodologies for a multidimensional approach to well-being and social progress.

Similarly, work has been undertaken in recent years to develop a more holistic and multidimensional set of measures for estimating the various benefits of investment in education and skills, moving into fields such as health, interpersonal trust, life satisfaction, political engagement, citizenship or volunteering. For a number of years Education at a Glance has included an indicator on these so-called ‘social outcomes of education’, based on the analysis of various data collections. This issue of Education Indicators in Focus brief discusses the most recent findings of this work.

The chart above, focusing on self-reported health, is a good illustration; its pattern is not very different from the ones found for other social outcomes. Both educational attainment (horizontal dimension) and skills, measured by literacy skills, (vertical dimension) are associated with better self-reported health. The chart also shows that although there are strong interactions between education and skills, each has an impact of its own. Within each attainment level the literacy skills level of individuals is also positively associated with the health outcome, and vice versa.

Correlation does not however imply causation. Obviously there are selection effects and factors that mediate the relationship such as employment, work environments, living standards or income. But research that controls for such factors has found that there also is an independent education effect on health outcomes through the acquisition of skills that drive pro-health behaviours. Analysis of longitudinal datasets by the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation’s Education and Social Progress project has shown that cognitive and non-cognitive skills acquired informal education and through informal learning change the health behaviour of individuals and improve general self-perceived health. Moreover, the non-cognitive social and emotional skills, such as self-control, perseverance and conscientiousness, seem to exert a bigger impact on health outcomes than cognitive ones.

Research on the economic benefits of education and skills has focused on the returns for individuals. Work on the social outcomes of education has also emphasised the benefits for individuals’ success in life. But what about the effects on communities and societies? Can we actually assume that the positive outcomes of education and skills at the individual level add up to better living conditions and well-being for everyone? In the case of economic returns this is far from evident. The data from Education at Glance shows us that economic returns depend on the wage differentials with less educated individuals. High rates of return mirror high levels of income inequality. Countries with less unequal income distributions show lower economic returns. Raising the share of tertiary-educated individuals in a country, leading to higher returns for those individuals, might increase social inequality if the lower attainment levels are left unchanged and the higher attainment levels concentrate on a larger share of the social product.

In the case of social outcomes this is much less the case. Individuals with higher social returns on education do not concentrate the social surplus, but there are important spill-over effects to other individuals. An individual with better health behaviour will have a positive impact on his or her social environment. Likewise, a person with higher interpersonal trust will positively influence his or her community. Better health outcomes of education thus add up to societies with higher longevity, and higher levels of individual interpersonal trust aggregate to more cohesive societies.

However, we should not be too positive about the impressively high education and skills gradient in various social outcomes. The positive impact of education and skills on health is only evident because low-educated individuals show poorer levels of self-reported health. The education and skills gradient also shows that people who have missed the opportunities for quality education and who lack the skills pay a high price in their own health. As much as we praise the good health of high-educated individuals, this remains a social problem and an educational challenge.

Links:
Education Indicators in Focus No. 47: How are health and life satisfaction related to education? by Simon Normandeau and Gara Rojas Gonzalez.
Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators
Follow the conversation on twitter: #OECDEAG
Chart source: OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) (2012, 2015). See Education at a Glance 2014 for more information, www.oecd.org/education/education-at-a-glance-19991487.htm.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Lessons for France from PISA 2015

by Gabriela Ramos
OECD Chief of Staff and Sherpa to the G20


Fifteen years ago, the OECD started evaluating education systems worldwide by testing the knowledge and competences of 15-year-old students through the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Right from very first PISA exercise in 2000, we noted that although the results for France were around the OECD average, they revealed a system where children’s socio-economic status had a disproportionate influence on their school grades, and where children from disadvantaged backgrounds did not receive enough support.

The OECD PISA 2015 results are now in. Even if France’s performance hasn’t deteriorated since the last series in 2012, it has not improved much compared to previous rounds either. France’s results for science and mathematics are around the OECD average, while reading comprehension is slightly above average.

Nonetheless, the French system is still markedly two-tier. The number of high-performing students is stable and higher than the OECD average, but lower levels are not improving, with a proportion of 15-year-olds in difficulty in science higher than the OECD average.

According to PISA 2015, students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are three times less likely to succeed in performing than advantaged students. This is not only a human tragedy. It is also a brake on economic development, which can only be solid and sustainable when it is inclusive.

Reconciling educational excellence and success for all is not just the best way to tackle social inequalities at the root, but also to obtain good results.

Results from around the globe illustrate various best practices applied to improve the equity and performance of the education system. Portugal’s TEIP programme for example (Priority Intervention Education Territories) targets investment in geographical regions where the population is socially disadvantaged and where school dropout rates are higher than the national average. Singapore, first in the PISA science rankings, has a comprehensive teacher evaluation system that includes, in particular, the contribution to students’ personal and academic development, as well as the quality of parent-teacher relations.

In short, the capacity of a system to help students in difficulty and those from disadvantaged backgrounds to improve raises the general quality of the system and thus its overall performance.

In France however, investments in education do not always reach these groups. I had some personal experience of this malfunctioning when I arrived in France and asked people to recommend primary schools for my own children. The answer was: “Don’t pick a school, pick a neighbourhood”.

How can we ensure that success at school isn’t the result of a postcode lottery? France has already implemented reforms going in the right direction.

As recommended by the OECD, more resources, teachers, scholarships and support have been made available for disadvantaged students. The July 2003 Education Act (Loi d’orientation et de programmation pour la refondation de l’école de la République du 8 juillet 2013) designed to tackle school drop-out and failure from the earliest age marks an important step. The recent implementation of numerous reforms inspired by the Act at primary and junior high levels, could, depending on their practical application, respond to certain ongoing challenges and help to improve students’ learning and outcomes.

Of course it is too early to see any impact of these reforms on PISA 2015 scores. However, they were necessary and should be strengthened and evaluated regularly.

In France, as elsewhere in the past, teachers will play a key role in the reforms and will have to take ownership of the main objectives. Reform of teacher training should therefore be continued and made a priority.

It is important to stress that contrary to a commonly-held belief in France, the PISA 2015 results do not show that reforms designed to reduce social and educational inequalities result in a lowering of the overall level. On the contrary. In countries that carried out such reforms, the number of failing students dropped in the following decade, while the good students got even better. OECD countries that have managed to achieve high performance in science along with equity in terms of educational outcomes include Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Japan, Korea, Norway and the United Kingdom according to PISA 2015.

We chose science as the focus of PISA 2015 because a good understanding of science and the technologies derived from it is indispensable, especially in our age of digital revolution. This is not only a necessity for those whose career depends directly on science, but for every citizen who wants to take an enlightened position on any number of questions facing society today, from health to sustainable development or climate change. Today, everyone should be able to “think like a scientist”.

More generally, education is fundamental in these troubled times, when populism is on the rise, when France has been shaken by several terrorist attacks, and social inequalities in the world have left by the wayside a number of citizens who no longer have any trust in institutions.

More than ever, we have to invest in our children’s science education, to respond to the “post-fact” era with an open and informed dialogue. More than ever, we have to strengthen our education systems to face up to the challenges that increasingly threaten to divide us.

Links:
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
PowerPoint (in French)
PISA 2015 - Compare your country by OECD
Photo credit: © Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Today’s the day

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills


The latest results from PISA are released today. Before you look to see how well your country performed on the triennial test of 15-year-olds students around the world, consider this: only 20 short years ago, there was no such thing as a blog. If it weren’t for science and technology, not only would you not be reading this right now, but there wouldn’t be the device on which you’re reading it – or countless other gadgets, medicines, fibres, tools… that have become all but indispensable in our lives.

Obviously, we don’t all have to be scientists to live in the 21st century. But an understanding of some basic principles of science – like the importance of experiments in building a body of scientific knowledge – is essential if we want to make informed decisions about the most pressing issues of our time (or even if we just want to choose the “healthiest” option for lunch).

PISA 2015 focused on students’ performance in and attitudes towards science. More than half a million 15-year-olds (representing around 29 million students) in 72 countries and economies sat the test. Today is the day we find out whether students around the world can take what they have learned in school and use it to solve problems they might encounter in “real” life.



What do the results tell us? For an easily digestible summary of the findings and their implications, see this month’s special edition of PISA in Focus or watch the video above. (And if you’re not sure you really understand how PISA works, or what influence it might have over education policy, check out these animations: How does PISA work? and How does PISA help shape education reform?) But if you want to dig deeper, the first two volumes of the PISA 2015 Results (Volume I, Volume II), published today, present all of the results, and examine how student performance is associated with family background, the learning environment in school, and the policy choices governments make. (And we have science and technology to thank for enabling you to sample any or all of these by just tapping your finger.)

So tap into the world’s most comprehensive set of data on learning. You’ll probably learn something, too.

Links:
PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education
PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools
PISA 2015 Results in Focus
PISA 2015 Résultats à la loupe

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)