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’.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.

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
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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.

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.

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)

Monday, December 05, 2016

Looking forward to PISA

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Tomorrow, the OECD will publish the 2015 PISA results. The world’s premier global metric for education will tell us which countries have the best school systems, based on the performance of 15-year-olds in science, mathematics and reading over a two-hour test. 

PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) was introduced in 2000 and held every three years since. The test is of skills, not knowledge: what you can do with what you know is what counts. But over time the emphasis has shifted. The focus today is whether students can think like a scientist, reason like a mathematician and distinguish between good and bad arguments in a written text. We live in an era of unimaginable technology breakthroughs, conflicting values and threatened political norms. Literacy, in all three of the foundational domains, is the key to making sense of the world and shaping it for the better - for everyone, not just elites.

The value of PISA lies in comparison. Countries look beyond their borders for evidence of effective policy and PISA provides a yardstick for evaluating success. It ranks the performance of countries on quality, equity and efficiency. And by picking out the characteristics of high-performing systems, it allows educators to identify successful policies and adapt them to local contexts.   

In the last PISA round, in 2012, the best performing countries were in Asia. Asian countries took the top five spots in both mathematics and reading and the top four in science (with Finland in fifth place). But behind the headlines lie important insights. In Estonia and Finland there were only small variations in student scores, showing that quality can go hand-in-hand with inclusion. In Canada, Macao and Hong Kong, socio-economic disadvantage among students had relatively less impact on individual performance: poverty is one thing, destiny quite another.  

So what will we learn from PISA 2015? For the first time in a decade, the report concentrates on science. Has science education improved? Around the world, have 15-year-olds got better at explaining phenomena scientifically, designing scientific enquiry and interpreting data scientifically? Is the gender gap in science education closing? Have poorer students caught up? And where countries have maintained high performance or improved from where they were, what were the factors? Where should the balance lie between additional investment, great teaching and coherent long-term leadership?

The global stakes are high, first because of growing demand for scientists in the workplace, second because every one of us needs a scientific perspective. The demand for scientists comes from the transformational impact of science and technology. Given the accelerating pace of invention and innovation, its vital that countries prepare more young talent for more jobs in hard science - and for many other jobs with a science dimension. The broader need for scientific literacy stems from the centrality of science to everyday decisions. Whether buying toothpaste, recycling household waste or attending a meeting on the local effects of global warming, we are all subject to science-based claims and counter-claims. Can we separate substance from spin, identify misrepresentations and assess levels of uncertainty and trustworthiness?  Post-truth politics is the neologism of the year and in some quarters expertise itself has become a dirty word. It is time to stand our ground – to insist on education as the key to civilised societies.

In many countries, educators are talking not only about skills but also values and attitudes. Singapore, Australia, Canada, Estonia and Finland – all of them among the top performing countries in previous PISA cycles - are rebuilding curricula around new forms of competence, such as critical and inventive thinking, global awareness and collaboration. They see values such as tolerance and respect as foundational. PISA too is developing rapidly. Next year we will publish the results of an additional 2015 assessment of collaborative problem solving, and we have advanced plans for assessing inter-cultural sensitivity in 2018. Creativity, entrepreneurship and ethical thinking are all under consideration for future cycles.

But with the seventy PISA countries and economies, the OECD believes that the bedrock of a good education should continue to lie in science, mathematics and reading. Literacy in all three offers prosperity, fulfilment and a chance to contribute to the well-being of others. Tomorrow, PISA 2015 will tell the world about its progress.  

PISA 2015 Global launch events

The OECD and Education Policy Institute will host a global launch event in London at the Institute of Directors with OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría and Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills.

The event will be live streamed from 09:45 – 12:20 GMT

This will be followed by on online public Q & A session starting at 2:00 GMT with Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills. Questions in advance of the session will be welcome, using the #OECDPISA hashtag on Twitter and via the OECD PISA Learning Community

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
Photo credit: © OECD

Discover your talent!

by Deborah Roseveare
Head of the Skills Beyond School Division, Directorate for Education and Skills

Last night I got a taxi home and as often happens, the driver and I got chatting. Then he asked me a rather strange question – “Do you like the smell in my car?” Well, I have to say the smell was a very subtle one but it led to a fascinating conversation. 

With some pride, he told me that he was trying out a new product for cleaning car interiors developed by a friend of his. His friend already had his own business selling these products and then came the big surprise – this friend is only 17 years old. But isn’t he still in school? I asked. Yes of course, he was doing a professional baccalaureate (a vocational programme here in France).

This talented young man, who was smart enough to have skipped a class in primary school, had a passion for chemistry and had been doing experiments – more or less successfully -- in his mother’s kitchen from a young age. So why had he chosen a professional baccalaureate? Apparently, he wanted hands-on learning, get practical experience and develop the skills that would help him succeed in his business ventures.

It’s not often that a taxi gets me home too quickly, but I ran out of time to ask more questions. It’s always great to hear stories about young people discovering their talent, finding an education pathway that supports them in following their passion and gaining the skills to succeed in life. So I’m looking forward to hearing many more success stories that show young people and adults how you too can “discover your talent!” during European Vocational Skills Week 2016, which runs from 5-9 December 2016. 

Why focus on vocational skills? In a changing and more competitive job market, Vocational Education and Training (VET) delivers specific skills and knowledge for the jobs of today and tomorrow, leading to great careers and good life prospects. Pursuing VET can lead to quality employment, an entrepreneurial mind-set, attractive and challenging careers, and opportunities for continuous upskilling and reskilling.

Sometime in the coming years I expect to hear about a successful young entrepreneur putting innovative cleaning products on supermarket shelves and I’ll remember how vocational education and training helped him discover and develop his talent and gave him the skills to succeed.

European Vocational Skills Week 2016
OECD Policy Reviews of Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Adult Learning 

Twitter hashtags: #EUVocationalSkills #discoveryourtalent
Photo credit: © European Commission

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

To contain the cost of education, should countries only consider teachers’ salaries?

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

High-performing education systems value teachers and invest a lot in them. And indeed, the human factor is crucial in creating effective and high-quality teaching and learning environments. On average across OECD countries, the compensation of staff involved in education counted for 77% of total expenditure on secondary education in 2013 (Indicator B6 of Education at a Glance 2016). In monetary terms, the annual salary cost of teachers per student at the lower secondary level reached USD 3 389, on average across OECD countries in 2014, but this amount ranged from USD 1 000 in Mexico to USD 5 379 in Austria. However, we also know that it is not the amount of money invested that counts, but the way it is used. PISA reveals that, above a certain threshold, more money invested in education does not necessarily lead to better outcomes. Countries that may spend the same per student often put that money to different use.

The new Education Indicators in Focus brief, based on the most recent data published in indicator B7 of Education at a Glance 2016, deepens the analysis on the factors influencing the per-student salary cost of teachers. Each country’s per-student salary cost is based on a mix of four main factors: teachers’ salaries, teaching time, instruction time and class size. The figure above shows the weight of each of these four factors, compared to the OECD average, in each country’s per-student cost of teachers. The differences between countries are striking, especially between countries that arrive at a similar per-student salary cost of teachers, but based on a very different mix of the four components mentioned.

Take, for example, two countries with a similarly high per-student cost of teachers, the Flemish Community of Belgium and Germany. In the former, the per-student salary cost is relatively high, because all four components are more cost-intensive than the OECD average, adding up to a high total salary cost even if the teachers’ salaries are not very high. In Germany, teachers’ salaries are much higher, but their impact on the per-student salary cost is offset by more-than-average teaching time and lower-than-average instruction time.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Czech Republic and Turkey, countries with a relatively low per-student salary cost of teachers. In the former, instruction time, teaching time and class size are close to the OECD average, but the per-student salary cost is driven downwards by much lower teachers’ salaries (in real terms). In Turkey, teachers are better paid than their Czech colleagues, but the per-student cost is offset by less instruction time and larger classes.

Is there, then, a particular mix of components that makes an education system more effective? Apart from Korea, most high-performing countries in PISA are found towards the left of the chart, indicating a relatively higher-than-average per-student salary cost of teachers. But even those high-performing countries do not share a common mix of components – except, perhaps teachers’ salaries. In all high-performing countries except Finland, teachers’ salaries are higher than the OECD average.

The impact of other factors – including class size – is much less clear. Education at a Glance 2016 shows that many countries have reduced average class size over the past decade or so, responding to political pressure and public demand. But the evidence on the impact of smaller classes on the effectiveness and quality of teaching and learning is patchy. Analysis of PISA data reveals that there might be some positive impact from reducing class size, but much less than if teachers’ salaries were raised or if more were invested in teachers’ professionalism, instead. Some academic research evaluates the effect of smaller classes more positively, but this research is mostly limited to North America and Europe, whereas large classes are the norm in high-performing systems in Asia.

The factor of instruction time has a similarly uneven impact on performance. Some high-performing systems, as measured by PISA, such as Finland, require less instruction time than on average across OECD countries, thus offsetting the cost of higher teachers’ salaries. But other countries, such as the Netherlands, show above-average instruction time, contributing to a relatively higher per-student salary cost. The Education Indicators in Focus brief n° 22 looked into the issue of instruction time in more detail, but did not find any conclusive evidence on the relationship between instruction time and the quality of learning.

In times when governments need to contain the cost of education, improve the quality of teaching and learning, and increase the efficiency of spending, the cost of the teaching force is a major area of concern. The evidence shows that there is no magic formula for mixing the components of the per-student salary cost, but it does suggest that prioritising teachers’ salaries over class size and instruction time makes sense. Lowering teacher salaries might be the easiest way to cut costs – and the evidence suggests that countries have done this in the recent past in response to the financial crisis – but a more sophisticated look into all the factors influencing the cost of education might be more appropriate.

Education Indicators in Focus No. 46: What influences spending on education? by Camila de Moraes
Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
Chart source: OECD (2016), Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators, www.oecd.org/education/education-at-a-glance-19991487.htm.