Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Future shock: Teaching yourself to learn

by Marilyn Achiron 
Editor, Education and Skills Directorate

The book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal wrote of reading Tyler Cowen’s 2013 book, Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation, “with a deepening sense of dread”. 
The Economist understatedly called the book “bracing”. What does Cowen, a professor at George Mason University and daily blogger on, say that provokes such fear and trembling in readers?  Essentially this: if you’re not among the 10-15% of the population that has learned how to master and complement computers, you’ll be doomed to earn low wages in dead-end jobs. We spoke with Cowen when he was in Paris recently to participate in the OECD Forum. His comments are drawn from both our interview and his presentation at the Forum.

“There are two things people need to learn how to do to be employable at a decent wage: first, learn some skills which complement the computer rather than compete against it. Some of these are technical skills, but a lot of them will be soft skills, like marketing, persuasion and management that computers won’t be able to do any time soon. 

But the second skill, and this is a tough one, is to be very good at teaching yourself new things. Right now, our schools are not so good at teaching this skill. The changes we’ve seen so far are just the beginning; 20-30 years from now, we’ll all be doing different things. So people who are very good at teaching themselves, regardless of what their formal background is, will be the big winners. People who do start-ups already face this. They’ve learned some things in school, but most of what they do they’ve had to learn along the way; and that, I think, is the future of education. I’m not convinced that our schools will or can keep pace with that; people will do it on their own. 

There has arisen a kind of parallel network – a lot of it is on the Internet, a lot of it is free – where people teach themselves things, often very effectively. But there is a kind of elitist bias: people who are good at using this content are people who are already self-motivated. 

The better technology gets, the more human imperfections matter. Think about medicine: the better pharmaceuticals get, the more it matters which people neglect to actually take them in the right doses. Education is entering the same kind of world. There’s so much out there, on the Internet and elsewhere. It’s great; but that means that human imperfections, like just not giving a damn, will matter more and more.

What concrete changes would I make in schools? The idea that you need to take a whole class to learn some topic is absurd. Whatever you’ve learned is probably going to be obsolete. A class is to spur your interest, to expose you to a new role model, a new professor, to a new set of students. We should have way more classes which are way shorter. It should be much more about learning, more about variety, give up the myth that you’re teaching people how to master some topic; you’re not! You want to inspire them; it’s much more about persuasion, soft skills. 

Liberal arts education and the humanities will remain important. They’re still underrated. People get their own liberal arts education on the Internet; it may be weird, low-status stuff that a lot of us have never heard of, like computer games, or celebrities or sports analytics. But they are learning statistics through sports, learning the humanities through computer games, learning about tragedy through TV shows, and they are retaining and absorbing this to a phenomenal extent. We are, in some ways, the ones who are behind. Formal education needs to wake up, internalise the lessons we all implement in our daily lives. The Internet is one of the biggest breakthroughs in education ever; it’s here. We should realise that, more and more, learning will not go on in standard classrooms. We live in a great and exciting time when it comes to education; now we have to make all those pieces work and fit together. To do that, we have to give up a lot of our loyalty to the older model.

Education occurs in many forms; it’s not the same as schooling. We always need to keep that in mind.

Through the new Education 2030 project and the OECD Innovative Schools network, the OECD will be examining the cognitive, social and emotional skills students need to participate and succeed in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and digitised world. In addition, Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social and Emotional Skills presents a synthesis of the OECD’s analytical work on the role of socio-emotional skills; and look out for Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, which reports on the use – or lack thereof – of computers in education (to be published in September), and Trends Shaping Education, which will be published in January 2016.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Breaking down the silo: connecting education to world trends

by Tracey Burns
Analyst and Project Leader, Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education and Skills 

Did you ever wonder if education has a role to play in stemming the obesity epidemic sweeping across all OECD countries? Or what the impact of increasing urbanisation might be on our schools, families, and communities? Or whether new technologies really are fundamentally changing the way our children think and learn? If so, you’re not alone.

The OECD’s work on Trends Shaping Education stimulates reflection on the challenges facing education by providing an overview of key economic, social, demographic and technological trends. It has been used by ministries to guide strategic thinking and in Parliaments as a strategic foresight tool. It’s also part of the curriculum in teacher education colleges, and is a resource for teachers when designing courses and lectures, as well as parents and students themselves.

The fourth edition of the book will be launched in January 2016. Two weeks ago, the Trends team travelled to Brussels to hold an expert workshop with researchers in a number of domains, including demography, governance, urban design, new technologies, climate change, financial literacy, small and medium enterprises, children and families, and banking.

Why take the time to meet face-to-face with these experts? To be honest we weren’t sure that it would yield any results. Researchers have many demands on their time, and it is not often that they are given a chance to look beyond their own particular speciality to think more holistically about global trends. Sometimes, though, it is by bringing people together unexpectedly that the best ideas emerge.

Will robots replace our teaching force in 10 years? In 20 years? Will new fertility technologies allow for designer babies (and, in parallel, “rejects” that did not turn out as expected)? Will online relationships rival or replace our friendship groups? What might this mean for families, and schools? These ideas might seem radical, but the trends behind them are supported by science. And while they are still speculative, there are a number of trends that could have an impact on education, if not today, then tomorrow or the next day. And yet most of our education systems still do not address them.

For example, climate change trends make it clear that across OECD countries we can expect to experience more and more extreme weather events. In most of our countries, the effects will be felt most acutely in cities, where the density of the population and ageing infrastructure (roads and services, such as water, electricity and plumbing) makes us especially vulnerable. If you combine this with worries about the emergence of new epidemics (MERS in Korea is just the latest example) and our ageing populations, a cautious city planner has reason for concern. And not just hypothetical reasons, either. Recent flooding in New York and other major cities has revealed the weakness of many of our emergency-response services.

So what does this have to do with education? Good question. In the short term, communities need to have a plan to educate their populations on what to do (and not do) in the event of a major storm or other extreme weather event such as drought or fires. In the medium and long term, we need to develop school infrastructure and transport that are designed to provide safe access for our students. Hoping it won’t happen is not a sustainable plan – certainly not for the communities that have already experienced an extreme weather event or those that are forecast to do so in the near future.

This is just one example. Important trends to keep an eye on range from the macro level (increasing globalisation and migration) all the way through national and regional labour markets, urban planning, and our changing demography and family structures. How can education support our ageing populations – currently one of the major demographic preoccupations for most OECD governments – to stay active and healthy well past retirement? Will cities keep growing at increasing speeds, or will we continue to see the decline of mid-size cities, such as Detroit (USA) and Busan (Korea)? What about new technologies in the classroom, will they change the way we teach and learn? Perhaps even our concept of what a classroom is?

In September, we plan to hold a second workshop in order to discuss how the trends we have identified might interact with education in the short and medium term. Stay tuned to find out how that goes, and to get a sneak peek between the covers of the next Trends Shaping Education volume, due out in January next year.

Trends Shaping Education 2013
The Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
Photo Credit: Concentrated students in lecture hall working on their futuristic tablet during lesson @Shutterstock

Thursday, July 16, 2015

How to help adult learners learn the basics

by Hendrickje Catriona Windisch
Analyst, Education and Skills Directorate

Tackling weak basic skills is hard and incentives to learn are often lacking 

The fact that some adults cannot understand the instructions printed on a box of medicine is not only dangerous, it shows that, somewhere along the line, the education system failed them. People who find themselves in this position are often shy of admitting their problems, and the idea of going back to school is their worst nightmare. A new OECD Working Paper shows that even for those adults who want to improve their reading and numeracy skills, it is not easy to translate that interest into action. Adults with busy working and family lives have little time for learning – as is evident in the high rate of dropout from learning programmes targeted to adults. And even when adults do acquire basic skills in mid-life, they find few jobs open to them in which they can use those skills.

Building and sustaining learner motivation

Research shows that programmes to improve adults’ basic skills need to use awareness-raising measures (like the adult education weeks promoted in Denmark and Finland) and national campaigns (as conducted in France and Luxembourg) to encourage interested, but reluctant adults to participate. Guidance services, such as Germany’s telephone counselling service for adults with poor literacy skills, also help. Learner persistence can be supported through clear learning goals, continued guidance throughout the programme, and the link of basic skills with occupational credentials (for example learning geometry in carpentry). Contextualised learning, whereby basic skills are learned in the work, family or community context, often in combination with occupational skills training, can help to engage adults not normally involved in continuing education. Formative assessment, using frequent assessment and feedback to guide adults in their learning, encourages them to continue their studies.

Teachers need to be well-prepared

Although research shows that high-quality, well-qualified teachers get the best results with adult learners, many adult education teachers have few relevant qualifications, and often resort to teaching practices normally used with children which are unlikely to work for adults. There is no nationally recognised certification for adult education in the United States; Austria and Germany only recently developed specific qualifications for such teachers; and in many countries, adult education programmes that teach basic skills are largely staffed by volunteers.


Successful adult learning programmes need to motivate and sustain the engagement of low-skilled adults; offer a highly skilled teaching force; use proven approaches to basic skills teaching; and make use of relevant learning contexts, including the family and the workplace. Learning basic literacy and numeracy skills is, literally, essential for leading a productive and engaged life.

Adults with low literacy and numeracy skills: A literature review on policy interventions
OECD study Putting the Survey of Adult Skills to Work: Country Studies and Policy Analysis OECD Skills Survey
Photo Credit: Skills for success. Box of pills with a list of positive qualities for employment @Shutterstock

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Teachers in the digital world

by Katarzyna Kubacka
Analyst, Education and Skills Directorate

Rapid developments in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) have made it an important part of our daily lives, from staying in contact with people, to checking traffic and booking tickets. However, ICT can also be a useful tool for teachers in advancing 21st century learning. As the new Teaching in Focus (TIF) brief ‘Teaching with technology’ reports, the use of ICT for students’ projects or class work is an active teaching practice that promotes skills for students’ lifelong success.

So how common is the use of ICT in the classrooms?  Across the countries and economies participating in the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), it seems that ICT is still used less frequently than more passive teaching methods, such as working in exercise books. For example, over 70% of TALIS teachers report checking students’ exercise books frequently, while only 38% report frequently using ICT. This is surprising given the prevalence of ICT in most students’ lives across TALIS countries and economies. 

One possible reason for teachers’ infrequent use of technology is the lack of resources in their schools. Indeed, between 30 and 40% of TALIS teachers work in schools where principals report that shortages in ICT-related materials hinder the provision of quality education. This finding should send a strong signal that there is a need for more investment in the provision of computers, software and internet access in the TALIS education systems with an especially high percentage of teachers working in under-resourced schools.

Low rates of ICT use in classrooms is also affected by teachers’ need for professional development. New technological inventions and novel ways of using technology in the classrooms are constantly being developed, meaning that teachers may need help with keeping up to date. TALIS findings show that the majority of teachers across TALIS countries and economies report moderate or high needs for professional development in the area of ICT skills for teaching. Comprehensive development programs in order to effectively implement ICT into their classroom practices would be of benefit for many teachers. 

We can see that different factors hinder teachers’ use of ICT in TALIS countries and economies. While some systems need to invest more in the provision of the necessary resources, there is also a need for in-depth support for teachers in almost all TALIS countries and economies. As with most methods, the effectiveness of ICT in advancing teaching and learning depends on the way it is used in the classrooms. Hence, comprehensive professional development should be tailored to teachers’ particular needs if education systems want to harness ICT’s potential for effective teaching and learning. 

A Teacher’s Guide to TALIS 2013
Photo Credit: Faculty Lecture @Shutterstock

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Easing the learning journey for immigrant students

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

Put yourself in their place: if you were new to a country and barely able to communicate in the local language, how do you think you’d do in school – particularly if you were living in a poor neighbourhood and attending a school with inadequate resources? It might come as a surprise to learn that, in some countries, immigrant students perform better in mathematics than their non-immigrant peers. Does that say more about the individual students or about the education systems in their host countries? 

Between 2003 and 2012, the percentage of students who were raised in immigrant families grew by around 3 percentage points across OECD countries. At the same time, as this month’s PISA in Focus notes, migration policies in some countries became increasingly selective while education outcomes in many countries of origin improved considerably. As a result, larger proportions of immigrant students are arriving in their host countries with better-educated parents. For example, in Ireland in 2003, more than 40% of immigrant students were raised by a mother who had not attained upper secondary education; by 2012, this was true of only 9% of immigrant students. 

Across OECD countries in 2003, non-immigrant students scored 47 points higher in mathematics (PISA 2012 Results) than immigrant students; by 2012, that performance difference had shrunk by around 10 score points. In Canada, Ireland and New Zealand, immigrant and non-immigrant students scored equally well in mathematics in 2012 while in Australia, Hungary and Macao-China, immigrants outscored non-immigrants. In Germany, the performance gap grew closer to the OECD average between 2003 and 2012, as the share of immigrant students performing below the baseline level of proficiency in mathematics decreased by 11 percentage points. 

These improvements in outcomes cannot be achieved by just shutting the door on all poor, less-educated immigrant families; and it would be a mistake to underestimate the talent and motivation of immigrant students from disadvantaged families. PISA data show that in Australia, Israel and the United States, the share of disadvantaged students performing in the top quarter of all PISA students is larger among immigrants than among non-immigrants (PISA 2012 Results, Volume II). And the performance gap in mathematics related to immigrant background shrinks by less than half after accounting for differences in socio-economic status (from 37 to 23 score points across OECD countries with data for 2003 and 2012). In other words, many students manage to overcome the double disadvantage of poverty and an immigrant background and do well in school – and beyond. Of course, not all poor immigrants will become Nobel Prize laureates like Mario Capecchi or Daniel Tsui; and  few people win Nobel Prizes. But if immigrant students cannot fulfill their potential, then everybody loses.

The key to unleashing the potential of all immigrant students is to reduce the disadvantages that usually make it harder for immigrant students to succeed at school. The crunch point is not the point of entry, but the myriad points thereafter, when educators and school systems decide whether or not to offer programmes specifically designed to help immigrant students succeed. Put yourself in their place…

Photo Credit: Multiracial Group of Friends with Hands in Stack, Teamwork @Shutterstock

Friday, July 03, 2015

Are vocational programmes preparing school leavers for a risky job market?

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

Employment rates among adults with upper secondary education as highest level of education attained, by type of programme 25-34 year-olds (2013)

One of the most dramatic consequences of the economic crisis has been the soaring levels of youth unemployment in several OECD countries; and the hesitant recovery of the past years was insufficient to improve the job prospects of young people. At the end of the first quarter of 2013, youth unemployment rates still exceeded 25% in nine OECD countries, including Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain. High youth unemployment is a huge waste of human potential and an unacceptable social tragedy.

Unemployment is a consequence of economic recession and the resulting dearth of jobs. At the same time, high youth unemployment reveals the weak spots in the connections between education and training systems and labour markets. When demand for labour weakens, differences become more visible between education and training systems that are preparing young people well for employability and those that are performing this service less well. The transition between school and work is the first link to break. That’s why the numbers of NEET (“Not in Employment, Education or Training”) is such an important indicator. In 2013, 39 million 16-29 year-olds across OECD countries were out of school and unemployed. About half of them were not even actively looking for a job and seem to have disappeared off the radar screens of their countries’ social institutions.

OECD countries are looking for ways to fine-tune education and training systems so that they respond better to labour market needs. Learning from other countries that manage to develop students’ employability through their education systems is a helpful strategy, and the OECD assists countries in this effort. The recently published OECD Skills Outlook 2015 brings together the wealth of data and evidence on employability policies to better prepare youth for the labour market. And the just-published Education Indicators in Focus brief discusses how vocational education and training (VET) programmes in upper secondary education can help to improve employability.

On average across the OECD and G20 countries with available data, some 41% of all upper secondary education students are enrolled in a VET programme, but the variation among countries ranges from more to 70% in 4 countries to less than 20% in 8 countries. In many countries, VET programmes are still a marginal phenomenon in a predominantly academically oriented upper secondary education system. And even in countries with well-established vocational tracks, VET programmes still suffer from a lack of recognition and respect from policy makers, parents and the general public. Yet, high-quality VET programmes tend to be effective in developing skills among those who would otherwise lack qualifications to ensure a smooth and successful transition into the labour market.

Across OECD countries for which data are available, 78% of 25-34 year-olds with a vocational upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary qualification are employed – a rate that is 11 percentage points higher than that among individuals with a general upper secondary education as their highest qualification (see chart above). And the difference in employment rates are marked in systems with well-developed vocational education systems, such as Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. As the brief notes, the best indicator of the strength of upper secondary vocational education is the presence of a work-based learning component. It is no coincidence that the employment benefit of upper secondary vocational education programmes is relatively higher in those countries with strong apprenticeship or other work-based learning components integrated into them.

Sure, academic tracks in upper secondary education are primarily oriented to preparing students for tertiary education. But these data clearly show that for those students who are not pursuing tertiary education, academic tracks do not prepare these youth for entry into the labour market as well as vocational programmes do. Drop-outs, early school leavers and students who fail to obtain a qualification are the most vulnerable in making the transition to work; but students who leave education with an academic upper secondary education as their highest level of education also suffer when an economic recession makes the transition from school to work even more difficult. Preparing young people well for the job market, either through high-quality vocational programmes in upper secondary or post-secondary education or by ensuring successful entry into tertiary education, is probably the most important mission of education systems today.

Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 33, by Diogo Amaro de Paula,  Éric Charbonnier and Margarita Kalamova 
Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 33, French version
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus: 
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators:
Chart Source: OECD (2015), Education at a Glance database.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What computer skills can do for you

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Information and communication technologies (ICT) permeate every aspect of our lives, from how we work, to how we “talk” with friends, to how we participate in political processes. But what are the returns to “digital skills” – the capacity to use digital devices and applications to access and manage information and solve problems – on the labour market? Do they help land a job or earn higher wages?

Our new OECD report, Adults, Computers and Problem Solving: What’s the Problem? provides first-of-its-kind answers to such questions. Based on results from the 2012 Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), the report demonstrates the impact of the ability to use digital devices to solve problems in everyday life and at work on the likelihood of participating in the labour force and on workers’ wages.

Does having greater proficiency in solving problems using digital devices increase chances of participating in the labour force?

The labour force participation rate among adults with the highest levels of skills in solving problems using digital devices (Level 2 or 3 in the 2012 survey) was 6 percentage points higher than that among adults with the lowest level of proficiency in those skills (below Level 1), on average across participating countries. At Level 2 or 3 adults can complete tasks like evaluating search-engine results against a set of criteria, solving a scheduling problem by combining information from an Internet application and several e-mail messages, and transforming information in an e-mail message into a spreadsheet and performing computations with it.

In turn, adults with the lowest level (below Level 1) of proficiency in solving problems using digital devices and applications had a higher rate of labour force participation – 15 percentage points higher – than adults who had no experience in using digital devices at all, even after accounting for various factors like age, gender, level of education, proficiency in literacy and use of e-mail in everyday life. Those adults can still type, manipulate a mouse, drag and drop content, and highlight text, but they have very little capacity in using these skills to solve common problems encountered when working in digital environments, such as browsing the web for information. Clearly, the labour market advantage of having even basic digital skills is huge.

What about the chances of earning higher wages?

Workers who have no experience in using digital devices earn 6% less per hour, on average, than those who perform at the lowest level in solving problems using digital applications, even after accounting for factors such as age, gender, educational attainment, proficiency in literacy and numeracy, use of e-mail at work, and occupation. So workers with no experience in using digital devices and applications suffer a serious wage penalty. Just over 9% of adults reported that they never use digital devices, such as computers or tablets. This ranged from around 2% in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, to over 15% in Italy, Korea, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Spain.

In contrast, 26% of the wage premium associated with workers who are the most proficient at problem solving using digital applications, compared with those who are the least proficient, disappears when those factors are taken into account. In other words, the wage premium associated with the highest level of proficiency is largely due to other factors, such as workers’ educational attainment, proficiency in literacy and numeracy, and the use of e-mail at work, rather than their greater proficiency in solving problems in digital environments.

Does it matter how often these skills are used at work?

It seems that frequent use of digital applications in the workplace also pays off. The labour force participation rate among workers who use e-mail frequently in their jobs, for example, was nearly 6 percentage points higher, and these workers earned 9% more per hour, on average, than workers who are equally proficient in literacy, numeracy and problem solving using digital technologies, but who rarely use e-mail. So, digital skills must be put to frequent use in the workplace if they are to make a difference in labour force participation and wages.

Given the findings from our new report, it’s clear that governments, education providers and business need to ensure that all adults have access to digital technologies and networks, and are given opportunities to develop their proficiency in using them. Opting out of this increasingly wired world is no longer a viable option.

Adults, Computers and Problem Solving: What's the Problem?
The Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)
Adult Skills in Focus No. 1: Does having digital skills really pay off? by William Thorn and Ji Eun Chung
Adult Skills in Focus No. 1: Les compétences numériques : un investissement vraiment rentable? by William Thorn and Ji Eun Chung
Image credit: © OECD

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Are we getting returns on our investments in education?

by Daniel Salinas 
Analyst, Education and Skills Directorate

Countries and economies participating in PISA have invested substantial resources and used a wide variety of strategies during the past ten years to improve the quality of their schools. Have these efforts paid off? Yes and no. As this month’s PISA in Focus explains, schools are better-staffed and better-equipped today than they were a decade ago, and the learning environment in schools has improved as well, particularly when it comes to teacher-student relations. But other aspects measured by PISA in 2003 and 2012, such as the degree to which low- and top-performing students or socio-economically disadvantaged and advantaged students attend the same school (i.e. schools’ academic and social inclusion, respectively), show no clear progress across OECD countries during the period.

OECD countries significantly increased their expenditure in primary and secondary schools during the past decade, and a significant part of this investment has focused on teachers. For example, in 2012, 17% of students across OECD countries attended schools whose principal reported that a lack of qualified mathematics teachers hinders instruction; in 2003, 22% of students attended such schools. In 29 out of 38 countries and economies with comparable data, the quality of educational materials available to schools, such as laboratory equipment, textbooks and computers, also improved during the period. The improvements were particularly striking in Poland, the Russian Federation, Turkey and Uruguay. And the quality of schools’ physical infrastructure, including school buildings and heating and cooling systems, also improved significantly during the past decade, on average across OECD countries.

PISA has shown that without positive learning environments, improving the quality of resources will not yield higher student achievement. The good news is that during the past ten years, the learning environment in schools has also improved in many ways. For example, teacher-student relations were better in 2012 than in 2003 in all the countries and economies that participated in PISA in both years, except Tunisia. Discipline in class also improved, and the incidence of student truancy fell.

But countries and economies still have work to do to make their schools more inclusive. The degree to which students from different socio-economic backgrounds attend the same school did not change between 2003 and 2012, while students with different academic abilities and needs were less likely to attend the same school in 2012 than they were in 2003, on average across OECD countries. Schools became significantly less socially inclusive in Hong Kong-China, Latvia and New Zealand, and significantly more socially inclusive in Italy, Japan, Korea, Switzerland and Turkey.

So two thumbs up and one thumbs down: better educational resources and better learning environments will necessarily have only limited impact if disadvantaged and struggling students don’t have access to them.

PISA in Focus No. 52: How have schools changed over the past decade?
PISA in Focus No. 52: Établissements d’enseignement : quelles évolutions au cours des 10 dernières années ?
Photo credit: Chalk drawing of hopscotch game with dollar signs / @Shutterstock

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

It's a matter of trust

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

The world is rapidly becoming a different place, with globalisation and modernisation imposing huge challenges to individuals and societies. Schools need to prepare students to live and work in a world in which most people will need to collaborate with people of diverse cultural origins, and appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values; a world in which people need to decide how to trust and collaborate across such differences, often bridging space and time through technology; and a world in which their lives will be affected by issues that transcend national boundaries. These days, we no longer know exactly how things will unfold; often we are surprised and need to learn from the extraordinary; sometimes we make mistakes along the way. And it will often be the mistakes and failures, when properly understood, that create the context for learning and growth. Resilience has become key to success, the capacity to cope in an imbalanced world, recognising that the world exists in constant disequilibrium - trying, failing, adapting, learning and evolving in endless cycles.

Studies show that interpersonal trust is fundamental for promoting the resilience of our societies, but many individuals say that they have little trust in others. Just released work on the Educational Roots of Trust finds that, on average across the communities that participated in the 2012 Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), only around 2 in 10 people across participating countries reported that they trust more than just a few people and even fewer disagreed with the statement that unless they were careful, people would take advantage of them. Levels of interpersonal trust are highest in the Nordic countries and lowest in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy and the Slovak Republic. Low levels of trust in society could have a negative impact on communities and interpersonal co-operation.

What explains the level of trust? Some forms of diversity, such as income inequality, are negatively associated with overall levels of interpersonal trust (i.e the greater the inequality, the less trust between people); but others, including immigrant background, are not. Our new report shows that education systems can play a role in fostering high levels of interpersonal trust even in uncertain times. Communities with higher levels of literacy enjoy higher levels of interpersonal trust than those where adults are less proficient in literacy.

The report uses data from the Survey of Adult Skills to show how and why education matters in building interpersonal trust. First and foremost, education can enhance cognitive skills to the extent that individuals feel they can then trust others, in general, because they believe they have the capacity to distinguish between trustworthy and untrustworthy people or institutions at any one time. In addition, specific education pathways may give individuals greater knowledge of, and insights into, how groups and communities operate. Different levels of educational attainment may also be associated with different occupations, where individuals exercise different levels of autonomy, and hold different expectations for working with and trusting others.

Ultimately, this report shows that when education systems are not inclusive and perpetuate the large disparities in skills that are related to socio-economic status, not only do they inadvertently hamper economic and social mobility, but they hinder social cohesion and the development of the next generation’s social capital. In other words, they undermine their society’s economic and social well-being. As our countries emerge from the economic crisis, we have to do more to strengthen the social contract among individuals, particularly as growing inequality threatens to tear societies apart. Education systems can do their part by helping all students to acquire the skills they need to prosper in 21st-century societies, and to build strong, trusting relationships with the people and institutions around them.

The Educational Roots of Trust, OECD Working Paper No. 119, by Francesca Borgonovi and Tracey Burns
New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC)
Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)
Survey of Adult Skills
Photo Credit: Boys athlete acrobats perform acrobatic figures in the arena / @Shutterstock

Friday, June 05, 2015

No one left behind?

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

Average annual growth rates in below upper secondary and tertiary education 2013

When societies move forward, not everyone benefits in the same way or to the same extent. Some social groups change faster than others, while other groups risk falling behind. Change in education is no exception. In understanding social change it is critically important not only to look at the average change, but also to look at how change affects the entire population.

The rapid expansion of education opportunities in OECD countries over the past decades was most visible at the top of the distribution, that is, in the growing share of tertiary-educated adults. But education opportunities also opened up at the bottom of the distribution and, as a result, the number of low-educated people decreased. In other words, the entire distribution of educational attainment moved upwards.

However, the speed of change can be different at the two ends of the attainment distribution. If the change at the top exceeds that at the bottom, then inequality in educational attainment increases. When people are left behind as access to education expands, social cohesion is threatened. There is ample evidence that educational exclusion comes with huge risks to health, employment, income, and even such intangible outcomes such as interpersonal trust, tolerance and adherence to democratic values. A lack of education opportunities also seems to be one of the main channels through which poverty and social inequality are transmitted from one generation to another.

By contrast, a process of inclusive growth, with equivalent growth at both ends of the spectrum, or when the bottom end improves even faster, seems to be a good thing in itself. When societies become highly educated, education and skills become the main route towards many other opportunities in life.

The new Education Indicators in Focus analyses the growth of educational attainment at both ends of the distribution between 2000 and 2013 in OECD countries. The share of tertiary-educated adults grew by 3.1% per year on average, while the share of people without an upper secondary education decreased by 2.9% per year on average. So, on average across OECD countries, the educational attainment distribution widened slightly.

But, as is clear in the chart above, the differences among countries are huge. The chart shows the average annual growth rates at both ends of the distribution and compares the extent of both. At the left are Sweden, Finland, Israel and Canada, where the average annual rate of reduction in the share of people without an upper secondary education was more than 2 percentage points greater than the average annual rate of increase in the share of tertiary-educated adults. Over this period, these countries prioritised reducing the number of low-educated individuals over increasing the number of high-educated individuals, partly because they had already expanded the top end of the distribution. In these countries, the breadth of the distribution of educational attainment narrowed.

At the other end of the distribution are Portugal, Turkey, Italy and Switzerland, where the average annual rate of increase in tertiary attainment was more than 2 percentage points greater than the average annual reduction in the share of people without an upper secondary education. In these countries, the distribution of educational attainment widened. Denmark is a special case because it is the only country in which the share of people without an upper secondary education increased between 2000 and 2013. Still, with increases at both ends of the spectrum, the distribution widened in Denmark too.

The total length of the two bars provides an indication of the overall growth in educational attainment. The greatest change took place in the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Poland and the Slovak Republic, closely followed by Ireland and Korea. In contrast, the overall change was smallest in Mexico, New Zealand and the United States. But the size of overall change is unrelated to differences in the annual rate of growth at each end of the spectrum. This suggests that it is not the speed of change that determines whether the expansion of educational attainment is more or less inclusive.  Rather, it is the policy environment around educational change that determines whether individuals at the bottom of the distribution also see their education opportunities improve.

Countries that are in the process of becoming higher-educated societies, where education qualifications and skills determine income, well-being and many other life chances, should invest in improving opportunities across the population, not only among the most educated. With the right inclusive education policies in place, no part of the population risks being left behind and out of reach of the social and economic benefits that accrue to more educated people.

Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 32, by Dirk Van Damme
Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 32, French version
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus:
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators:
Chart source: OECD Online Education database,

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Lessons learned in Lyon

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

At the OECD, we tend to look at French education through the lens of statistics. These show one of the largest gaps between the learning outcomes of children from poor and wealthy families. And the opportunity gap keeps widening.

And yet, local initiatives can win against all odds. I just saw one of the most amazing shows in the Maison de la Danse in Lyon, performed by amateurs from one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city. Some of the actors, aged 4 to 92, had never before set foot in the place, and even fewer would have attended a classical music concert. And yet this past Sunday these artists danced to music from Mozart, which they interpreted from their own cultural perspectives. And they did so with a level of tolerance and recognition of the cultural identity and aesthetics of others that reveals what can be possible if we see the diversity of cultures, generations and social backgrounds not as the problem but as the potential of 21st-century societies. Finding a way to fuse hip-hop and breakdance with contemporary jazz dance may be nearly unimaginable for many young people, yet these performers tore down the cultural walls that keep people apart.

Given a history of poor participation in educational and cultural activities in this district of the city, the organisers had recruited 200 volunteer performers in the hopes of ending up with 100. But no one dropped out and an additional hundred showed up spontaneously after news of the project spread across the city. So the project had to be creative in accommodating 300 actors. Some of the young performers may have never received a passing grade in school or heard an encouraging word from their teachers, but that night they received an ovation from an audience of well over 1,000 people, none of whom remained untouched for very long.

The magic of this initiative is its simple formula for success, one that could and should inspire education everywhere. This formula is about using artistic expression to overcome rigidities in our identities and minds that keep people apart; uniting the best and most inspiring professionals with amateurs to show to those who may have the skills, but not yet the confidence, that they too can play a role; demanding rigour in practice and setting the highest aspirations for everyone involved to bring about artistic perfection; working with choreographers who don’t insist on their own ideas, but rather are capable of helping the participants to see and develop co-ordination and interaction that express their own ideas; and integrating all this into a grand design that instills a desire in everyone to work together for over a year until every detail fits perfectly together. The budget for all this seems so incredibly small compared with the result and its impact, and many times smaller when judged against the social cost of leaving people on the street without the hope and motivation such projects can generate.

What impressed me most when speaking with some of the actors, choreographers, social workers, teachers and school leaders involved was learning how this work is creating ripples in the wider community. Every participant I spoke with told me how much the work had helped them grow; and the words I heard most frequently were tolerance, identity, respect, fairness, social responsibility, integrity and self-awareness—precisely the kinds of things that school systems are now looking to cultivate in their students. A parent who said how reluctant he was to send his daughter to this social experiment explains how much his daughter developed because of it. Other parents worried that the time their children spent practicing the arts would cut into their school work, only to find that their child’s academic performance improved over the year. And a primary school teacher described how much her class was inspired and how much her own teaching was enriched by working with non-teaching professionals.

On my way back in the train to Paris, with the world and all its real problems passing by at  breathtaking speed, I wondered how the French education system can and will respond to the mounting challenges it faces, and how open it will be to such innovative experiences. There are few other things that will be as important for the future of France – a future in which schools need to prepare their students to live and work in a world in which most people will need to collaborate with people of diverse cultural origins, and appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values; a world in which people will need to decide how to trust and collaborate across those differences; a world where what happens half a world away may affect their own lives. Of course, having certain key knowledge and skills will always remain the cornerstone of success in life, but these are no longer enough. The future will judge French schools on their capacity to help students develop autonomy and an identity that also recognises the reality of national and global pluralism, to equip them to join others in life, work and citizenship and to help them transition from situational values – “I will do anything the situation allows me to do” – to sustainable values.


Photo credit: © Christian Ganet

Friday, May 29, 2015

Are schools ready to join the technological revolution?

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

When it comes to technology, education seems stuck in the age of chalkboards. But at an international conference on technology in education, held in Qingdao, China, last week, I got the feeling that educators and education ministers might finally be ready to join the technological revolution.

Right now, at a moment when information and communication technologies are changing the way we live in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, only around 37% of schools in Europe have high-end equipment and high-speed Internet connectivity, a figure which ranges from 5% in Poland to virtually 100% in Norway. But when asked, between 80% and 90% of school principals say that their schools are adequately equipped when it comes to computers and Internet connectivity – even principals in the many countries where the equipment is clearly substandard. So is technology not that important? Or are school leaders not aware of the potential of ICT to transform learning?

The situation is even more puzzling than that. PISA measured students’ digital literacy and the frequency and intensity with which students use computers at school (look out for the PISA report on digital technology in education to be published in September). One might think that the more students use computers at school, the better their digital skills. But in fact, the relationship is not so simple. Students who use computers moderately at school have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who rarely use computers; but students who use computers frequently at school do a lot worse, even after accounting for their socio-economic status and other background factors.

Put these data together and one can draw two conclusions:

One is that building deep, conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking requires intensive teacher-student interactions, and technology just distracts from this valuable human engagement.

Another is that we haven’t yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; that adding 21st-century technologies to 20th-century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching. If students use smartphones to copy and paste prefabricated answers to questions, that’s surely not going to help them to become smarter. If we want students to become smarter than a smartphone, we need to think harder about the pedagogies we’re using to teach them.

Technology can amplify great teaching, but great technology cannot replace poor teaching. We also know from our TALIS survey that even in the best-performing school systems, teachers cite improving their ICT skills as the second most important priority for their professional development.

What can we take away from all this?

First, education is a personalised service, so technology can only go so far in improving learning outcomes.

Second, the impact of technology on education delivery remains suboptimal because we tend to overestimate the digital skills of both teachers and students, because of often naïve policy design and implementation strategies, because of a poor understanding of pedagogy, and because of the generally poor quality of educational software and courseware. Few children would choose to play a computer game of the same quality as the software that finds its way into many classrooms around the world.

What could we gain if we fixed these problems?

The most obvious gain would be to dramatically expand access to content. Why should students be limited to a textbook that was printed two years ago, and maybe designed ten years ago, when they could have access to the world’s best and most up-to-date textbook? Equally important, technology allows teachers and students to access specialised materials well beyond textbooks, in multiple formats, with little time and space constraints, as we saw at the Qingdao conference.

Second, technology provides great platforms for collaboration in knowledge creation, where teachers can share and enrich teaching materials. It can also make feedback to students, teachers and parents faster and more granular.

Third, technologies can support new, inquiry-based pedagogies that focus on learners as active participants. For example, we can enhance experiential learning, with remote and virtual labs, we can pursue project-based, hands-on and collaborative learning, and we could deliver more formative, real-time assessments. The conference in Qingdao displayed some interesting developments to that end, including highly interactive, non-linear courseware, based on state-of-the-art instructional design, sophisticated software for experimentation and simulation, social media to support learning and teaching communities, and using games for instruction.

But if we continue to dump technology on schools in a fragmented way, we won’t be able to deliver on any of these promises technology holds. Countries need to have a clear plan and build teachers’ capacity to make that happen; and policy makers need to become better at building support for this agenda.

Given the uncertainties that accompany all change, educators will always opt to maintain the status quo. If we want to mobilise support for more technology-rich schools, we need to become better at communicating the need and building support for change. We need to invest in capacity development and change-management skills, develop sound evidence and feed this evidence back to institutions, and back all that up with sustainable financing. Last but not least, it is vital that teachers become active agents for change, not just in implementing technological innovations, but in designing them too.

International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Post-2015 Education
PISA in Focus brief: Are boys and girls ready for the digital age?

Photo Credit: Digital classroom / @Shutterstock

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,