Monday, September 18, 2017

Entering the “black box”: Teachers’ and students’ views on classroom practices

by Pablo Fraser 
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills
Noémie Le Donné
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

“What happened in school today?” is a question that many parents across the world ask their children when they get home. Many parents also attend school meetings in order to understand how their child’s learning is developing. They talk with both children and teachers because they know that they are the best (and often only) source of information about what is happening in the classroom. At the same time, many teachers would like to know about how other teachers teach, both in their own country and abroad.

The truth is that what happens in the classrooms still often remains an open question for those outside it.  Research has shown that the practices used in the classroom are the most important factor affecting students’ outcomes. In other words, it is the interactions between teachers and students that, ultimately, shape the learning environment. Thus, it becomes crucial to know, “What are the teaching strategies that help create quality classroom practices?”

However, classrooms are often described as a “black box”; we know that certain things go into the box (e.g. learning materials, time and human resources, school tests) and we expect certain things to come out (e.g. the development of students’ skills, the reinforcement of their well-being, and an increase in teachers’ job satisfaction). But what about the complex interactions that take place within the black box that are responsible for the alchemy that transforms inputs into outputs? Who better than teachers and students to tell us about these interactions?

Teachers with their professional training and knowledge are experts on various instructional approaches, methods and lesson features. Since students are exposed to a variety of teachers in different subjects over an extended period of time, they can also be considered experts on different modes of teaching. Both opinions provide a rich and complex picture of what happens in the classroom… and can be seen as two faces of the same coin.

The TALIS-PISA link data present a unique opportunity to enter the “black box” by listening to the voices of teachers and students. The latest Teaching in Focus reveals some enlightening findings.

Almost all mathematics teachers use clear and structured teaching practices, according to both teachers and students. On average across participating countries, at least 97% of teachers report either explicitly citing learning goals, letting students practice until they understand the subject matter, or presenting a summary of recently learned content. Since these structuring practices aim to deliver an orderly and clear lesson, they could be seen as the necessary foundation to the development of other, more innovative, practices, such as student-oriented practices and enhanced activities. This would explain why they are so predominant in the teaching strategies implemented by teachers and that, contrary to widespread ideas, they are not used by Asian countries alone.

Student-oriented practices, such as giving different work to students depending on their understanding or having them work in small groups, are less often used than structuring practices, especially according to students. They are still commonly used, with around 90% of teachers and 60% of students reporting their use. However, teachers do not use these practices to the same extent across countries, and one type of enhanced activity, having students work on week-long projects, is subject to particularly large cross-country variations: 20% of Finnish teachers report using this practice versus 86% of Mexican teachers. The same pattern is found when looking at student feedback.

In all participating countries, mathematics teachers tend to report, more often than students do, that they use a given practice in their classroom. However, the gap between what teachers and students report is relatively small; it is largest when pertaining to the use of student-oriented practices. This may be because teachers find these practices particularly efficient and have a tendency to over- report their use, or that, because they are less conventional and more innovative, students fail to recognise them. Either way, further support of teachers’ and students’ engagement in student-centred activities is needed to ensure that a variety of practices are used in the classroom. PISA results have shown that students benefit from teachers applying a range of different practices, so it is crucial to help teachers acquire those that foster a quality learning environment.

Teaching in Focus No. 18: How do teachers teach? Insights from teachers and students"

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Which careers do students go for?

by Marie-Helene Doumet
Senior Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Career decisions are wrought in complexities. Many students start by looking at their interests, selecting a career in line with their personal affinities or aspirations. They will consider their own self-beliefs in their capacity to perform and succeed in a given career, and then factor in labour market prospects, employment, earnings, and the possibilities to progress in their chosen profession over a lifetime.

But career decisions are not only about students’ choices: they also interact with a number of public policy objectives, such as making education systems more efficient, aligning skills to the demands of the labour market, and helping improve social equity. Some countries have sought to promote certain fields or pathways over others through financial incentives or by opening access. Conversely, other fields impose highly selective admissions processes. As students are confronted with more possibilities, it is essential to ensure that they have the proper guidance to navigate through the wealth of pathways open to them. That will ease the sometimes bumpy transition from education to the labour market.

This 2017 edition of Education at a Glance focuses on fields of study – who studies what across different education pathways . Results show that the most common field of study for tertiary students is business administration and law, whereas the fields of natural sciences, mathematics and statistics or information and communications technology (ICT) are the least attractive. Gender differences in enrolments are striking: 24% of entrants into engineering programmes are women compared to 78% in the field of education. The law of supply and demand determines the employment prospects of tertiary graduates. For example,  although they are among the smallest group of tertiary graduates, ICT graduates enjoy one of the highest employment rates. This signals a shortage of supply in the labour market. Data from a new indicator on the national criteria to apply and enter into tertiary education shows that, as tertiary education expands, some countries have turned towards regulating access to certain fields of study in order to link them more strongly with the needs of the labour market.

However, while educational attainment has been expanding over the past decade, there is no guarantee that everyone will progress smoothly through it. In fact, upper secondary graduation is still a challenge for some. A new indicator on upper secondary completion rates shows that almost one in four upper secondary students does not complete the programme within two years of its theoretical end date – of which most drop out of school entirely.

This is not the only area where equity remains elusive. Education at a Glance dedicates a full chapter to the Sustainable Development Goals, analysing where OECD and partner countries stand in their progress towards achieving “inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Results show that while progress has been made, there is still a long way to go on the road to equity and more inclusion in education.

Want to learn more? Education at a Glance 2017 analyses 28 indicators relating to participation in and progress through education, the financial and human resources invested, and the economic and social outcomes expected across OECD and partner countries.You can access and download the data from the OECD Education at a Glance Database; visualise main results for your country from our Compare Your Country interface ; and better understand the methodology underlying the indicators with the updated OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Indicators.

Education at a Glance (EAG) 2017
OECD Education at a Glance Database
Compare Your Country
OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Indicators

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Building trust in exams

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Quality high-stakes exams have always been one of the most reliable predictors of the performance of an education system. They signal what matters for educational success and they ensure fairness and transparency in the gateways to the next stage of education or to the workforce. But getting the design of exams wrong can hold education systems back, narrowing the scope of what is valued and what is taught, or encouraging shortcuts, cramming and integrity violations. 

So if you are searching for promising practices in this area these days, it is worth having a look at Russia. Surprised? True, for a long time Russian’s had lost trust in exam scores and degrees because of fraud and misconduct in examinations. But for well over a decade, Russia has worked persistently on addressing these issues and its unified state exam now offers one of the most advanced and transparent ways of assessing student learning outcomes at school.

For a start, Russia has not fallen into the trap of sacrificing validity gains for efficiency gains and relevance for reliability that is so common to many exam systems. So you find no bubble sheets and few multiple-choice tasks. Instead, the tasks are open-ended and often involve essays, focussed on the acquisition of advanced knowledge, complex higher-order thinking skills and, increasingly, on the application of those skills to real-world problems. Many of those tasks probe for understanding and prompting for further thinking, by asking students questions such as: Who is correct? How do you know? Can you explain why he or she is correct?

But the biggest accomplishment of Russia’s unified state exam has been in re-establishing trust in education and examination. Trust cannot be legislated. And trust doesn’t just happen, it is always intentional and it is at least as much a consequence of the design of an exam system as it is a pre-existing condition for its conduct. So how did Russia go about that? For a start, it has invested in state-of-the art test security that is now available across the country. The exam papers are packaged and printed in real-time at the point of delivery, in the classroom under the eyes of the students and the examiners - and under the eyes of a 360-degree camera that monitors and records the entire exam process.

At the end, the exam papers are scanned, digitised and anonymised, once again under the eyes of the students. Where more complex responses to essays cannot be scored automatically by machines, they are marked centrally by independent and specially trained experts, with extensive checks for inter-rater reliability. Of course, there is always some judgement involved in scoring essays. So how can students trust that they were graded fairly? Actually, they can have a look for themselves. The fully-marked exam papers are posted online and all students can review their results. And they can contest the markings if they are not happy, something which a few percent of them do each year. Schools, too, can see and track their exam scores. So if Russian students, teachers, school leaders, and also employers are now much more confident in schooling and examination, this has not come about by chance.

Has it led to improvements in outcomes? Not yet, the exam results were flat lining over the last years. Which shows how much Russia still has to do to feed data back into helping students to learn better, teachers to teach better, and schools to become more effective. But it also shows that the exams proved resilient so far against one of the most common diseases of assessments - grade inflation.


Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Back to school time: “Think beyond grades – to life”

Facebook Live session with Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
by Marilyn Achiron, Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

This back-to-school moment is a great time to grab a few minutes with Andreas Schleicher, head of the Directorate for Education and Skills, to get his thoughts about preparing for – and succeeding in – the school year ahead.

In our Facebook LIVE interview yesterday, he said that “there’s always something interesting happening in school”, and suggested that students “think beyond grades – to life”. Schleicher said of teaching that “there’s probably no tougher job today”.

What is common to the best-performing countries in PISA? According to Schleicher, these countries “believe in the future more than in consumption today; they make an investment in education”; “they believe in the success of every child”; and “they can attract the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms”.

We also talked about student anxiety, class size, homework and the kinds of skills students today need to acquire.

Schleicher also hinted at some interesting data, to be published next Tuesday in Education at a Glance 2017, on who studies what, and what that means for employment and earnings later on.

Take a look!

Education at a Glance (EAG) 2017 will be launched on 12 September 2017 at 11:00 am, Paris time
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

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Monday, September 04, 2017

Awarding – and imagining – teaching excellence

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Tonight, the winners of the Higher Education Academy’s newly launched Global Teaching Excellence Award will be announced. The award is a milestone in advancing the higher education agenda. It’s time for teaching excellence to attain the same status and recognition as academic research, which still seems the dominant metric for valuing academic institutions, whether we look at rankings published in the media or research assessment frameworks or at performance-based funding for research.

There are compelling reasons to change this, and the award makes a start.

Tertiary qualifications have become the entrance ticket for modern societies. Never before have those with advanced qualifications had the life chances they enjoy today, and never before have those who struggled to acquire a good education paid the price they pay today. There are always those who argue that the share of young people entering higher education or advanced vocational programmes is too large. But they are usually talking about other people’s children. In the past century, they would have probably argued that there are too many children in high school.

The evidence is clear. On average across OECD countries, men with at least a bachelor’s degree earn over ÚSD 300 000 more than what they paid for their education or lose in earnings while studying, compared with those who only have a high school degree. And taxpayers too realise a return of over USD 200 000 per tertiary graduate in higher public revenues and lower social transfers. It is hard to think of a better investment at a time when knowledge and skills have become the currency of modern societies and economies. And despite the burgeoning number of graduates, we have seen no decline in their relative pay, which is so different from those with fewer qualifications.

But it’s also clear that this entrance ticket to the knowledge society is expensive; and people are generally allotted just one. That makes it so important to get it right. And this is where teaching excellence comes in. We all know that more education alone doesn't automatically translate into better jobs and better lives. We might know graduates who can’t find a job even as we hear employers lament that they can’t find people with the skills they need. Teaching excellence is about ensuring that the right mix of knowledge and skills is delivered in effective, equitable and efficient ways.

And the value of teaching is only bound to rise as digitalisation unbundles educational content, delivery and accreditation in higher education. In the digital age, anything that today you call your proprietary knowledge and content is going to be a commodity available to everyone tomorrow. Accreditation still gives universities enormous power to extract monopoly rents, but just think a few years ahead. What will micro-credentialling do to this system? Or think of what happens when all employers can see beyond degrees to the knowledge and skills that prospective employees actually have. That leaves the quality of teaching as perhaps the most valuable asset of modern higher education institutions. It becomes harder for universities to hide poor teaching behind great research. We are living in this digital bazaar and anything that is not built for the network age is going to crack apart under the pressure.

Future jobs are likely to pair computer intelligence with the creative, social and emotional skills, attitudes and values of human beings. It will then be our capacity to innovate, our awareness and our sense of responsibility that will harness the power of the machines to shape the world for the better. That means faculty need to look for outcomes that are fresh and original, that contribute something of intrinsic positive worth. Achieving these outcomes is likely to involve entrepreneurialism, imagination, inquisitiveness, persistence and collaboration.

As a result, universities’ previous priority of preparing a select few for research has given way to providing up to half the population with advanced knowledge and skills. The result has been the rapid expansion of the higher education sector and the establishment of more diverse types of higher education institutions. There are now over 18 000 higher education institutions in 180 countries that offer at least a post-graduate degree or a four-year professional diploma.

This historic shift has been accompanied by changes in funding regimes. The rising costs of higher education are increasingly borne by students themselves (see, for example, the United Kingdom). So it follows that students are becoming more discriminating consumers. And in choosing between universities, they are also thinking ahead about securing future employment. In response, institutions are competing to provide more relevant knowledge and skills through more effective teaching.

These sweeping developments in the higher education marketplace are intensifying competition. Indeed, a global education market has emerged. In 2015, there were 3.3 million students travelling across OECD countries to study. Others look to the new, internationally available, digital platforms to provide or supplement their learning.

Taken together, these developments have created an urgent demand for data to measure and improve the quality of teaching and learning in higher education. Institutions need data to build on competitive strengths and address weaknesses. Governments need data to determine policy and funding priorities. Employers need data to assess the value of qualifications. And, perhaps most important, students themselves need data so that they can make informed decisions about their preferred place of study and show prospective employers evidence of what they have learned.

But these demands are still often unmet. Without such data, judgements about the quality of higher education institutions will continue to be made on the basis of flawed rankings, derived not from outcomes, nor even outputs, but from idiosyncratic inputs and reputation surveys.

Everyone knows how important data are to me, but I’m also well aware that throwing data into the public space does not, in itself, change the ways students learn, faculty teach and universities operate. We need to get out of the “read-only” mode of our education systems, in which information is presented in a way that cannot be altered. To really change education practice, we need to combine transparency with collaboration.

I am always struck by the power of “collaborative consumption”, where online markets are created in which people share their cars and even their apartments with total strangers. Collaborative consumption has made people micro-entrepreneurs; and collaborative consumption is fuelled by building trust between strangers.

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of technology is not only that it serves individual learners and educators, but that it can create an ecosystem around learning. Technology can build communities of learners that make learning more social and more fun. And it can build communities of faculty to share and enrich teaching resources and practices. Imagine the power of a higher education system that could meaningfully share all of the expertise and experience of its faculty.

What if we could get faculty working on curated crowd-sourcing of best teaching practice, and perhaps even across institutional and national borders? Technology could create a giant open-source community of faculty, unlocking the creative skills and initiative of so many people simply by tapping into the desire of people to contribute, collaborate and be recognised for it. And we could use technologies to liberate learning from past conventions, connecting learners in new ways, with new sources of knowledge, with innovative applications and with one another. Maybe that’s something for next year’s teaching excellence award.

For the latest data on tertiary education, look out for Education at a Glance 2017, which will be published on 12 September.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

What happens with your skills when you leave school?

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

Mean literacy and numeracy score, by age and education enrolment status
OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), 2012 or 2015

Moving from the world of school to the world of work is one of the most dramatic changes in the lives of young people. And for many youngsters this transition does not go smoothly. Spells of frictional or longer-term unemployment, job insecurity because of low-paid or temporary contracts, and the uncertainties associated with starting to live autonomously produce a challenging phase in young people’s lives. The most vulnerable people are those who fall between the two systems: the so-called NEETs (not in employment, education or training), who are no longer in school and are either unemployed or inactive. Some 6% of 15-19 year-olds in OECD countries – in other words, half of those of that age who have left school, or around 5 million young people – are NEET.

A new Education Indicators in Focus brief looks at the transition from school to work across different age groups. It reconfirms that leaving school is much less difficult if one has acquired an upper secondary qualification, which functions as a kind of security mechanism against most of the hardships associated with the transition. The share of 20-24 year-old NEETs who do not have an upper secondary qualification (36%) is double the share of employed 20-24 year-olds who have not attained that level of education (18%).

But an educational qualification is one thing; the actual skills that people have are another. The brief publishes some new and interesting findings about the skills disparities among young people in different age groups in and out of school. The chart above shows the difference in mean literacy and numeracy skills between people in and out of education in three different age groups. The differences are remarkable. Among 16-19 year-olds, the difference in skills amounts to the equivalent of around 2.5 years of schooling. But the differences among older age groups are also considerable – and they remain significant even after controlling for educational attainment.

The finding lends itself to various possible explanations and observations. The most obvious one is that the results reflect a selection effect: more-skilled young people tend to stay in school while the less-skilled leave. A skills-selection effect does not seem to be problematic among 20-24 and 25-29 year-olds, when continuing one’s education is based on educational merit. For the younger age group, however, the difference in skills signals an efficiency problem in our education systems. Less-skilled young people should leave school only after they have acquired a foundation level of skills. When dropping out of school at an early age is the result of a skills-selection mechanism, than we are not serving our most vulnerable youngsters well.

Another possible explanation looks at the skills difference from the other side of the transition: the labour market and the world of work. This hypothesis suggests that leaving school and entering the labour market is accompanied by a process of de-skilling. When skills are not used in employment, they erode. A difficult school-to-work transition can have a scarring effect that can last throughout an entire career. De-skilling can happen through unemployment, but also through employment in precarious jobs, where workers do not fully use their skills, or through employment in an ill-matched job. This hypothesis suggests that a difficult transition process can undermine what should be a social benefit: essentially, the investment in skills acquisition is wasted.

The policy consequences are clear: there are many reasons for governments to be concerned about the school-to-work transition. Dropping out of school at an early age without a proper qualification has a huge social cost. Policies to provide guidance and support to young people during that transition pay off: there is less risk that people become unemployed or fall between the cracks and become dependent on welfare systems. And such policies should encourage people to maintain their skills and give them the opportunity to improve their skills through quality work and training. The political responsibility to ensure a smooth transition is enormous, but it is also shared between the work of education and the world of work.


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Chart source: OECD (2017), in Education Indicators in Focus No. 54, Figure 3. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Do countries have to choose between more educated or better-educated children?

by Francesco Avvisati
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

While Joana, a 15-year-old girl from Fortaleza in Brazil, was sitting the PISA test in 2015, her cousin, also 15 but living in the countryside, was busy working in the family business. In fact, by the time they turn 15, many adolescents in low- and middle-income countries are no longer enrolled in school (or have never been), particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia. But soon, those children may be able to sit a PISA test specifically designed for out-of-school youth.

Increasing the educational attainment of young adults has been the focus of much effort over recent decades. But we all know that having children spend more time in school does not guarantee that every student will learn. For this reason, the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG4), which defines the new global agenda for education and was adopted by the United Nations in September 2015, emphasises improvements in the quality of education and learning outcomes, rather than increases in time spent at school.

This challenging goal urges countries not only to increase access to education, but also to improve the skills of students who are already in school. If you think it is impossible to do both at the same time, you probably have not yet read the latest PISA in Focus.

This month’s issue investigates what happened to the PISA results of countries, such as Albania, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Jordan, Mexico, Turkey and Uruguay, all of which expanded their education systems to include previously excluded – and mostly disadvantaged – populations. Perhaps surprisingly, for many of them, average performance improved.

PISA shows that the goals of more inclusive and better-quality education can go hand in hand in low- and middle-income countries when governments are committed to measuring the outcomes of schooling. In other words, it shows that countries do not have to choose between quality and quantity. While dismantling the barriers to schooling, countries can also help every student acquire the skills they need to thrive in increasingly knowledge-intensive economies.

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Photo credit: @shutterstock 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

“Youth are not the future; they are the present”

Interview with Oley Dibba-Wadda, Executive Secretary of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) 
by Marilyn Achiron, Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

Oley Dibba-Wadda is the dynamic (and first female) Executive Secretary of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA). The organisation’s mission is to assist in “the transformation of education and training to drive Africa’s accelerated and sustainable development”. We spoke with Dibba-Wadda in June when she participated in the OECD Forum in Paris.

Marilyn Achiron: What do you consider to be the greatest challenge facing African youth today? 

Oley Dibba-Wadda: The challenge that youth are facing, first and foremost, is skills for employability. It is a fundamental issue. What we have realised in education is that going to school has not necessarily translated into quality learning. The learning being taught in schools does not resonate with the current job market. Then there is the issue of financing capital investment for youth who want to go outside of the formal employment system, to go into small and medium enterprises, to go into agriculture, to start their own little businesses.

MA: Do you feel that these challenges are qualitatively different from the challenges facing youth in Europe or America right now?

OD-W: I don’t think they’re qualitatively different. Youth in Europe have better opportunities; but the mindset, the needs, the wants, the thinking, the aspirations are the same. There are better opportunities here [in Europe] than on the African continent, and for me, that’s what the difference is.
All youth are asking for is opportunities, opportunities, opportunities. They know what they want, they know where they want to go, they know how to get there. What they’re challenged with is the financing to do what they want to do, and to have youth champions: adults in influential positions who can be champions to advocate for [them]. Youth want agency: they want to be able to do things the way they want to. We keep saying “they are the future”. They’re not the future; they are the present. We need to acknowledge and appreciate that.

MA: What would be needed to improve the alignment between what students are learning in school and what the labour market demands?

OD-W: First of all, we have to appreciate that the African continent is very diverse. The education system in Francophone West Africa is completely different from the education system in Francophone Central Africa; the education system in Anglophone West Africa is different from that in Anglophone East Africa. We need to contextualise each system of education. What type of education is required? What I was taught when I was going to school was education for a white-collar job: going to school, holding a briefcase, having a suit and tie. That’s what we were trying to instil in our own children, and that’s what [today’s youth] is thinking. What we need is a paradigm shift of mindset to get our kids to look at being self-employed, to start thinking outside of the box, to start learning to do, learning to be more innovative. But also to learn to find jobs that resonate with their interests.

I mentor a lot of youth in Africa, and one thing that comes up is not just the issue of hard skills for employment and employability, but soft, emotional life-skills, such as the ability to speak in public, to express themselves, to read and write basics… to be able to take risks and jump, to express themselves, to feel motivated and inspired. A+ students might not be able to prepare themselves for the world of work because they lack self-esteem, they do not have the confidence to be assertive, to ask questions.

MA: Is that something that can be taught in school?

OD-W: It should be; it has not been done. Our education systems are preparing our youth for examinations; they are not preparing them for work.

MA: As the head of a pan-African organisation, how do you hope to shape each individual country’s approach towards education?

OD-W: Our role is to engage more with policy makers. We do not implement activities, per se; we engage at a higher political level. We engage with the policy makers, ministers, heads of state, the permanent secretaries, administrators within the ministries of education. ADEA also provides capacity-building support to these ministries on best practices. So we say, for example, to a country like Angola: “Rwanda is doing something fantastic. You may want to go there and explore what they’re doing and see how you can adapt that to your context” because the environments are different; you cannot cut-and-paste. We also explore what is happening in other parts of the world. Finland has a very good education system. We engage with the minister in an African country and encourage the minister to go and do a study tour in Finland.

MA: Do you feel that African countries can learn lessons from countries in other parts of the world, and vice versa?

OD-W: They can and they could and they should. But what they shouldn’t be doing is transferring the same model from there and expecting it to work. We have a lot of donor agencies and partners who come in and say “We’re interested in supporting early childhood education; this is something we have done in South America and we want to do it in a particular country in Africa”. And we just take that model and do it because there is money attached to it. So what we have been doing in Africa is following the money, rather than using our own blueprint and saying, “You have this plan, but this is what we feel would be beneficial to us.”

We need to encourage our countries not to follow the money, but to have their own blueprint and then go out and invite [assistance from outside countries]. What we’re trying to think of now at ADEA is how to get countries to take responsibility for education as a global public good….ADEA is trying to engage with all stakeholders, both within the African continent and outside, to set up an African education fund [the African Development Bank is supporting a feasibility study for this fund]. There are so many funds out there that are being used for education in Africa and it’s just not working. So if we have an African education fund that is managed for Africans, by Africans, and [countries] take responsibility for this, then they can invite other stakeholders to contribute money so we can create an education system for Africans that resonates with the current state of the job market…If we continue to have funding coming from the outside, of course: he who pays the piper determines the tune. That’s what we are struggling with now.


Photo credit: @shutterstock 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Improving education outcomes for Indigenous students

by Andreas Schleicher 
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills 

Indigenous peoples are the first inhabitants of their lands, but are often poorly served by the education systems in their countries. Why? Is it necessary to wait until issues such as poverty or appropriate legal recognition for Indigenous peoples are resolved? Can education systems be expected to address Indigenous students’ needs relating to language, culture and identity? Can non-Indigenous teachers be effective teachers of Indigenous students? How can Indigenous parents have confidence that their children are safe at school and receiving a high-quality education?

Indigenous students do well in some schools more than in other schools and in some education systems more than in other education systems. Pockets of excellence and promising practices rarely translate across systems or across schools within a single education system. Thus, education systems and individual schools seldom learn from each other about what it takes to improve education for Indigenous students. Learning from examples of success can enable systems and schools to do better and accelerate improvements for Indigenous students.

An OECD report, Promising Practices in Supporting Success for Indigenous Students, released on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (9 August 2017), highlights examples of success by Indigenous students and how these successes have been achieved. These examples can be used to help education systems improve education outcomes for Indigenous students and to quicken the pace of doing so.

OECD analysis of progress across six Canadian provinces and territories, New Zealand and Queensland, Australia shows that success for Indigenous students in education is becoming a priority. These jurisdictions have a clear will and commitment to improve, and have put in place many initiatives to address challenges and accelerate positive change. In some cases, the improvements are clearly evident; in others, the efforts are not yet at a scale to make a difference or have not been in place for a sufficient period to affect Indigenous students’ education. Achieving progress requires the deliberate decision to do so and then a concerted effort to do enough to improve each Indigenous student’s experience in education.

Providing high-quality, early childhood education and care (ECEC) for Indigenous children sets them on an early pathway towards success. High-quality ECEC is culturally responsive to the needs of Indigenous children and their families. It encourages Indigenous children to be confident and curious, and builds social, emotional and early cognitive skills. It also means working in partnership with Indigenous parents to better meet their children’s needs. Such ECEC is best provided in Indigenous communities, where these children live, and should be both accessible to and affordable for their parents.

Another ingredient of success is establishing respectful and trusting relationships with Indigenous leaders and communities, both at the system governance level and at the individual school level. Schools that build genuine partnerships with Indigenous communities achieve much more for Indigenous students than schools that do not engage with these students’ communities and homes. The benefits of such partnerships are evident in student participation and attendance rates, and in indicators of student learning and achievement.

School principals can make all the difference – or not. In schools where Indigenous students are achieving well, there is generally a highly effective and committed school principal who has done “whatever it takes” to ensure Indigenous students attend school, are engaged in learning and are positive about their futures. These schools tend to use a “whole-of-child” approach that puts children’s overall well-being as the key priority. Effective principals also set high expectations for teachers and take responsibility for monitoring Indigenous students’ academic progress, to ensure targets are being met and that any needed interventions are put in place in a timely manner.

Teachers also need support, to build their capability and confidence in establishing relationships with and teaching students from communities with which they may not be familiar. With the right support, teachers can build both their cultural competence and effective teaching strategies, such as the use of the history and geography of the school community, so that they elicit the best out of all of their students. 

Promising Practices in Supporting Success for Indigenous Students
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Photo credit: Christopher David Rothecker

Thursday, August 03, 2017

How education can spur progress towards inclusive growth

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Costa Rica is recognised across Latin America as a leader in education. The country was among the first in the region to enrol all children in primary school and combat adult illiteracy. Today, one in two young adults has completed secondary education, up from one in three among their parents’ generation. But, the demands placed on the skills of people have evolved as well. The overall context has become more challenging too: Economic growth has slowed, inequality is rising and productivity is weak in a labour market that shows a growing divide between a well-paid, high-skilled sector and a precarious informal economy. The OECD report, Education in Costa Rica, looks at how education can help Costa Rica turn these negative trends around.

The first step is to build strong foundations. Pre-primary education has become nearly universal in most OECD countries; but in Costa Rica, only 63% of children benefit from two years of preschool, and very few children under three have access to any form of early care and education. Strong, sustained support to promising initiatives, such as the new policy framework for early childhood and the preschool curriculum, will ensure that more children start school with the socio-emotional and cognitive skills that they need to learn. More flexible community-based services can accelerate the expansion of early education into rural areas.

The quality of education can never exceed the quality of teachers. Costa Rica is working towards ensuring minimum standards in the teaching profession by requiring private universities to accredit initial teaching degrees. The challenge  now is to advance from recruiting those candidates with the greatest potential for effective teaching towards promoting continuous professional development through regular feedback and more opportunities for peer learning within and across schools.

If all students are to complete at least secondary school, then the content, structure and certification of learning at this level need to respond to an increasingly diverse student population. Nearly one in three 15-year-olds is not in school, and among those who are, another one in three lacks core competencies in science, reading and mathematics. The programme Yo me Apunto, which allocates more resources to disadvantaged schools to prevent students from dropping out, should be supported and combined with an expansion of vocational courses and alternative forms of certification to help more students make a smooth transition from school to employment.

Costa Rica’s tertiary sector also has an important role to play  in fostering inclusive growth. Just one in ten students from a disadvantaged background makes it to university, and only 12% of tertiary programmes have been accredited. It is time for Costa Rica to embrace comprehensive reform of the governance, funding and quality-assurance systems of both private and public universities to respond to changing social and economic needs. This, in turn, requires much better data on tertiary performance so that students can make informed choices about their future, and institutions can be held accountable for meeting their own and their country’s objectives.

Costa Rica is rightly admired for making education the cornerstone of its development. It invests 7.6% of its GDP in education – a larger share than that of any OECD country. But those resources need to be invested strategically. If it does so, Costa Rica will be able to spur more inclusive growth and build on its remarkable achievements in human development and well-being.

Reviews of National Policies for Education: Education in Costa Rica
Brochure: Education in Costa Rica, Highlights 2017 (English) and (Spanish)
Press release: Costa Rica should ensure that all children have access to quality education (English) and (Spanish)
Slides: Avances y desafíos de la educación en Costa Rica: una perspectiva internacional (Spanish)

Photo credit: MEP (Ministerio de Educación Pública)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

“Digital literacy will probably be the only kind of literacy there is”

Interview with Matthew D’Ancona, political columnist for the Guardian and the New York Times
by Marilyn Achiron, Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

“Learning how to navigate the web with discernment is the most pressing cultural mission of our age.” So asserts Matthew D’Ancona, political columnist for the Guardian and the New York Times, in his timely and passionately argued new book, Post-Truth: The War on Truth and How to Fight Back. D’Ancona writes that he sees his book as an exploration of “the declining value of truth as society’s reserve currency” and asks: “So what happens when lies not only proliferate but also seem to matter less – or even not at all?” We met with D’Ancona in June, when he spoke at the OECD Forum in Paris.

Marilyn Achiron: How can schools help educate young people to be able to tell fact from fiction when they’re using the Internet?

Matthew D’Ancona: It’s a bit like be given a car without being taught to drive, isn’t it? Kids have access to digital devices from a very early age. You can be sure that, in a classroom of 7- or 8-year-olds, a good few of them will already have access to the Internet; perhaps more, and perhaps younger. I think digital literacy should be taught as a separate subject, and I would teach it from the age of 5. At the moment, it’s basically left to parents to decide how they police their children on line. But we’re living in a transitional era, where a lot of parents don’t know what is on line. Many of them may have become comfortable with e-mail and perhaps even have a Facebook page, but perhaps they don’t understand how deep and wide the Internet is. So there is a definite role for formal education in this. And to me, it’s a no-brainer. One of the basic tasks of education in any system is to teach children how to read a text. First, how to read it, and then, as they grow older, how to understand it.

At the moment, schools treat the Internet as if it was just another tool, as a means of writing essays on their laptops or going to Google. But there’s very little attempt to encourage kids to say: “When I go to this website or access social media, how can I be sure that it’s reliable?” I think it should be instilled in kids from a very early age that the Internet is an unbelievably powerful tool and it can be powerful in the best possible ways; but it can also be a kind of engine of falsehood. I don’t think you can expect children to know that instinctively any more than you can expect them to understand Shakespeare or Proust instinctively. It’s something that is taught; it’s a skill. The difficulty is, at the moment, there isn’t a very large cohort of teachers who have those skills. So one of things governments will have to do is legislate and devote resources to training teachers how to do this…We are preparing our children for a future where digital literacy will probably be the only kind of literacy there is.

MA: We seem to be living in a culture of lying. People lie on social media, they lie on their CVs…

MD’A: It’s become easier to lie. Anonymity and physical distance have enabled people to lie. It’s extremely easy on social media to create an entirely illusory self. And people find a kind of therapeutic value in that. Of course it’s enormously dangerous. At its extreme version, it can be used for the most appalling manipulations of children, for instance.

MA: Is it because parents and teachers are not teaching the value of the truth anymore?

MD’A: I don’t think teachers have failed; I just think the task has become infinitely more difficult. It goes back to the whole question of digital literacy. It is terrifying to me that Holocaust denial has become so prevalent again. When you look back at the past 30 years, there was the famous trial of David Irving that was meant to be the great drawing-of-a-line under that: Holocaust denial had been taken to court and destroyed. But it’s still around – and, arguably, reaching more peole than ever because [David Irving] is now an online icon for these people. That’s another reality: with the Internet, nothing is settled; you have to be permanently vigilent.

I think that what will happen, as in years past, is that we’ll see almost a consumerist approach to information, which I think is very sensible. We’ll opt more and more for Kitemarks* and validations: “this website is realiable; you can trust this”. In the UK, you have Which?, the consumer association; for restaurants, you have the Michelin guide. It’s not difficult to establish trusted forms of vetting. I think that bigger and more adventurous examples of that, crowdfunded or even possibly even publicly funded, will be essential, so that there is a Kitemark on the top of websites saying “this website has been judged”…. But this requires people to take the time; and the problem is where 10 or 20 years ago you’d be talking about hundreds of media brands, you’re now talking about millions of webpages. That’s the difficulty. But you have to start somewhere, and I think the good can drive out the bad.

OECD Forum 2017
Schools should teach pupils how to spot 'fake news', by Sean Coughlan, BBC, 18 March 2017.

* The British Standards Institution’s Kitemark is a “quality mark [that] confirms that a product or service has been thoroughly tested and checked, time and again, and proven to meet a recognised industry standard or need. It’s a voluntary mark manufacturers and service industries use to demonstrate safety, reliability and quality”.

Photo credit: @shutterstock 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

People on the move: growing mobility, increasing diversity

by Marc Fuster
Consultant, Directorate for Education and Skills

In August 2015, a newspaper published a story about Sam Cookney’s commute to work. Pretty boring, one would think, as long commutes are nothing new for most of us. However, Sam’s story is not so common. He works in London and commutes, several times per month, from Barcelona!

International human mobility is on the rise. Increasing numbers of people are regularly coming and going across borders, and societies are growing increasingly diverse as a result. This raises some important questions. How can we ensure public services are accessible to a more diverse population? How can we ensure that respectful communication across languages and cultures is supported in society? A new Trends Shaping Education Spotlight discusses how education can be harnessed to tackle these questions and other implications of increasing mobility and diversity.

We know that students thrive in learning environments that are supportive of their needs regardless of their linguistic, cultural and ethnic background. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has consistently shown that on average students from migrant backgrounds tend to have lower levels of educational achievement in reading, maths and science. Data from PISA 2015 illustrates the achievement gap in science is above 50 score points on average across OECD countries, although in some countries, such as Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand, no substantial differences are observed.  As argued by the OECD elsewhere, proficiency in the language of instruction at school is crucial for migrant students’ academic performance and social integration.

In addition to academic outcomes, attributes such as tolerance, global-mindedness, and skills in collaborative problem solving and communication are of growing importance for individuals to live and work effectively in multicultural settings. All students need opportunities to develop and practice global competence, which refers to the acquisition of in-depth knowledge and understanding of global and intercultural issues; the ability to learn from and live with people from diverse backgrounds; and the attitudes and values that support respectful interactions with others.

Therefore, improving the capacity of teachers to work effectively in diverse classrooms is necessary to respond to student’s needs and facilitate the development of global competence. Teachers need to be able to assess students’ prior knowledge and skills, master different instructional approaches, and increase their knowledge of second language development to better support the learning of all pupils. There is a need for professional development in this area: about 13% of participants in the 2013 OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) reported a high level of need for professional development in teaching in multicultural or multilingual settings.

Beyond the classroom, schools can contribute to building an environment that reflects and celebrates diversity by adapting certain cultural and organisational elements. Ensuring equal opportunities for participation in school activities for all students is central to building a culture of non-discrimination. Another approach is to ensure diversity in the schools’ staff composition.

Furthermore, many families need support in navigating education system structures to find and harness opportunities to support the development of their children. They may want their children to access mother tongue education programmes, for example, which are available in different forms across many OECD countries. Parents may even directly contribute to these initiatives by undertaking teaching or learning support roles. Actively involving them and the wider community can make a difference.

Finally, education systems need to be flexible to adapt to multiple migration processes and circumstances. This includes voluntary, more temporary migration of workers and students, but also forced mobility resulting from political and environmental conflicts. Education systems need to be responsive and equipped to address the needs of children arriving later than the academic year starts, young adults changing countries in various stages of their education, or those that have left their countries under the most adverse conditions, such as natural disasters, war or persecution.

Perhaps, not many people will voluntarily commute 1200 km as Sam does. Nevertheless, mobility- and diversity-proofing our education systems should be one of our top priorities if we want to give our children an equal opportunity to reach their full potential in our new diverse world.

Trends Shaping Education 2016
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) 
Immigrant Students at School: Easing the Journey towards Integration
Language in a Better World: Learning for Better Cultural Understanding
Educating Teachers for Diversity: Meeting the Challenge

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Photo credit: Bully symbol for download @shutterstock 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Can bullying be stopped?

by Mario Piacentini
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

The latest PISA in Focus tells some basic facts about bullying. First, bullying is widespread. Second, all types of students – boys and girls, rich and poor – face some risk of being bullied. Third, bullying is strongly associated with low performance and psychological distress. Fourth, the quality of the school climate is related to the incidence of bullying at school.

Reports of bullying are alarmingly high in almost every country. Some 4% of students across OECD countries reported that they are hit or pushed around by other students at least a few times per month. Another 8% of students reported they are hit or pushed a few times per year. Around 8% of students reported that they are frequently the object of nasty rumours in school. Physical bullying is less common among girls, but girls are more often victims of more subtle forms of harassment, such as nasty rumours, that can be just as harmful as more visible types of violence. Recently arrived immigrant students are often the target of bullies.

Bullied students are more likely to underperform at school, and schools where bullying is more frequent perform at much lower levels in PISA than schools where bullying is less frequent, even after accounting for other student characteristics, such as socio-economic status. As in general for analysis based on PISA data, we cannot really talk about a causal impact. However, results from PISA confirm a rich body of evidence showing that the stress experienced by victims of physical or relational bullying can lead to anxiety, and in some cases depression, and makes it very hard for victims to concentrate on school tasks and perform well at school.
The basic message is clear: we must do more to reduce bullying in schools. With cyberbullying on the rise, action is more urgent today than it has ever been. But can bullying be stopped? Evidence shows that it is possible to considerably reduce the incidence of bullying. PISA data suggest that environmental factors, such as the attitudes and behaviour of the teaching staff, can influence the extent to which bullying problems will manifest themselves in school. Schools where teachers can keep the class quiet when they teach, and where students perceive they are treated fairly by their teachers, have a lower incidence of bullying than schools with a poor disciplinary climate and negative teacher-student relations. Reducing the incidence of bullying is thus easier in a school environment characterised by warmth, attention and interest from adults; firm limits on unacceptable behavior; and adults who act as authorities and positive role models.

Creating a school culture that helps curb bullying requires a whole-school approach, with co-ordinated engagement among school staff, students and parents. Several of the anti-bullying programmes that have proved to be successful (such as the KiVA initiative in Finland or the School Learning Environment Plan in the Spanish province of Castilla y Leon) include training for teachers on how to handle bullying behaviour and its associated group processes, anonymous surveys of students to monitor the prevalence of bullying, and strategies to provide information to and engage with parents. Programmes also need to be long-term, and frequently monitored and evaluated to be effective.

Bullying will not disappear any time soon; but with a joint effort by schools, parents and students, going to school can become a healthier and happier experience. Public policy can support the implementation of anti-bullying programmes at schools and facilitate more research and evaluations to increase the effectiveness of these programmes.

PISA in Focus No. 74: How much of a problem is bullying at school? 
PISA 2015 Results (Volume III) - Students' Well-Being
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
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Friday, July 07, 2017

Do countries pay their teachers enough?

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

Teachers enter the profession for a variety of reasons. Intrinsic motivations that have to do with the nature of the job and the intangible rewards associated with being an effective teacher play an important role. Yet when comparing a teaching career with similarly rewarding professions, the primary and secondary working conditions and material benefits probably come into play as well. To improve the quality of the candidates for teacher-training programmes and to keep them motivated to enter – and stay – in the profession, it is essential to offer competitive pay.

For many years Education at a Glance has been tracking and monitoring the salaries of teachers, comparing them across countries and over time. A new Education Indicators in Focus brief has brought together the available data in order to chart the evolution of teachers’ salaries over the past ten years. The data clearly show that, in several countries, teachers’ salaries have suffered from the impact of the financial and economic crisis that started in 2008, and from austerity policies and fiscal constraints in recent years. In one-third of the countries with available data, mainly European countries, teachers’ statutory salaries decreased in real terms between 2005 and 2014. But in countries with no similar decreases, teachers’ salaries also did not keep up with pay rises in other professions or public services. In countries with severe budgetary difficulties, it was expected that funding for education would be reduced too; but in doing so governments might have put the long-term quality of the teaching profession at risk.

In troubled labour markets teachers might put job stability and security, or secondary benefits and working conditions first, while accepting less-favourable salaries. At the same time, high-potential graduates might look for better opportunities outside the teaching profession. Lowering salaries in the context of economic downturn and increasing unemployment thus might have an impact on the quality of the candidates seeking to enter the teaching profession and those teachers who are deciding whether or not to remain in the profession. And that could have long-term consequences for the education system in general and for students in particular.

The interesting question is how teachers’ salaries now compare with those of similarly educated professionals. The chart above compares the average actual salaries of teachers in different levels of education against the average salary of a tertiary-educated 25-64 year-old professional who works full time. The data is from 2014, when the worst of the economic downturn was over and recovery had kicked off. The data can be influenced by the differences in teachers’ ages, since in most countries teachers’ salaries increase almost automatically with seniority; but they do provide a fairly accurate basis for comparison. 

The conclusion is straightforward: in the large majority of countries actual teachers’ salaries lose out against those of competing professions. On average across OECD countries, pre-primary teachers’ actual salaries amount to only 74% of the earnings of a tertiary-educated worker. Primary teachers are paid 81% of these benchmark earnings, lower secondary teachers 85% and upper secondary teachers 89%. In only five countries do the salaries of the best-paid teachers exceed those of other professionals.

The chart also shows that the differences in teachers’ pay related to which level of education they teach are significant. In many countries teachers in lower levels of education are paid less than those in upper secondary education. This can be partly explained by differences in the length and qualification level of initial teacher-education programmes or differences in how salaries evolve over the different levels of education. And the gaps are large, adding to the lack of competitiveness of the salaries of teachers in lower levels of education. In recent years, the gaps have narrowed, mainly because of increases in teachers’ salaries at these levels of education; but they are still wider than the pay gap between tertiary-educated professionals and upper secondary teachers.  

In many countries, policies that affect teachers have been given high priority in education policy development – and rightly so: governments realise that to achieve high quality, efficiency and equity in education, improving the quality of the profession is key. Countries also want to improve the attractiveness of the teaching profession, and the quality of teacher education and professional development. The definition of “teacher” is slowly evolving too: a teacher is increasingly seen as an autonomous professional capable of making decisions in varied and complex conditions. But it is hard to see how policies that aim to upgrade the teaching profession – essentially, recognising teachers as the professionals they are – can succeed without raising teachers’ pay at the same time. Governments should not expect that prospective and current teachers will remain content with just the intangible incentives and rewards that traditionally come with teaching. Like every other professional, teachers deserve to be paid a salary that is commensurate with their training and experience. The war for talent is also fought with money.


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Chart source: OECD, Table D3.2a. See Annex 3 for notes (

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Are countries ready to invest in early childhood education?

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

There is now a widespread consensus that high-quality early childhood education is critically important for children. Research continues to find that early childhood education can compensate for a lack of learning opportunities at home, and can help children begin to develop the social and emotional skills needed for success later in life. Few policy makers would now question the benefits of high-quality early childhood education.

As a result, early childhood education systems have expanded. As documented in Education at a Glance 2016, on average across OECD countries enrolment in pre-primary education among 3-year-olds rose from 54% in 2005 to 69% in 2014, and among 4-year-olds from 73% to 85%. Expansion policies include the extension of compulsory education to younger children, free or universal early childhood education, and the creation of programmes that integrate care with formal pre-primary education.

Yet, the available data show that many countries still have a long way to go. As the chart above illustrates, enrolment rates among 2- to 4-year-olds still fall below 50% in Ireland, Poland, Switzerland, the United States and in OECD partner countries Argentina and Colombia. In some countries that are known for the overall quality of their education, such as Australia, Finland, Japan and the Netherlands, enrolment rates among this age group do not exceed 70%.

Are countries hesitant to translate their acknowledgement of the benefits of early childhood education into adequate funding? A look at how early childhood education is financed suggests they are. The latest Education Indicators in Focus brief looks at how much governments allocate to early childhood education and where the money comes from. The overall picture is disappointing.

As seen in the chart above, overall annual public expenditure on early childhood education per pupil varies enormously, from close to USD 2 000 in Estonia to close to USD 18 000 in Norway. Most countries still spend less than USD 5 000 per pupil per year. In many countries there is still a large gap between public per-student funding in early childhood education and primary education; yet from an educational point of view, there are no valid arguments for being stingy with early childhood education.

The expansion of early childhood education coincided with radical changes in the economy. As more women entered the work force, the demand for childcare and early childhood education grew. But budget constraints, fiscal austerity following the economic crisis, and the increased cost of other levels of education made it difficult to keep up with the demand and with growing policy interest. Thus, many countries turned to various cost-sharing arrangements.

In most countries households continue to assume a large share of the financial burden. The conservative view that early childhood education is a kind of surrogate “family”, rather than an autonomous learning environment in its own right, provided some ideological justification for cost-sharing. The Education Indicators in Focus brief shows that, on average across OECD countries, the private sector finances 31% of expenditure on early childhood educational development programmes and 17% of pre-primary programmes. Another cost-sharing mechanism for early childhood education makes local and regional levels of government responsible for co-funding. On average across OECD countries, local governments provide 48% of total public funding, even before accounting for transfers from regional and central governments.

The overall picture of the economics of early childhood education is thus extremely complicated, with various sources of funding complementing each other, complex systems of transfers between levels of government, and intricate combinations of public and private funding. Different systems of tax credits and fiscal expenditures contribute to the complexity of the funding arrangements. As a result, governance, policy, oversight and accountability arrangements are also often complicated and sometimes even contradictory. Clearly, these are not the most favourable conditions for expanding early childhood education.

Yet, as the chart above illustrates, there are also countries that seem to have committed themselves to allocating adequate resources to early childhood education. It is interesting to see that higher levels of funding also correlate with higher levels of participation. With the exception of Estonia, Israel and Spain, countries that attract over 80% of 2- to 4-year-olds to early childhood education also ensure relatively high per-student funding from public sources.

Early childhood education can no longer be seen as a luxury; it is neither just a welcome add-on to those education systems that can afford it nor dispensable to those that can’t. The evidence of its benefits for both individuals and society as a whole is just too overwhelming to justify the kinds of timid funding policies that are revealed in the data.

Education Indicators in Focus No. 52 -  Who bears the cost of early childhood education and how does it affect enrolment?
Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators
Starting Strong 2017 - Key OECD Indicators on Early Childhood Education and Care
Starting Strong V - Transitions from Early Childhood Education and Care to Primary Education

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Chart source: Semeraro, G. (2017), Who bears the cost of early childhood education and how does it affect enrolment?, Education Indicators in Focus, No. 52, OECD Publishing, Paris, DOI:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Investigating the complexities of school funding

by Deborah Nusche
Senior Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Back in 2013, when we launched the OECD's first international review of school resource policies, we may not have been fully prepared for the detective-type work we were getting into. The OECD Review of School Resources covers 18 school systems and aims to shed light on a part of education policy that has been surprisingly left in the dark.

Today, we publish our first thematic report on the funding of school education. The research conducted for this study involved intensive field visits to 10 countries, which made tangible the challenges of reviewing school funding policies.

In several systems, information on the formulas used to calculate funding levels for schools was not readily available. In a range of countries, including Denmark, Iceland and Sweden, school funding policies are a local responsibility and there may be as many different funding formulas as there are local authorities.

But even in more centralised systems, authorities could rarely point us to a single document providing all elements considered in the national funding approach. Several times, we were told that only a handful of people in the system actually understood the funding scheme. Luckily, in most cases we were able to meet these rare funding master minds.

The many actors we spoke to in schools, education administrations and representative organisations also helped us understand the funding mechanisms from their perspective. In one country, we analysed a sample of letters received by schools from the ministry on their funding allocation, and deduced from these the main school funding principles.

The funding approaches we uncovered in countries as diverse as Austria, Belgium, Chile, the Czech Republic and Estonia were of greater or lesser complexity. In some systems, fragmented governance structures are reducing the clarity, co-ordination and transparency of funding flows. In others, the formulas used to calculate per-student funding are so complicated that they effectively prevent those who use them from fully understanding them. Such complexity makes policy discussions difficult, if not impossible.

Moreover, countries typically supplement the main funding streams with additional targeted funds. In Uruguay, there are over 130 different programmes targeted at improving equity in education, which involve the funding of specific groups of students or schools. The use of targeted programmes can help convey policy objectives, promote greater equity and allow better steering of the use of public resources. But a multiplication of such programmes risks generating inefficiencies, greater administrative costs and a lack of long-term sustainability for schools.

Comparing funding approaches across countries adds another layer of complexity. Definitions vary across countries, and describing complex policies in simple comparative tables may betray the logic of individual systems. In close collaboration with its Group of National Experts on School Resources, the OECD study produced a set of country profiles for the participating systems, as well as internationally comparative tables for several aspects of their funding systems. These are analysed based on findings from international research, narrative reports collected from participating countries, and the conclusions of individual country visits.

The resulting synthesis report, which was co-funded by the European Commission, is the first in a series of thematic reports on school resources, which collectively aim to help improve school resource policies across the OECD. Not surprisingly, one of the report's main recommendations is for schools and school systems to be more transparent about their funding policies and how resources are distributed. The presentation of clear criteria that can be scrutinised and negotiated can help stimulate public debate and stakeholder support of a given approach as a fair method of funding.

The report also makes a strong case for school funding policies to be connected to educational objectives. This needs to happen at all levels of a school system. Central and sub-central funding strategies need to make explicit the goals that they aim to achieve, and public reporting should present funding information alongside information on the quality and equity of a school system. At the school level, school leaders with responsibility for resources need to be prepared for strategic budgeting in a framework of learning-centred leadership. They also need support in the more technical aspects of budgeting so that they can focus on the strategic aspects of formulating their school's budget.

The report provides analysis, policy options and examples from around the world on the following aspects of school funding policy:

  • Connecting funding strategies to education goals 
  • Aligning roles and responsibilities in complex funding systems 
  • Building capacity for strategic school funding 
  • Developing a stable and publicly known system for funding allocation
  • Striking a balance between regular and targeted funding 
  • Using adequate indicators to target disadvantage
  • Being transparent about the use of funds 
  • Bringing together evaluative information on inputs, processes and outcomes 
  • Paying particular attention to evaluating the equity outcomes of school funding