Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Young people are our future: invest in their skills

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

More than 35 million 16-29 year-olds across OECD countries are neither employed nor in education or training (NEET) – and around half of all NEETs are out of school and not looking for work. These young people are likely to have dropped off the radar of their country’s education, social and labour market systems.

The OECD Skills Outlook 2015: Youth, Skills and Employability, launched today, asserts that this unacceptable waste of human potential stems partly from the fact that too many young people leave education without having acquired the right skills (according to the 2013 Survey of Adult Skills, 10% of new graduates have poor literacy skills and 14% have poor numeracy skills); and that not enough young people have experience in the world of work (less than 50% of students in vocational education and training programmes, and less than 40% of students in academic programmes in the 22 OECD countries and regions covered by the Survey of Adult Skills participate in any kind of work-based learning).

But even young people with strong skills have trouble finding work. Many firms find it too expensive to hire individuals with no labour market experience. In fact, young people are twice as likely as prime-age workers to be unemployed.

And those young people who have managed to gain a foothold in the labour market often must overcome institutionalised obstacles, including regulations that make it costly for firms to convert fixed-term contracts into permanent contracts, in order to develop their skills and advance in their careers.

As the Skills Outlook makes clear, youth unemployment and underemployment have adverse and long-lasting consequences for both the individuals and the countries involved. Struggling students need to be identified early and given the appropriate support so that they acquire at least basic skills; regulations need to be adjusted to reduce the cost to employers of hiring young people with little work experience; and employers and educators need to agree on the meaning of education qualifications to reduce the incidence of skills mismatch on the job. Only through a concerted effort – by education providers, the labour market, tax and social institutions, employer and employee organisations, and parents and young people themselves –will young people be able to improve their employability and make a smoother and faster transition from the classroom to the workplace.
OECD Press Release: Governments must step up efforts to tackle youth unemployment, says OECD
OECD Skills Outlook 2015: Youth, Skills and Employability

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thrown in at the deep end: support for teachers’ first years

by Katarzyna Kubacka
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

The first day at work can be stressful for anyone. But what if that day involves teaching in front of a classroom filled with disruptive students? This may not be the reality for every new teacher, but as the new Teaching in Focus brief “Supporting new teachers” shows, it is the case for many.

TALIS 2013 finds that in many countries, new teachers (with less than five years’ teaching experience) are more likely to work in challenging schools than more experienced teachers. This means that they may be teaching in schools where more than 10% of students have special needs; or they may be located in a rural area, where schools often have fewer resources than urban schools.

Research shows that new teachers often lack the necessary skills to keep order in a classroom. As a result they spend less time teaching and more time managing students’ behaviour, which leads to their classrooms having a poorer climate than those of their more experienced colleagues. Teachers’ confidence in their abilities as teachers (i.e. their self-efficacy) also tends to increase with experience. Therefore, for many new teachers, their ability and confidence are outmatched by the difficult working conditions in which they are placed. 

To help remedy this mismatch, education systems can support new teachers through induction or mentoring programmes. Induction programmes are formal and informal activities that have been completed during a teacher’s first regular position, while mentoring programmes involve more experienced teachers mentoring their colleagues. Both induction and mentoring programmes can be an important link between teachers’ pre-service training and the day-to-day practice of classroom teaching. The added benefit of mentoring programmes is that they can strengthen collaboration between teachers and, thus, improve school climate.

Across most TALIS countries, the majority of teachers have access to formal or informal induction or mentoring programmes. However, TALIS 2013 shows large differences between countries in terms of programs’ availability: 44% of teachers work in schools where principals report access to formal induction programmes for all new teachers; 22% working in schools where such programmes are available to teachers new to teaching only; 76% of teachers work in schools with access to informal induction.

In most countries, fewer teachers report participation in induction and mentoring programmes than principals report the existence of such programmes. For example, in the Netherlands, 71% of all teachers work in schools with reported mentoring programmes, while only 17% report having a mentor. This suggests that many systems should carefully investigate the barriers to teachers’ and consider creating incentives for participation in such programmes. To illustrate, in many countries the lack of participation might be due to programs’ costs or teachers’ other work commitments.

Investing in teachers’ first years of work is not only about making the workplace easier for new teachers.  Such support also has long-term effects, as TALIS shows that those who participate in induction programmes are more likely to become mentors and participate in professional development later on in their careers. Hence, if teachers are helped to manage those first days, weeks, and years as a teacher, they will go on to help others, creating a virtuous cycle of teacher learning and peer collaboration.

Teaching in Focus No. 11: Supporting new teachers
TALIS 2013 Results
Photo source: Businesswoman is making speech at conference room/ @Shutterstock

Friday, May 15, 2015

Are efficient schools more inclusive?

by Tommaso Agasisti
Thomas J. Alexander Fellow, Directorate for Education and Skills

Distribution of efficiency scores by country
Click here for full size

Analysing the efficiency of education systems and organisations is at the forefront of today’s policy and academic debate. Various factors make efficiency more important than ever: declining public budgets, rising competition across public services for limited public expenditures, increasing demand for transparency in information about the costs and results of schools’ activities. From this perspective, fiscal consolidation in many countries depends on the ability of governments to proactively use information concerning the efficiency of public spending. When focussing on education, providing clear quantitative information about the efficiency of educational institutions has become more important than ever.

In the working paper, we propose an innovative use of PISA data for measuring the efficiency of schools in an international comparison; more specifically, we compare the efficiency scores of more than 8 600 schools in 30 countries using PISA 2012 data. The study deals with the following key research questions:

a)    How relevant are the differences in the efficiency of schools across the selected 30 countries? Are these differences driven more by between-schools or between-countries variance?
b)    Which factors are associated with schools’ efficiency scores? And, are these factors common across all countries?
c)    Is there a trade-off between efficiency and equity at school level?

All three questions can have policy and managerial implications, and each of them also opens the door to potential benchmarking exercises that can prompt school principals to look at the most efficient schools in the world, investigating the drivers of their performances.

Using a non-parametric technique, called Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA), that measures efficiency scores from 0 to 1 (where 1 is maximum efficiency level observed in the sample), we find that efficiency scores vary widely both between and within countries. When considering all schools together – so allowing for the existence of an international common benchmark – we find that on average schools can raise their scores by 27%, ranging across countries from 15% for schools in Singapore to more than 33% for those in Slovenia. The Figure 1 highlights how dispersed efficiency scores are within countries; these efficiency scores of schools within countries encompass the entire range of the international distribution of efficiency, underlying the fact that country average efficiency scores mask substantial internal variation.

When we compare each school with those operating in the same country, the average improvement in output is estimated at 15%, ranging from 6%, on average, among schools in Ireland to 22% among those in Slovenia. This result suggests that it could be necessary to consider an international benchmark for efficiency analysis; indeed, the room for improvement is much larger when considering in the sample institutions from various contexts. International benchmarking exercises are really options for opening the mind to more ambitious performance goals – and at lower cost.  

We also investigate if are there factors at the school and country levels that are associated with efficiency. These second-stage variables have been classified in three main groups: students’ characteristics, other than socio-economic status, general characteristics of the schools, and schools’ practices and processes. This last group of variables can help policy makers and school managers to act for improving institutions’ efficiency. The results reveal that the characteristics of the student intake in each school (i.e. the proportion of girls and immigrants, the diversity of socio-economic background, etc.) explain most of the variation in efficiency across schools; however, school-related factors (i.e. practices such as extracurricular activities, principals’ leadership style, etc.) also play a role in describing differences in efficiency across schools.

In the last part of the study, we discuss how we find no evidence of a trade-off between efficiency and equity; in other words, more efficient schools tend to be more inclusive. Efficiency scores are related to greater inclusion, as measured by the percentage of students in the school who score above proficiency Level 2, the baseline level of performance in PISA.

Limitations on methods and data sources imply that the estimated efficiency scores are only proxies for true efficiency. Most importantly, they do not provide precise measures of efficiency at the school level and any attempt to use these measures to rank schools would be ill conceived. Yet, these estimates provide a clear picture of the distribution of schools’ efficiency scores across and within countries. 

We hope that this contribution can help to direct researchers’ attention towards this topic, to explore further the factors that affect efficiency in education.

The Efficiency of Secondary Schools in an International Perspective
PISA 2012 Key Findings
Thomas J. Alexander Fellowship
Photo source: Authors’ elaborations on PISA 2012 data,

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Education post-2015

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Knowledge capital and economic growth rates across countries*
Next week, UNESCO will convene the world’s educational leaders in Incheon to set the agenda for educational development over the next 15 years. Those who think that’s mainly an agenda for the developing world should read our new report Universal basic skills - what countries stand to gain. The report shows the scale of the effort that is ahead even for many of the wealthiest nations to develop the essential skills that can transform lives, generate prosperity and promote social inclusion. And with a new global metric of the quality of learning outcomes, the report demonstrates that the world is no longer divided between rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly educated ones.

Importantly, the post-2015 agenda is no longer just about providing more people with more years of schooling, but about making sure that individuals acquire a solid foundation of knowledge in key disciplines, that they develop creative, critical thinking and collaborative skills, and that they build character attributes, such as mindfulness, curiosity, courage and resilience.

The first thing the report shows is that the quality of schooling in a country is a powerful predictor of the wealth that countries will produce in the long run. Or, put the other way around, the economic output that is lost because of poor education policies and practices leaves many countries in what amounts to a permanent state of economic recession – and one that can be larger and deeper than the one that resulted from the financial crisis at the beginning of the millennium, out of which many countries are still struggling to climb.

Among the countries compared, Ghana has the lowest enrolment rate in secondary schools (46%) and also the lowest achievement levels for those 15-year-olds who are in school (291 PISA points). While it is difficult for Ghana to meet the goal of universal basic skills any time soon, if it did, it would see a gain over the lifetime of its children born today that, in present value terms, is 38 times its current GDP. This is equivalent to tripling Ghana’s discounted future GDP every four years during the working life of those students with improved skills. For lower-middle income countries, the discounted present value of future gains would still be 13 times current GDP and would average out to a 28% higher GDP over the next 80 years. And for upper-middle income countries, which generally show higher levels of learning outcomes, it would average out to a 16% higher GDP.

The goal of universal basic skills also has meaning for high-income countries, most notably the oil-producing countries. Many of them have succeeded in converting their natural capital into physical capital and consumption today; but they have failed to convert their natural capital into the human capital that can generate the economic and social outcomes to sustain their future. The report shows that the high-income non-OECD countries, as a group, would see an added economic value equivalent to almost five times the value of their current GDP  if they equipped all students with at least basic skills. So there is an important message for countries rich in natural resources: the wealth that lies hidden in the undeveloped skills of their populations is far greater than what they now reap by extracting wealth from national resources. And there is more: PISA shows a significantly negative relationship between the money countries earn from their natural resources and the knowledge and skills of their school population. So PISA and oil don’t mix easily.

One interpretation is that in countries with little in the way of natural resources education is highly valued, and produces strong outcomes, at least partly because the public at large has understood that the country must live by its knowledge and skills, and that these depend on the quality of education. In other words, the value that a country places on education may depend, at least in part, on a country’s view of how knowledge and skills fit into the way it makes its living.

One might be tempted to think that high-income countries have had all the means to eliminate extreme underperformance in education and should already have achieved the education post-2015 goal and targets. But the report shows otherwise. For example, 24% of 15-year-olds in the United States do not successfully complete even the basic Level 1 PISA tasks. If the United States were to ensure that all students meet the goal of universal basic skills, the economic gains could reach over USD 27 trillion in additional income for the American economy over the working life of these students. So even high-income OECD countries would gain significantly from bringing all students up to basic skills by 2030. For this group of countries, average future GDP would be 3.5% higher than it would be otherwise. That is close to what these countries currently spend on their schools. In other words, the economic gains that would accrue solely from eliminating extreme underperformance in high-income OECD countries by 2030 would be sufficient to pay for the primary and secondary education of all students.

The message of these rather complex analyses is simple: there is no shortcut to improved learning outcomes in a post-2015 world economy where knowledge and skills have become the global currency, the key to better jobs and better lives. And there is no central bank that prints this currency. We cannot inherit this currency, and we cannot produce it through speculation; we can only develop it through sustained effort and investment in people.

That raises the question of whether the improvements in learning outcomes suggested in this report are realistic – and how they can be achieved by 2030. The answer to the first question is unambiguously positive. PISA shows that top performers in education, such as Shanghai in China, Korea and Singapore, were able to further extend their lead over the past years, and countries like Brazil, Mexico, Tunisia and Turkey achieved major improvements from previously low levels of performance – all at a speed that exceeds, by a large margin, the improvements described in this report. So the world is full of examples of improvements in education, and there is no time to lose. Without the right skills, people end up on the margins of the society, technological progress doesn’t translate into economic growth, and countries face an uphill struggle to remain ahead in this hyper-connected world. Ultimately in this scenario, the social glue that holds our societies together will disintegrate. The world has become indifferent to past reputations and unforgiving of frailty. Success will go to those individuals, institutions and countries that are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. The task for governments is to help their citizens rise to this challenge by ensuring that by 2030 all of their people are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need for further education, work and life.

Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain
UNESCO World education Forum, 19-22 May 2015, Incheon, Korea
The World Bank Education for Global Development: A blog about the power of investing in people
PISA 2012 Key Findings
Follow on twitter: #UniversalBasicSkills
Chart Source: Hanushek and Woessmann (2015)
*Added-variable plot of a regression of the average annual rate of growth (in%) of real per capita GDP from 1960 to 2000 on average test scores on international student achievement tests, average years of schooling in 1960, and initial level of real per capita GDP in 1960 (mean of unconditional variables added to each axis).
Note by Turkey: The information in this document with reference to "Cyprus" relates to the southern part of the Island. There is no single authority representing both Turkish and Greek Cypriot people on the Island. Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Until a lasting and equitable solution is found within the context of the United Nations, Turkey shall preserve its position concerning the "Cyprus issue". 
Note by all the European Union member States of the OECD and the European Union: The Republic of Cyprus is recognised by all members of the United Nations with the exception of Turkey. The information in this document relates to the area under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tough choices in school choice

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

For those parents who have the opportunity to do so, choosing a school for their child is one of the most important decisions they will make as parents – a decision that could have a lasting impact on their child’s life. What do parents look for when choosing a school for their child?

This month’s PISA in Focus reports on the criteria that parents consider before making this decision. Eleven countries and economies distributed a questionnaire to parents of 15-year-olds who sat the 2012 PISA test that asked them to report on the importance they ascribed to several criteria, including school quality, the distance from home to school, the school’s philosophy and financial considerations. Not surprisingly, the quality of the school – including such factors as academic achievement, reputation, environment and safety – comes first among parents. Yet, PISA finds that many parents value certain indicators of school quality – such as the school’s reputation or safety at the school – more highly than they do academic achievement.

While disadvantaged parents are more concerned than advantaged parents about low expenses and the availability of financial aid when choosing a school, PISA results show that disadvantaged parents often ascribe greater importance to these considerations than to criteria that focus on school quality. That is an important finding, because PISA results also show that the children of parents who consider academic achievement very important score 46 points higher in mathematics, on average, than the children of parents who consider it not important. Although the score-point difference shrinks to 32 points after students’ socio-economic status is taken into account, that difference is still equivalent to nearly an entire year of school.

A previous edition of PISA in Focus noted that competition for students among schools – or school choice, from the schools’ perspective – is related to greater socio-economic segregation among students. As this month’s edition makes clear: learning for some students, particularly disadvantaged students, could suffer tremendously in school systems where parents have to choose between affordability and quality.

PISA in Focus No. 51: What do parents look for in their child's school?
PISA in Focus No. 51 (French version)
PISA 2012 Results: What makes schools successful?
PISA in Focus No. 42: When is competition between schools beneficial?
Photo Credit: Empty Checklist with copy space/ @Shutterstock

Monday, May 04, 2015

How Sweden’s school system can regain its old strength

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

During my days as a university student, I used to look to Sweden as the gold standard for education. A country which was providing high quality and innovative education to children across social ranks, and close to making lifelong learning a reality for all. My professor and mentor, Torsten Husén, was the architect of empirical educational science.

But not long after the turn of the 21st  century, the Swedish school system seems to have lost its soul. Schools began to compete no longer just with superior learning outcomes, but by offering their students shiny buildings in shopping centres, or a driving license instead of better teaching. And while teachers were giving their students better marks each year, international comparisons portrayed a steady decline in student performance. Indeed, no other country taking part in PISA has seen a steeper fall. School discipline has worsened too, with students more likely to arrive late for school than elsewhere.

And yet, Sweden has every chance to become one of the world’s educational leaders again. Among others, it has one asset that few other countries in the Western world offer: The firm belief of Swedes in the power of education to transform lives, generate prosperity and promote social inclusion. And with that comes the unwavering commitment of Swedish citizens and policy-makers from across the political spectrum to do whatever it takes to provide all children with the knowledge, skills and values which they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world.

But some things are in urgent need of change. At the top of the list is the need to raise standards and aspirations for students. The fact that Swedish students think they are doing fine, while their learning outcomes are average at best, underlines the need to significantly strengthen rigor, focus and coherence in school standards. There is a similar need to seriously review teaching methods: According to PISA the majority of math problems which students get exposed to are tasks with relatively low cognitive demand which teacher then try hard to make appear as real-world problems. In contrast, tasks requiring deep conceptual understanding and complex ways of thinking are relatively rare.

Equally important is the belief in the success of every child. Top school systems realise that ordinary students have extraordinary talents and they embrace diversity with differentiated instructional practices. The fact that a majority of Swedish students in PISA believe that success in mathematics is owed to talent rather than hard work, suggests that Sweden must try harder to lower tolerance for failure and raise students’ sense of responsibility for learning. When students in Singapore or Shanghai were asked the same question, virtually all of them said that if they work hard, they trust their teachers to support them and that they will succeed. And they do.

Sweden also needs to revert to one of the traditional strengths of its school system: support for disadvantage. This should include greater focus on enhancing language skills for migrant students and their parents; high quality reception classes; assistants in the classroom; and improved access for disadvantaged families to information about schools. And yet, the performance challenge is not just an issue of poor kids in poor neighborhoods, but for many kids in many neighborhoods. PISA shows that the 10% most disadvantaged students in Shanghai easily outperform the 10% of kids from the wealthiest Swedish families.

Nowhere does the quality of a school system exceed the quality of its teachers. Despite high job satisfaction, only five in one hundred Swedish teachers considered teaching a valued profession in OECD’s 2013 Survey on Teaching and Learning. Top school systems pay attention to how they select and train their staff. They attract the right talent and they watch how they improve the performance of teachers who are struggling. They also provide intelligent pathways for teachers to grow in their careers. With a new career structure, Sweden has made first steps in that direction, but a lot more needs to be done to advance from industrial to professional forms of work organisation in Swedish schools that encourage teachers to use innovative pedagogies, to improve their own performance and that of their colleagues, and to work together to frame good practice.

Sweden also needs to do more to grow and distribute leadership throughout the school system. School leaders and their employers need to prioritise pedagogical leadership and encourage greater co-operation among teachers and invest more in professional development. A publicly-funded National Institute of Teacher and School Leader Quality would help improve recruitment and the quality of teaching and leadership in the education system.

Sweden has significantly increased spending in education over recent decades, but money alone will only raise education systems up to a point. Among OECD countries there is no longer any relationship between spending per student and the quality of learning outcomes. In other words, two countries with similarly high spending levels can produce very different results. So for countries like Sweden it is not primarily about how much they spend on education, but about how they spend their resources. Whenever Sweden needs to make a choice between a smaller class and a better teacher, it should go for the latter. Sweden should also review how school education is funded. The current funding mechanisms are not meeting the objectives of improving quality while maintaining equity. There are different options Sweden can use, including earmarked funding, defining criteria for municipalities and schools, and student funding formulae, to ensure equity and especially consistency in school funding across Sweden.

Perhaps the toughest challenge is to put in place a coherent national school improvement strategy. A school system must be more than a few thousand autonomous schools. School evaluation and accountability needs to be strengthened so that schools, parents and teachers obtain clear and consistent guidance as to where they stand and how they can improve. That also means that the Swedish Schools Inspectorate should provide much more assistance to schools to follow up on their weaknesses and to bring about a shift in culture from administrative compliance towards responsibility for better results.

Of course, effective policies are far easier designed than implemented. But the world provides plenty of examples of improvements in education, and there is no time to lose. The task for the Swedish government is to help citizens rise to this challenge. The OECD is there to help and our report Improving Schools in Sweden – An OECD Perspective highlights some important lessons from the world for Sweden.

Photo credit: Getty Images International, © Duncan1890

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The global talent pool has taken on a dramatically different look

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

The world is living through one of its most extraordinary revolutions, with game-changing implications, many of them still unknown. The growth rate of adults with tertiary education qualifications, and the knowledge and skills associated with them, has never been higher. In 2013, on average across OECD countries, 25% of 55-64 year-olds had a tertiary qualification, but 40% of 25-34 year-olds had an increase of 15 percentage points over 30 years. But among OECD countries, differences are huge. Some countries had expanded their education systems a century ago, while others started to offer opportunities for tertiary education only recently.

The location of human capital matters: in the 20th century, the United States and several other countries were able to benefit from the pool of skilled people in their populations to progress economically and socially at a much higher rate than their competitors.

In the first decades of the 21st century, things look much different. The most recent data shown in the latest Education Indicators in Focus brief on the geographical distribution of 25-34 year-old tertiary graduates in OECD and G20 countries show that in 2013 China had already surpassed the United States. Some 17% of all tertiary graduates are found in China, compared to 14% in both the United States and India. The brief also provides a projection to 2030 based on current trends (see the chart above). In 2030, China would be home to 27% of the global pool of highly educated people, and India to another 23%. The United States would follow with only 8%. And of the emerging economies, Brazil and Indonesia would follow with 5% each. Together China and India would be home to half of the world’s highly educated youth.

These data are truly startling; it is difficult to imagine all the possible consequences. One thinks immediately of the impact on the global distribution of skilled labour and the resulting changes in trade, economic growth and global value chains. Policies to preserve the creative research-and-design parts of production cycles in the industrial nations of the 20th century seem rather antiquated. Think, too, of the enormous consequences for the countries that accomplished this modernisation in a much shorter time than the “old” industrialised nations did.

Of course, many will immediately question the quality of these tertiary qualifications. The expansion and mass accessibility of higher education have put pressure on traditional notions of academic excellence in many industrialised countries. The countries that have undergone this transformation even more rapidly will feel the same pressure. But such dramatic changes also transform the notion of academic quality itself. There are no indications that China and India will be more content with second-class academic quality than the United States or European countries are. But a better and more honest answer is: actually, we don’t know. We don’t yet have a reliable yardstick of the quality of learning and the quality of skills among tertiary graduates. It is difficult to imagine a world in which qualifications and skills matter so much without anyone knowing the real value of them. We know from the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) that even in the “old world” the skills equivalence of tertiary qualifications can differ enormously.

Still, the map of the global distribution of the tertiary graduates looks very different from the map of academic excellence, at least as measured by the established global rankings of universities. Despite their flaws, these rankings nurture the notion that academic excellence is still concentrated in the university systems in the United States, the United Kingdom and a few other European countries. Universities in the East are only very gradually making their way into these league tables. The discrepancy between the location of academic excellence and the location of demand for tertiary qualifications may create tensions, which are only partially resolved through international student flows and e-learning. The global demand for high-quality tertiary education cannot be met by many more international students or MOOCs. As emerging countries like China or India make huge investments in creating world-class universities, it will only be a matter of time before they will catch up in quality as much as in numbers.

In the end, these data are good news. The world is rapidly increasing – and levelling – its pool of knowledge and skills. Given the state of the planet and the many challenges facing us, we will need all the brain-power we can develop. Raising human capital will be the only sustainable strategy, not only to enhance individual nations’ productivity and growth, but also to address the many global challenges before us through research, innovation and collaboration.


Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 31, by Corinne Heckmann and Soumaya Maghnouj
Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 31, French version
Survey of Adult Skills
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus:
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators:

Related blog post
French version: Talents : un vivier mondial en pleine mutation
Chart source: OECD database, UNESCO and national statistics websites for Argentina, China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa (

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Literacy for life

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Literacy proficiency among 16-65 year-olds:
Percentage of adults at each proficiency level in literacy
As jobs increasingly involve analysing and communicating information, individuals with poor literacy skills are more likely to find themselves at risk. Poor proficiency in these skills limits adults’ access to many basic services, to better-paying and more-rewarding jobs, and to the possibility of participating in further education and training, which is crucial for developing and maintaining skills over the working life and beyond.

On this Leaders for Literacy Day, I want to share some findings from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills. The survey finds, for example, that the median hourly wage of workers scoring at the highest levels in literacy (Level 4 or 5 in the survey) – those who can make complex inferences and evaluate subtle truth claims or arguments in written texts – is more than 60% higher than for workers scoring at Level 1 or below – those who can, at best, read relatively short texts to locate a single piece of information that is identical to the information given in the question or directive or to understand basic vocabulary. In addition, people with poor literacy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed.

But the impact of literacy proficiency goes far beyond earnings and employment. In all countries that participated in the 2012 survey, individuals with lower proficiency in literacy are more likely than those with better literacy skills to report poor health, to believe that they have little impact on political processes, and not to participate in associative or volunteer activities. In most countries, they are also less likely to trust others. For example, on average across countries, individuals who perform at Level 1 in literacy are twice as likely to report low levels of trust as individuals who score at Level 4 or 5, even after accounting for their education and social background. Without trust in governments, public institutions and well-regulated markets, public support for ambitious and innovative policies is difficult to mobilise, particularly where short-term sacrifices are involved and where long-term benefits are not immediately evident.

While the evidence on the benefits of high proficiency in literacy is clear, the path towards ensuring that every individual attains at least a basic level of literacy is less so. The latest OECD PISA results show that, across OECD countries, a worrying large proportion of 15-year-old students – 18% -- have not yet attained the baseline level of proficiency as measured by PISA, meaning that they have not yet acquired the reading skills that will enable them to participate fully and productively in society.

What can we do to promote better literacy skills for all

•    Provide high-quality initial education and lifelong learning opportunities.

The impressive progress that some countries, such as Korea, have made in improving the skills of their population over successive generations shows what can be achieved. These countries have established systems that combine high-quality initial education with opportunities and incentives for the entire population to continue to develop proficiency in reading and numeracy skills, whether outside work or at the workplace, after initial education and training are completed

•    Make sure all children have a strong start in education.

PISA results show that investing in high-quality early childhood education and initial schooling, particularly for children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, can help to ensure that all children start strong and become effective learners.

•    Allow workers to adapt their learning to their lives

Programmes to enhance adult literacy need to be relevant to users and flexible enough, both in content and in how they are delivered (part-time, flexible hours, convenient location), to adapt to adults’ needs. Distance learning and open educational resources also allow users to adapt their learning to their lives

•    Identify those most at risk of poor literacy proficiency.

The most disadvantaged adults need to be not only offered, but also encouraged, to improve their proficiency. This means identifying low-skilled adults who require support, particularly foreign-language immigrants, older adults and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and providing them with learning opportunities tailored to their needs. This is likely to require innovative approaches and significant community engagement.

•    Show how adults can benefit from better skills.

More adults will be tempted to invest in education and training if the benefits of improving their skills are made apparent to them. For example, governments can provide better information about the economic benefits, including wages net of taxes, employment and productivity, and non-economic benefits, including self-esteem and increased social interaction, of adult learning.

•    Provide easy-to-find information about adult education activities.

Less-educated individuals tend to be less aware of education and training opportunities, and may find the available information confusing. A combination of easily searchable, up-to-date online information and personal guidance and counselling services to help individuals define their own training needs and identify the appropriate programmes has often made a real difference.

Results from the Survey of Adult Skills underscore the need to move from a reliance on initial education towards fostering lifelong learning. Seeing literacy as a tool to be honed over an individual’s lifetime will also help countries to better balance the allocation of resources to maximise both economic and social outcomes.

Follow the digital dialogue: How can WE better advance literacy for all and make this the #AgeOfLiteracy?

Leaders for Literacy Day
Survey of Adult Skills
PISA 2012 Key Findings
PISA in Focus No. 1: Does participation in pre-primary education translate into better learning outcomes at school?
PISA in Focus No. 40: Does pre-primary education reach those who need it most?
Chart Source: © OECD Skilled for Life: Key Findings from the Survey of Adult Skills

A mini-milestone for PISA in Focus

by Marilyn Achiron 
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

It seems like only yesterday…but it was, in fact, 50 months ago that we started our PISA in Focus series. Over these past four years we’ve mined PISA 2009 and PISA 2012 results to highlight some of the most important findings and stories from the triennial international survey of 15-year-old students – from the importance of early childhood education to the effect of family background on students’ education to whether or not doing homework is really beneficial (in general, PISA finds that yes, it really is…).

This month, PISA in Focus examines the impact of good teacher-student relations on both students’ well-being and performance. It’s not surprising that when students feel that their teachers are interested in them and support them they feel happier at school and often do better in school. What is surprising is that in several OECD countries, fewer than 60% of students attend schools whose principal reported that mathematics teachers in their schools believe that the social and emotional development of their students is as valued as the acquisition of mathematics skills. While long-term studies suggest that students’ results on the PISA test are correlated with how well they will do later on in life, good performance in standardised assessments like PISA can explain only so much. Success and well-being in life also depend on how well individuals have developed socially and emotionally, particularly throughout their crucial school years.

At this mini-milestone in our history, we’d like to thank you for your continued interest in PISA. In the coming months, we’ll be sharing more findings from PISA 2012 – even as we look ahead to December 2016, when PISA 2015 results will be announced and a new volume of stories will be open for the telling.

PISA 2012 Findings
PISA in Focus No.50: Do teacher-student relations affect students' well-being at school?
Full Set of PISA in Focus

Photo credit: © OECD

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Gender equality in education

by Tracey Burns
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills 

To mark International Women’s Day the OECD released an impressive new analysis on gender and education. Using PISA 2012 data, the report looked at where gender equality still eludes us: boys do less well in reading while girls are less likely to imagine a career in science and technology, even when they are top achievers in those subjects.

What are some of the other ways in which gender is important in education? A just released Trends Shaping Education Spotlight starts with the obvious: The vast majority of teachers are female across the OECD. This is most marked in pre-primary and primary education, where approximately 8 out of 10 teachers are women. In secondary education, 68% of lower secondary teachers in TALIS countries are female, and in countries like Estonia and the Slovak Republic, more than 80% of teachers are women.
Is this important? Among journalists and policy-makers, there is a penchant to connect the lower performance of boys (particularly in reading) to the fact that most teachers are female. However, while the argument is intuitive, research evidence does not suggest that simply bringing men into the teaching profession would improve boys’ achievement, as measured by test results. 
Aiming for a better balance of men and women among teachers can nevertheless have positive effects. Male teachers can serve as role models, particularly for those students who do not have many positive male influences in their lives. Some countries are actively seeking to increase the numbers of male teachers. In the UK for example, the Training and Development Agency (TDA) has developed a campaign aimed specifically at recruiting men into the profession, which emphasises the rewarding nature of teaching and provides taster courses for male applicants in primary schools. 
There is another way in which gender plays a role in education: While teaching is a predominantly female profession, school leaders are still more likely to be men in many countries. For example, 68% of Korean teachers are female whereas only 13% of Korean principals are women. In Finland and Portugal, 7 out of 10 teachers are women but only about 4 out of 10 principals are. On the other hand, in Norway, 61% of teachers and 58% of principals are women, and in Poland, the gender imbalance is below 10%. 

Why are women not found in the position of school leader more often, given that they make up the majority of the teaching force? Many factors determine the number of female principals in a country. The education and skill level of candidates, individual willingness to take up the role of principal, the number of female applicants, as well as gender-bias in perceptions of leadership ability play an important role. Encouraging more female leaders requires systemic efforts that go beyond the individual hiring process.   

This is important: Gender segregation in career choice results in talent loss for the individual as well as for society in all fields, not just education. Recent research suggests that gender-diverse business teams have greater success in terms of sales and profits than male dominated teams. And a report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) argues that the gender gap in the labour market accounts for up to 27% of lost GDP per capita. Raising the female labour market participation to male levels could raise GDP in the US by 5%, in Japan by 9% and in Egypt by as much as 34%. 

Yet old stereotypes die hard. Perceptions of what counts as “masculine” and “feminine” vocations are formed early in life and are strongly influenced by traditional perceptions of gender roles. Women still struggle to reach top leadership positions, and are less likely to become entrepreneurs. Men are far less likely to become teachers and join other “caring” professions, such as nursing. 

So what can be done? The Scottish government has made efforts to reduce gender based occupational segregation with its “Be what you want” campaign. The campaign specifically targets 11-14 year old students in Scottish schools and tries to support the aspirations of young people by highlighting the barriers that boys and girls face when trying to enter “non-traditional” areas of work. A number of other countries are launching similar initiatives. 

These kinds of small steps could be important. Gender equality does not mean that men and women should become the same, but rather that a person’s opportunities should not depend on whether they are born female or male. Education can, and should, play a role in shaping attitudes and transforming behaviours to improve gender equity. A world with more female computer scientists as well as more male teachers and healthcare workers? Sounds good to me.

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
OECD Gender Portal
The ABC of Gender Equality in Education
The Business Benefits of Gender Diversity
Trends Shaping Education 2015 Spotlight 7
Women, Government and Policy Making in OECD Countries
Women, Work, and the Economy: Macroeconomic Gains from Gender Equity
Photo Credit: Male Teacher Playing Guitar With Pupils Having Music Lesson in Classroom/ @Shutterstock

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Skills will drive inclusive economic growth in Portugal

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Skills and human capital are the bedrock upon which Portugal is building a new bridge to growth.

Portugal is recovering from the most serious economic and financial crisis the country has experienced in recent history. The reform agenda over the past few years has been ambitious, comprehensive and challenging.

Awareness is now growing among policy makers, employers and households that Portugal’s future economic and social well-being will depend upon securing equitable and high-quality education and jobs while promoting innovation and entrepreneurship.

Portugal is on the road to recovery

Signs of Portugal’s recovery can be seen across the board. Youth unemployment and long-term joblessness rates are falling, even if levels remain too high. Job creation is picking up, and the majority of new jobs created in 2014 were on permanent contracts, which is a good indication that Portugal’s longstanding labour market dualism has been reduced by recent reforms. Educational attainment levels and learning outcomes are rising steadily, as reflected in Portugal’s PISA scores which now approach the OECD average. Measures have been introduced to stimulate entrepreneurship, and in 2014 Lisbon was selected as one of the European Entrepreneurial Regions (EER), in recognition of its strategies to promote entrepreneurship and spread innovation among small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Building a shared diagnosis of Portugal’s skills challenges 

We know that in countries where a significant proportion of adults have poor skills, it is difficult to introduce productivity-enhancing technologies and new ways of working. This, in turn, stalls innovation and improvements in living standards.

Yet skills affect more than just earnings and employment. Data from the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) show that in all countries, adults with lower literacy proficiency are far more likely than those with better literacy skills to report poor health, to perceive themselves as objects rather than actors in political processes, and to have less trust in others.

Put simply, a lack of proficiency in foundation skills prevents people from fully participating in society and democracy.

In the course of 2014, we have worked closely with Portugal on a collaborative project to build a more effective skills strategy. Throughout this initial diagnostic phase, we have witnessed strong commitment to improving Portugal’s skills outcomes across central and local governments, employers and trade unions, as well as education and training providers.

Today, the results of this work are published as the OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Report: Portugal. The Prime Minister of Portugal, Mr Pedro Passos Coelho, will be officially launching the report in Lisbon together with the OECD Secretary-General, Mr Ángel Gurría. This is a strong signal of the importance afforded to skills policies in Portugal.

Portugal’s 12 skills challenges

The diagnostic report applies the framework of the OECD Skills Strategy to identify 12 skills challenges for Portugal as it seeks to maximise its future skills potential. These skills challenges were distilled from a series of four interactive workshops held in Lisbon and Porto in 2014, which engaged a wide range of stakeholders. The report includes a rich set of evidence from OECD and other sources, and offers concrete examples of how other countries are tackling similar skills challenges.

So what are the main skills challenges facing Portugal today?

With regard to developing relevant skills, the report concludes that Portugal should focus its efforts on:
- Improving equity and quality in education
- Strengthening the responsiveness of VET to labour market demands
- Targeting adult education and lifelong learning towards the low-skilled

When it comes to activating its skills supply, Portugal will need to tackle the challenges of:
- Reducing youth unemployment and NEETs
- Increasing labour market re-entry for the long-term unemployed
- Reducing barriers to employment

Furthermore, Portugal could make more effective use of the skills it has by: 
- Promoting entrepreneurship
- Stimulating innovation and creating high-skilled jobs
- Providing employers with incentives to engage in skills development, especially SMEs

Finally, Portugal could improve the overall governance of the skills system by: 
- Financing a more equitable and efficient skills system
- Adjusting decision-making power to meet local needs
- Building capacity and partnerships for evidence-based skills policy

Moving from diagnosis to action 

Taken individually, these challenges may not be new or surprising to the people of Portugal. Yet by laying them out side by side, the need for a more systemic approach to skills policies emerges clearly.

As the diagnostic report demonstrates, skills policies are not just a matter for one ministry. Tackling skills challenges requires a whole of government approach. Moreover, skills are everybody’s business. Stakeholders and civil society need to play an active role in developing and implementing skills policies that are sustainable over the long term. 

By bringing together stakeholders, ministries and agencies to map out Portugal’s skills challenges, this project has built shared insights and deeper mutual understanding. The next step for Portugal will be to decide which challenges should be tackled as a priority and to develop concrete plans for action. This will mean building on the many reforms already underway and the continued engagement of all skills stakeholders.

Skills and human capital are the bridge to a more inclusive and prosperous future for the people of Portugal. The OECD stands ready to support Portugal as it designs and implements better skills policies for better jobs and better lives.

Photo credit: The 25 de Abril bridge over Tagus river and big Christ monument in Lisbon at sunset, Portugal/ @Shutterstock 

Related blog posts on skills:

Monday, March 30, 2015

PISA for Development

by Erik Solheim
Chair of the Development Assistance Committee, Development Co-operation Directorate

PISA for Development, launched on the 27th of March 2015 in Guatemala, provides an opportunity to improve the quality of education in Guatemala and throughout the developing world. Participation in PISA will help Guatemala benchmark its educational system and support the government efforts to improve education at all levels, particularly for the most disadvantaged and the large indigenous population of the country. PISA for Development also aims to identify ways to better measure, benchmark and improve education in developing countries.

Extreme poverty has been halved in two decades, and the world is now richer, better educated and more peaceful than at any other point in human history. More than 9 out of 10 children, and almost as many girls as boys, now go to school. Guatemala has made great strides in the last few years. Participation in primary education increased from 86% in 2001 to 93% in 2011, above the world average. But we must get to 10 and make sure that children learn more.

Enrolling all children, keeping them in school and providing a good education is essential for development. The education a country has today is the economy it will have tomorrow. All the great success stories in recent times have put education at the core of development. South Korea went from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the richest, by focusing on education and industrialisation. Young Koreans are now 390 times richer than their grandparents were. Korean 15-year olds perform better in school than any other OECD nations.

Leadership is important. The founder of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, emphasised the importance of education during his entire life, and the results are now visible. In Guatemala, Minister of Education del Aguila has been a champion for PISA and education reform. A former teacher, Minister del Aguila combines real experience in education with political leadership.

Huge strides have been made in securing basic education for all. Nevertheless, children are not learning enough at school. Too many students still drop out before high school or university. Shortage of skilled labour is a big problem in many developing countries. The quality of education will be a central aspect of the new United Nations sustainable development goals, which will be agreed upon later this year. The OECD has launched PISA for Development as a contribution to improve the quality of education all over the globe. Since 1997, PISA has been the leading reference on the quality of education systems worldwide. The “PISA-shock”, or the understanding that you have a lot to learn from others, has inspired many countries to reconsider policies and improve their education systems. Now the time has come to take this success to a global level and work towards better quality education for all.

The OECD has partnered with Zambia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Cambodia, Senegal and Guatemala to identify how PISA can better measure the quality of education in developing countries. The PISA test instruments will need to be adjusted to account for bigger differences between the highest and lowest performing students. New methods must be tested to evaluate students that are not attending formal schooling. We hope that these efforts will enable more countries to use PISA to set national learning policies and monitor progress.

Monitoring and evaluation is crucial for improving education. PISA is a powerful tool because it gives countries an honest assessment of whether their students are on the right track. Brazil has done more than any other PISA participant to improve its education system. Brazil was on the bottom of the ranking when it first participated in 2000. Then Brazil used PISA to prioritise policies and do focus more on what policies work better. Brazil improved the quality of its education system faster than any other nation over the next 10 years. The Bolsa Familia program, which provided cash remuneration to low-income families in exchange for enrolling children in school also contributed to improved education for the poorest children most likely to be out of school.

PISA opens up opportunities to allow us to learn from the best. Chinese and other East Asian students are the best performers in mathematics and science, and reading. The seven top spots on the PISA ranking are occupied by Asian countries and cities. There must be many things we can learn from Asian success stories, whether the secret is aspiring students, good teachers or better public policies. Guatemala and Peru is paired as part of a mentoring mechanism to provide peer-to-peer technical advice and learn from each other. Identifying policies that work and implementing these on a global scale is key for improving the quality of education.

Good policies are much more important than money.  Fifteen year old students in poor Vietnam are doing better than the average student in much richer countries. Only about 6% of performance differences in PISA test are explained by national income. Money is best used to underpin good policies.

Quality education is the way to development and poverty reduction. Monitoring progress, learning from success stories and implementing the best policies is the way to improve quality of education. Let the children learn!

PISA in Development
PISA 2012 Key Findings
Photo credit: © Roberto Franco Arias/Pedro Molina