Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Improving education outcomes for Indigenous students

by Andreas Schleicher 
Director, OECD 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, OECD 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, OECD 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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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Can bullying be stopped?

by Mario Piacentini
Analyst, OECD 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, OECD 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


Realising Slovenia’s bold vision for skills

by Andreas Schleicher 
Director for Education and Skills, OECD

Small in size but not in its ambitions, Slovenia has a bold vision for a society in which people learn for and through life, are innovative, trust one another, enjoy a high quality of life and embrace their unique identity and culture.

So how does a country of 2 million people, with an export-oriented economy still recovering from the financial crisis, realise such ambitious goals?

People’s skills – what they know and can do with what they know – are at the heart of all countries’ prosperity. Technological change, globalisation and population ageing all magnify the importance of people’s skills. Recognising this, Slovenia embarked on a journey involving nine government ministries and offices and over 100 stakeholders to map Slovenia’s main skills challenges.

A series of interactive workshops in Ljubljana in 2016 provided a unique forum in which educators, employers, students, employee representatives, government officials and others discussed Slovenia’s skills challenges and opportunities. Participants underscored the need to encourage young people to be independent and creative thinkers. They wanted to make Slovenia more attractive to high-skilled workers, a place which embraces a culture of entrepreneurship and makes co-operation between government and citizens the new way of working.

Slovenia’s nine skills challenges

The OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Report: Slovenia, published today, builds on these insights as well as comparative data and policy analysis from the OECD, the European Commission and national sources. The report identifies nine skills challenges for Slovenia as it seeks to achieve its economic, social and environmental ambitions.

People need to develop skills for economic and social success in an ever-changing world, early in life and through life. The report concludes that Slovenia faces the challenges of:
  • Equipping young people with relevant skills for work and life
  • Improving the skills of low-skilled adults who did dot have the kind of educational opportunities their children now enjoy

Creating conditions in which people want to work and firms are able to hire will be essential to Slovenia’s future prosperity. When it comes to activating its skills supply, Slovenia will need to tackle the challenges of:
  • Boosting employment for all age groups
  • Attracting and retaining talent from Slovenia and abroad

Promoting workplace cultures, practices and systems that spur workers and employers to put skills to use in workplaces can lead to higher wages, job satisfaction and labour productivity. Here, Slovenia faces the challenges of:
  • Making the most of people’s skills in workplaces
  • Using skills for entrepreneurship and innovation

Finally, Slovenia must ensure that the overall settings of the skills system – governance, information and financing – work coherently to achieve the best possible skills outcomes. This requires:
  • Inclusive and effective governance of the skills system
  • Enabling better decisions through improved skills information
  • Financing and taxing skills equitably and efficiently

Moving from diagnosis to action

Slovenia can now build upon this strategic assessment of the national skills system to develop an integrated set of actions to tackle its skills challenges.

The report identifies three themes emerging from this work that can help to frame future action:

1. Empowering active citizens with the right skills for the future: Slovenia, like other OECD countries, is grappling with the question of which skills are most essential for economic and social success in the future. There is no definitive answer to this question. Yet success will likely require that people develop a portfolio of cognitive, socio-emotional and discipline-specific skills that equip them to continue learning, interact with others and solve increasingly complex problems. A responsive and resilient national skills system will be essential. Slovenia needs to do a better job of ensuring that all actors play their part in creating, using and responding to high-quality information on skills needs.

2. Building a culture of lifelong learning: Ensuring that all actors – individuals, employers, educators, policy makers and others – believe and are invested in the value of learning at every stage of life will be crucial for the future prosperity and well-being of Slovenians. How adult learning is delivered and supported needs to be rethought, to make it accessible to all while demonstrating to individuals and employers the tangible benefits of upskilling and reskilling throughout life.

3. Working together to strengthen skills: The experience of the National Skills Strategy project in Slovenia has not only confirmed the value of co-operation between different ministries and stakeholders, but the importance of making this co-operation more systematic. The surest path to improving skills outcomes will be to work together today, based on a shared vision for the future.

Building on the significant momentum achieved during the Diagnostic Phase, Slovenia now has a unique opportunity to mobilise government and stakeholders to take concrete actions to improve skills outcomes. The OECD stands ready to accompany Slovenia in its next phase of the journey towards prosperity and well-being, building on the skills of its people.

For more on skills and skills policies around the world, visit:
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Friday, June 23, 2017

Rethinking the learning environment

by Rose Bolognini
Communications and Publications Co-ordinator, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

What do innovative learning environments around the world look like? How might they be led and evaluated? What policy strategies stimulate and support them? For the past decade the OECD’s Centre for Education Research and Innovation (CERI) has addressed these and similar questions in an international study called Innovative Learning Environments.

Now drawing on their extensive research within this project  – from the nature of learning, to innovative cases, to leadership and strategies – CERI has translated these findings into a practical handbook, aimed at educators, leaders and innovative policy-shapers. It gives a set of tools based on this extensive international knowledge source as well as succinct summaries of the research accessible to practitioners.

The handbook is divided into four chapters:

i) The principles of learning to design learning environments;
ii) The OECD “7+3” framework for innovative learning environments;
iii) Learning leadership and evaluative thinking; and
iv) Transformation and change in learning ecosystems.

Altogether, fourteen tools are included – some might be covered in a single workshop session while others ideally need a couple of years to work through (with most in between).

Take the first chapter on the learning principles. These principles emphasise flexibility and autonomy, placing learners at the centre and treat learning as collaborative where educators are highly attuned to learners’ emotions and what motivates them. It is an environment where diversity is embraced, the learner is challenged but not exhausted and overwhelmed, expectations are clear and formative feedback is encouraged. It is also an environment that urges learners to make connections across areas of knowledge and subjects as well as with the wider community.

There are four tools presented to help educators fully understand these fundamental principles. Let’s work through the first one to give a flavour of the handbook. It is called “How well do we embed the learning principles?”. There are five steps outlined, intended to push schools or networks or districts to think about whether they exemplify what makes young people learn best and to gather evidence to back up their answers. The steps range from “familiarisation with the principles” to “overviewing the existing situation” and “deciding on a course of action”. The last step invites schools to come back and review their progress after allowing some time to pass.

The handbook also provides tools for educators to focus on the changing landscape of leadership – no longer a one person job at the top but a shared, collaborative responsibility between teachers, learners and the wider community. And just as formative feedback is systematically integrated in the classroom so should leaders continuously question and evaluate the educational innovation taking place.

And what might these changing learning environments look like? Even though the handbook and previous research discuss how traditional environments can transform,  it would be useful to be able to measure education systems’ development towards and implementation of innovative learning environments. Now in 2017, CERI has launched a new study on Innovative Pedagogies for Powerful Learning to take this initiative a step further  – looking more in depth at teaching and learning. In this context, the OECD Handbook for Innovative Learning Environments is not the end point – but one resource in the rich mix of analyses and reflections that will inspire innovative change in the classroom.

The OECD Handbook for Innovative Learning Environments 
The Innovative Learning Environments (ILE) project 
The Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Priming up for primary school

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Why do children in their last year of pre-primary education spend so much time playing and the year after sitting in large classes listening to their teacher? Why do we pay the teachers of our youngest children so much less than we pay the teachers of our oldest children? Why do first-year primary teachers know so little about the children from whom their pre-primary teachers have learned so much? The simple answer is that that’s the way we have always done this.

But we have learned so much about how children learn and what they learn best at what stage of their development, that we can, and should, do a lot better. It is time for this knowledge and experience to shape education policy and practice more distinctly. To this end, the OECD has just published its first internationally comparative set of indicators on early childhood education and care and, more than that, we analysed what more can be done to shift the focus from making our youngest ready for school toward serving them and their parents best to build solid foundations for their.

This is important. The first years of life lay the foundations for future skills development and learning, and investments in high-quality early childhood education and care pay huge dividends in terms of children’s long-term learning and development, particularly the most marginalised ones. Most OECD countries recognise this, and this is reflected in our indicators which show the steeply rising enrolment and spending figures. These efforts should not underestimated. In most industrialised nations, early childhood education has advanced from a service for a minority of children to virtually universal enrolment for at least one year. However, for the youngest children, provision remains patchy. Beyond that, the benefits of early learning can fade during the first years of primary school if the transitions between early childhood education and care and primary schooling are not well-prepared, or if continuity in quality is not ensured. For many children, the transition from the last period of early childhood education to the start of primary school is a big culture change – in the people surrounding them, the ways in which they interact, their number of peers, the types of activities they are engaged in, and their physical surroundings. This often gets compounded by a fragmentation in services, difficulties in engaging all relevant actors, weak collaboration among stakeholders, and simply poor knowledge management across institutional boundaries.

Quality transitions that are well-prepared and child centred, managed by highly educated staff who are collaborating professionally, and guided by appropriate and aligned curricula, can go a long way to ensure that  the positive impacts of early learning and care will last through primary school and beyond.

But there is more to successful transitions. This starts with professional continuity. In most, but not all countries we surveyed, preschool and primary teachers already have access to training on transitions, and qualification levels required for preschool and primary teachers are increasingly brought into line. But pre-primary teachers have often still less working time than their primary school peers for tasks outside the classroom. There are also discrepancies between the status and perspectives of early childhood and primary school teachers, lack of relevant training and support on transitions at both levels, and structural hurdles to co-operation and co-ordination.

Curriculum and pedagogical continuity is equally important. On the one hand, many countries have made efforts to better align or integrate their curricula, ensuring that instructional techniques and strategies do not vary too much across transitions. However, in the majority of jurisdictions, children have a less favourable staff-child ratio during their first year of primary school than during their final year of pre-primary education. Add to this differences and inconsistencies in curricula, a lack of a shared pedagogical understanding of staff in early childhood education and schools, and inconsistent delivery of pedagogy during transitions.

Developmental continuity is also important. The report portrays many efforts of preparing children, parents and teachers for the transition to primary school, but important differences remain among jurisdictions in their recognition of the importance of children’s participation in transition preparations, in their capacity to raise awareness among parents on the importance of the transition process, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, in promoting closer collaboration between early childhood and primary school staff, and in increasing co-operation with other child development services.

More can also be done to align working conditions of preschool and primary school teachers: increase flexibility and responsiveness to individual communities, families and children, while at the same time strengthening coherence of services; overcome structural and informational roadblocks to co-operation and continuity; and to better facilitate collaboration among staff, managers, parents and the community based on reciprocal communication, inclusivity, mutual trust and respect.

The report makes a start to build a comparative evidence base on effective early childhood and care policies and practices, but it recognises that there remain important gaps in our knowledge base. That is encouragement for us at the OECD to push the frontiers further. As a next step, we will be conducting our first survey of staff in early childhood education care, to give these staff their own voice, which is badly lacking in current policy development. The survey seeks to identify strengths and opportunities for early childhood learning and well-being environments, with an emphasis on professional and pedagogical practises, but will also take a close look at the work organisation, careers and rewards of staff. Further down the road, we will try to broaden the range of early learning outcomes that are currently measured, to ensure that these don’t remain limited to cognitive aspects, but instead give due attention to the social and emotional qualities of children where early action can make such a huge difference.

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 

OECD work on Early Childhood Education and Care

Register for a public webinar on Wednesday, 21 June, 17h00 Central European Summer Time (Paris, GMT +02:00) with Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Education and Skills Directorate, Miho Taguma, Senior Analyst and Éric Charbonnier, Analyst in the Early Childhood and Schools division.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Studying more may not make you a top-performer

by Hélène Guillou
Consultant, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

It’s 3pm in Finland. A bell rings, marking the end of classes in a middle school and time for students to go home. In a different part of the world, at the exact same time, other students are also just finishing  up classes. Except for these students, it’s not the middle of the afternoon, but night time, and they have just spent several hours studying in a “cram-school”, after a normal school day.

Even if Finnish students study for a couple of hours after school, they will still have spent significantly less time cracking the books than some of their East Asian counterparts. Yet, when it comes to performance, Finland ranks among the top-performing countries in science.

As this month’s PISA in Focus reveals, students spend considerably more time learning in some countries than in others, but this does not necessarily translate into better learning outcomes.

Across OECD countries and economies, students reported spending 44 hours per week learning. This represents approximately 55% of students’ available time, excluding weekends and eight hours of sleep per day. In some countries and economies, such as Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangdong (China), Qatar, Thailand, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, students spend at least 65% of their available time learning; whereas in others, notably Finland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay, students spend less than half of their available time learning. Most of these differences are explained by the variation in the time students spend studying after school, which includes homework, additional instruction and private study, rather than the time they spend in regular school lessons. For instance, students in the United Arab Emirates spend 17 hours more studying after school and 5 hours more in school compared to Finnish students.

When looking at the relationship between time spent studying and performance, the diversity among countries and economies is even more striking. Some manage to both score at or above the OECD average while still providing their students with free time to practice sports, or to discover their passion for other activities such as playing the guitar. And just as Finnish and East Asian students perform at equally high levels while experiencing completely different school routines, in other school systems, students perform below the OECD average despite long hours of studying. In these school systems, the ratio between PISA science scores and total learning time is relatively low. This not only calls into question the efficiency of their education systems but can also signal differences in learning time across education levels, with students compensating for the time spent learning in earlier stages of their education. The ratio might also reveal that, in order to succeed academically, students in some education systems need to spend more time in “planned” or “deliberate” learning because they have fewer opportunities to learn informally outside of school. What some students learn by discussing with their parents, others have to learn by spending more time studying at a desk.

But even if we just focus on planned learning time, not all of its components are associated the same way with science performance. In school systems where less time overall is spent learning science, an increase in the average time students spend learning in regular science lessons is associated with an increase in the average science score. But, for every additional hour spent studying after school, the average science score drops by about 20 points, revealing that learning time in school may be more effective than studying after school. However, students who are already low-performers may be those who need that extra time after school to learn.

It is difficult to say how many hours students should spend studying, if such an optimal time exists. One thing is certain though: being inspired by an enlightening science class sounds much more enjoyable than memorising a lesson far into the night.

PISA in Focus No. 73: Do students spend enough time learning?
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
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Monday, June 19, 2017

Who makes it into PISA?

by Nicholas Spaull
Former Thomas J. Alexander Fellow, OECD
Unlike earlier PISA reports, the 2015 PISA report (Volume I  and Volume II) highlights differences in sample coverage – how many students were eligible to participate in PISA – between countries. Why is this important? Because you can’t really appreciate the magnitude of improvement in a country’s performance in PISA unless you also understand how access to education has expanded over time, too.

Take the case of Turkey. Of the OECD countries that participate in PISA, Turkey has one of the lowest levels of performance and the highest rates of improvement in PISA scores. Between 2003 and 2012, Turkey managed to improve its mathematics score by 25 points while also narrowing the achievement gap between rich and poor students (in other words, improving equity in education). Over the same period, Turkey also managed to keep students in education longer and see them progress more steadily through grades – achievements that, until now, have gone largely unrecognised.

In order to be eligible to sit the PISA assessment, a student must be between 15 years, 3 months and 16 years, 2 months old, still enrolled in school, and in grade 7 or higher. These details may sound like trivial technicalities, and in most OECD countries they are. But in Turkey and Mexico, and partner countries like Viet Nam and Indonesia, these details can make a big difference. This is because early school-leaving, dropout and slow progress through grades are widespread and substantially affect PISA sample coverage.

A recently-released paper shows that in 2003, fewer than one in two Turkish 15-year-olds was eligible to sit the PISA test. Household survey data from the 2003 Turkish Demographic and Health Survey show that 33% of 15-16 year-olds had already left school, and another 18% were still enrolled in grades 1 through 6. Thus the 2003 PISA results were only truly representative of less than half (45%) of the population of Turkish 15-16 year-olds.

But between 2003 and 2012, there was a significant increase in students remaining in school and a considerable decline in excessively delayed grade progression. The figure immediately below, based on data from the Turkish Demographic and Health Surveys of 2003, 2008 and 2013, shows that the percentage of students who were eligible to sit the PISA test increased from 45% in 2003 to 80% in 2012.

The paper explains that if one takes into account these large expansions in access and attainment, the improvement in Turkey is much greater than is usually thought. For example, taking into account both improvement in test scores and the expansion of the population of 15-year-olds who are eligible to sit the PISA test, the paper shows that the increase between 2003 and 2012 in the percentage of 15-16 year-olds attaining baseline Level 2 in mathematics and reading is more than twice as large as previously considered. While this paper only covers the PISA cycles from 2003 to 2012, in PISA 2015 Turkey’s performance declined in the three core domains of assessment, and coverage expanded only minimally compared to 2012.

Although all students benefited from the improvements in Turkey, girls and the poorest 40% of students benefited the most. This was largely because the dropout and early school-leaving rates among girls halved from 38% in 2003 to 20% in 2013.  During the same period, the percentage of disadvantaged 15-16 year-olds who attained Level 2 in reading increased more than threefold, from 13% to 46%. Since the percentage of advantaged students who attained Level 2 also increased – from 50% in 2003 to 82% in 2012 – the performance gap between rich and poor remains large.

Analyses reported in the paper also find that advantaged students are considerably more likely to be eligible to sit the PISA test – and to acquire basic proficiency in mathematics and reading – than disadvantaged students.

This new research shows the importance of accounting for who makes it into the PISA sampling frame. After all, survey results are only as representative as the students that make it into the sample. To address the problem of coverage, the OECD is piloting a survey for out-of-school 15-year-olds through the PISA for Development programme. The programme is currently conducting the field trial of this component, which will become available to all countries participating in the PISA 2021 survey.

Who makes it into PISA? Understanding the impact of PISA sample eligibility using Turkey as a case study (PISA 2003 – PISA 2013) 

Who makes it into PISA? Illustrative Charts

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
PISA for Development

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Risky business

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

As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, so do the risks we face. A disease breaking out in a village in Africa, a bank crashing on Wall Street or a protest in a distant country can all potentially “snowball” and influence the world financial, health or security order.

While very different topics, environmental degradation, financial crises, cyber-attacks and social instability both within and in between countries have all been identified as risks for OECD countries and indeed, the whole world. Their global nature means that all of these risks require a co-ordinated international response. Education has a key role to play: as a preventative tool, it can be used to raise awareness as well as shape the attitudes and responsible behaviours of a generation of conscious global citizens. Education can also mitigate the effects of risks by equipping students with the knowledge and skills needed to cope with crises as they emerge, building their resilience in the process.

A newly released Trends Shaping Education Spotlight explores some of the ways education can make a difference:
  • Education can prepare the future workforce with the skills required to address emerging risks. Whether it is in the fields of green energy, sustainable food production or clean water technology, there is a call for stronger STEM skills for students and more training in these innovative fields as one of the best ways to respond to environmental risk. Similarly, technological risks such as cyber-attacks and cyber-espionage have created a huge demand for cyber security professionals and even "ethical hackers" as a way to improve cyber safety. These emerging fields of work will be built on new frontiers of research and innovation, and all will require new skills and competencies.
  • Education can be a catalyst for changing knowledge, attitude and behaviour. For example, better educated people are more likely to be concerned about the environment and to promote political decisions that protect it. "Green schools” can be used to model what sustainability means in a daily context as they are designed to minimise energy, water, and waste. Environmental issues can be integrated across the curriculum and are a powerful tool for raising awareness.
  • Education can reduce the impact of risk and crises. While not the main cause of the latest global financial crisis, a lack of financial literacy might have deepened its effects: Less financially literate individuals are more likely to have costly mortgages and engage in credit card spending, and less likely to hold precautionary savings and undertake retirement planning. The latest PISA results reveal that 22% of students do not have basic financial skills across OECD countries. Financial education can foster greater understanding of financial processes, products and services and might be a key to preventing future shocks from extending and worsening.
  • Education can protect and prevent young people from engaging in risky behaviour. Cyber “hygiene” education seeks to provide youth with the tools to better handle technological risks such as fraud, identity theft, online predators and cyberbullying. It is an increasing part of the curriculum in countries such as the Netherlands, the UK or Japan. Similarly, both formal and informal education can help counter the risks of radicalisation and extremism, two very current concerns for countries across the OECD. By supporting social cohesion, fostering intercultural understanding and dialogue, and developing social and emotional skills, education can help protect youth at risk from recruiters who seek to attract them to their cause.
In our fast-paced modern world, it might be a comfort to know that some things remain the same. Basic literacy and numeracy are still important, for participation in society and as the basis for critical thinking and problem solving. These skills in turn allow us to better manage change and uncertainty. Perhaps one of the most important roles that education can play is to foster the capacity to deal flexibly with change and manage unanticipated and interconnected crises. Managing volatile situations well lessens the chance of global contagion of risk.

We can't entirely prevent the next outbreak of a communicable disease, a cyber-attack or another bank crashing. But we can continue to equip our citizens with the tools they need to protect themselves, and we can continue to support innovative solutions to minimise these risks. Any challenge is also an opportunity. The biggest contribution education can make it is to help develop the capacity and skills to build a safer future for all.

Trends Shaping Education Spotlight No. 10: Globalisation of Risk
Trends Shaping Education 2016
PISA Financial Literacy
Center for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Why are immigrants less proficient in literacy than native-born adults?

by Theodora Xenogiani
Senior Policy Analyst, OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs

Why is it that highly educated migrants to OECD countries are less likely to be employed than native-born adults who are similarly educated, even if they have lived in their host country for several years? The OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) provides some answers. Based on results from the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), a new Adult Skills in Focus shows that immigrants tend to have lower proficiency in the language of their new country than native-born residents. On average, the difference amounts to about 3.5 years of schooling and a difference is observed even when comparing immigrant and native adults with the same level of education.

Migrants in the various countries participating in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) differ in their reasons for migration, their country of origin, the time they have already spent in the host country, and the age at which they arrived. For instance, the literacy gap is much wider for immigrants in Sweden than for immigrants in other countries. This could reflect the fact that a large share of Sweden’s migrants came to the country for humanitarian reasons. It could also be because relatively few people outside of Sweden speak Swedish, so migrants are less likely to be already familiar with the language.

In contrast, the small differences in literacy proficiency between immigrants and natives in Australia and New Zealand could be explained by these countries’ selective immigration policies, leading to a large share of highly educated migrants with good knowledge of the English language.

Migrants’ language skills should be taken into account when interpreting their literacy proficiency. Two-thirds of the migrants assessed by the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) were not taking the test in their native language. The literacy and numeracy proficiency measured in the survey thus does not just reflect migrants’ cognitive skills, but also – possibly to a large degree – their familiarity with and fluency in the test language. That means we have to distinguish between language skills and purely cognitive skills. For instance, we could take into account the country where migrants earned their qualifications, or the languages they speak at home or have learned in their lives.

A report by the OECD and the European Union shows that around one-third of the gap in literacy proficiency between immigrant and native-born adults can be explained by whether immigrants speak the host-country language at home or had learned it as a child. In Finland and Norway, countries with complex and less widely spoken languages, this factor can account for at least half of the gap in proficiency between migrants and natives.

The good news is that migrants’ literacy and numeracy skills improve with time, especially in countries where the gap is large and the language issue is important. In most countries, immigrants who arrived as young children and completed their education in their host country do just as well as their native-born peers.

If countries are to make the most of immigration and ensure the successful integration of migrants into their labour market and their society, they need the right policies to tackle these issues. However, the lack of detailed data up to now has made it hard to provide the analysis needed to create effective policies.

The Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) opens a new world of information to policy makers. Not only does it assess the skills of both migrants and natives, but it also includes detailed information about immigrants, their country of origin, their migration experience and their outcomes since arriving. It is possibly the first data source that allows us to draw a detailed picture of migrants’ skills and how those skills are used in the labour market. It provides a solid basis from which we can design policies to help migrants integrate more quickly and successfully into their new communities.


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The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law