Monday, August 11, 2014

Are teachers really resistant to change?

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

Teachers are often accused of conservatism and resistance to change. Many education policy makers can list numerous examples of well-intentioned reforms that were opposed by the teaching profession and their union representatives in the past. But teachers will argue that reforms are often imposed from the top down, without much consultation with or respect for the professional wisdom and experience of the teachers themselves. At the same time, the teaching profession has not yet completely succeeded in developing a dynamic and change-oriented perspective for its future. The result is that teaching methods and techniques that have worked in the past have become the yardstick by which to assess – and often condemn – ideas about what could work in the future. At least, this seems to be the dominant view.

The finding that, in fact, teachers become more satisfied in their work when education systems go through a process of innovation may thus come as a complete surprise. Innovation and teacher job satisfaction are not mutually exclusive. A new publication from the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI), Measuring Innovation in Education: A New Perspective, brings together a wealth of data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) that capture various forms of innovation in education. It also presents a composite innovation index for 28 countries or school systems with sufficient amounts of data for the period 2000-11 that covers several areas of innovation-oriented change, such as innovation in instructional practices, in class organisation, in methods of assessment, in the use of technology, in teacher evaluation and feedback mechanisms, and in the ways schools interact with their environments. The composite index measures the size of the changes that have occurred over time as a result of the combined effects of these innovations. (Of course, these school systems might have very different relative positions on the respective indicators.)

According to this index of overall innovation, Denmark, Hungary, Indonesia, Korea, the Netherlands and the Russian Federation have seen the greatest innovation-orientated change between 2000 and 2011. The state of Massachusetts in the United States, Austria and the Czech Republic show the smallest innovation-oriented change. The greater change seen in countries like Indonesia and the Russian Federation can be explained by a catch-up effect, whereas the relatively small change seen in Massachusetts may reflect the state’s already-high level of innovation in education at the beginning of the period. Both the Russian Federation and Indonesia show large changes in more interactive and realistic instructional practices, in encouraging students to reason, rather than learn by rote, in independent work by students, in giving more individual attention to students, and in changes in class organisation and assessment. Both countries also reported large improvements in the use of information and communications technology and in Internet connectivity in the classroom. In Massachusetts, these practices were already in place in 2000 or a negative change was observed in some of the data.

In 23 school systems, this overall innovation index can be correlated with a measure of satisfaction among 8th-grade mathematics teachers between 2003 and 2011, based on TIMSS data (see chart above). The outcomes of this exercise are amazing: the correlation between the two sets of data is strong. In general, school systems that have gone through an intense process of innovation in education tend to be those where teacher satisfaction has increased the most. The relationship is very clear in the upper right quadrant, which includes countries that have innovated more than the average among the OECD countries with available data. However, less change related to innovation does not necessarily correlate with less teacher satisfaction. Some countries in the lower left quadrant have seen a smaller increase in teacher satisfaction than the OECD average, or, in the case of Chile and Sweden, even a decrease, but in the other countries shown on the left of the chart, there is no real relationship between the two data sets.

The composite system-level innovation index includes measures of innovation-oriented change on two levels, the school level and the classroom level. The analysis shows that classroom-level innovation is more strongly correlated with the trend in teacher satisfaction. Clearly, innovation that affects teachers’ daily work – and which probably tends to increase their professional autonomy – matters most for teacher satisfaction.

Interestingly, the composite system-level innovation index also correlates positively with trends in the TIMSS 8th-grade mathematics learning outcomes between 2003 and 2011, as well as various PISA measures of equity in learning. At the risk of over-generalising, it seems that the kinds of innovation in education captured by this OECD innovation index increased the capacity of teachers and schools to cope with challenges, boosted teacher autonomy, and improved teacher satisfaction, ultimately improving students’ learning outcomes and the capacity of systems to create favourable learning conditions for all students in a more equitable manner.

The bottom line is that change, in itself, does not run counter to teacher satisfaction – quite the contrary. In countries or systems where there was a process of rapid innovation-related change, teachers reported greater job satisfaction. If teachers react so positively to change, they can hardly be seen as “conservative”.

The Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Chart source: © OECD

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Think Green: education and environmental awareness

by Tracey Burns and Roxanne Kovacs
Directorate for Education and Skills

The environment is a hot topic in the press and classrooms across the world and much has been said about the need for action to protect our planet. If current trends in climate change continue, temperatures could increase between 3 and 6 degrees Celsius by 2050. Such large temperature increases would lead to water shortages for billions of people, reduce agricultural yields, increase malnutrition related deaths by millions and lead to the extinction of a large part of animal species.

Education plays a crucial role in raising awareness of environmental challenges and shaping the attitudes and behaviours that can make a difference. A recently released Trends Shaping Education Spotlight looks at the role of education in both preparing and providing our citizens with the skills needed for a sustainable and productive future.

A first step in addressing the issue is raising awareness. Many classrooms already discuss important issues like recycling or sustainable consumption. However we need to do much more – results from the last PISA test that looked specifically at environmental science show that on average across the OECD, only 19% of students performed at the highest level of proficiency. Students at this proficiency level were aware of environmental issues and understood their complexity, which suggests that they have an adequate understanding of the challenges that climate change presents.

Some countries do better than others: in Canada, Finland and Japan for example, more than 30% of students performed at the highest level of proficiency. However more must be done to improve the level of the poorest performers. On average across the OECD, 16% of students performed at the lowest proficiency level and in countries like Italy, Mexico and Turkey more than 20% of students perform at the lowest proficiency level. These students were unable to answer questions about basic environmental phenomena. They were also much more likely to be overly optimistic about environmental issues and much less aware of the dramatic consequences of inaction.

So, what can be done? The performance of students in environmental science is closely related to performance in traditional science courses (such as physics, biology and chemistry). Better science education in general can thus be combined with specialised courses in order to increase student proficiency in environmental science. The next cycle of PISA (in 2015) will again focus on science issues and will be an opportunity to verify which countries have taken the lead on the topic and which are falling behind.

The need for green skills extends beyond basic education. Vocational education programmes are important in preparing students to be flexible and adaptable to changing standards and requirements. In fact, countries already struggle to provide workers with the right skillset. For example, German and Spanish authorities have signalled a lack in skilled photovoltaic workers to install and maintain solar electrical systems. Such skill shortages are a major impediment to the growth in these green industries. They also make the move to a green economy slower and more expensive than it could be.

For basic education as well as vocational education and training, policy measures such as work-based learning and the provision of better career guidance can be powerful tools to strengthen the link between skills development and the green-growth agenda of countries.

Universities also play an important role. In 2011, 220,000 students received university degrees in “green” subjects (for example, environmental protection and physical sciences (climactic research, meteorology)) across the OECD. This constitutes a 62% increase in “green graduates” since 1998, which is comparable to growth rates in fields like mathematics and statistics.

Even though it is important that individuals have the right technical skills and scientific knowledge to go green, this alone will not be enough. In order to act effectively, individuals need to be willing to trade off immediate gains (taking the car instead of less convenient public transport, for example, or turning the air conditioning up to maximum on hot days) for long-term sustainability. Making these choices requires critical thinkers who can connect their daily decisions to long-term consequences, not just for themselves, but for society as a whole. Our schools and universities must play their part in preparing us for this challenge.

Trends Shaping Education 2013
Green at Fifteen? How 15-year-olds perform in environmental science and geoscience in PISA
PISA 2009 Results: What Students Know and Can Do: Student Performance in Reading, Mathematics and Science (Volume I)
OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050
Greener Skills and Jobs, OECD Green Growth Studies
Center for Education Research and Innovation (CERI)
Photo credit: Recycling Girl / @Shutterstock


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Poverty and the perception of poverty – how both matter for schooling outcomes

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Note: The size of the bubbles is representing the strength of the relationship between mathematics performance and ESCS (Percentage of explained variance in mathematics performance)

Compensating for students’ socio-economic disadvantage is one of the greatest challenges facing teachers,school leaders and education systems as a whole. However, data from PISA show that some countries are much better at this than others.

Consider the chart above. The horizontal axis shows the percentage of lower secondary teachers who work in schools where their principal reported that more than 30% of students in their school were from disadvantaged homes.1  The vertical axis shows the actual percentage of 15-year-old students from disadvantaged homes, measured by PISA’s internationally standardised index that summarises various indicators of socio-economic disadvantage, including parents’ income and education level, educational resources at home, and other family possessions.2 In other words, the horizontal axis reflects school principals’ perception of disadvantage by national standards while the vertical axis reflects the prevalence of disadvantage as compared internationally.

Brazil, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico and Portugal are found in the upper right corner of the chart because their schools have a large share of disadvantaged children and that aligns with the reports of principals. The lower left corner includes the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Japan, Korea and Norway where disadvantage in schools is limited, and fewer than one in ten principals reports significant disadvantage.3 These are the results one would expect.

But actual disadvantage and principals’ perceptions of disadvantage don't always align: 65% of principals in the United States say that more than 30% of their students are from disadvantaged homes, far more than in any other country. However, the actual percentage of disadvantaged students reported by PISA is just 13%, marginally higher than in Japan and Korea; but in those two countries, only 6% and 9% of principals, respectively, report a comparable share of disadvantaged students in their schools. In other words, the actual incidence of child poverty is roughly the same among these three countries, but more than six times as many US principals reported that more than 30% of their students are disadvantaged. Conversely, in Croatia, Serbia and Singapore, more than 20% of students are disadvantaged, while 7% or fewer principals report significant populations of disadvantaged students.

Obviously, a child considered poor in the United States may be regarded as relatively wealthy in another country, but the fact that the perceived problem of socio-economic disadvantage among students is so much greater in the United States - and in France too - than the actual backgrounds of students also suggests that what school principals in some countries consider to be social disadvantage would not be considered such in others.

And there is a third important dimension, namely the actual impact of disadvantage on learning outcomes, which is shown by the size of the circles in the chart.4   That impact reflects whether an education system provides equitable learning opportunities. In countries like Finland, Iceland and Norway, one would expect this impact to be small because these countries have very little socio-economic disadvantage in their student populations. Achieving equity in school is easy when society distributes wealth and family education equitably. But the more impressive examples are countries like PISA top-performer Singapore, where disadvantage is significant, but its impact on learning outcomes is only moderate. These countries seem very good at nurturing the extraordinary talents of ordinary students and at ensuring that every student benefits from excellent teaching. In contrast, France has a comparatively small share of disadvantaged students, but school principals perceive this share to be large, and student learning outcomes are closely related to social background – more closely, in fact, than in any other country except Chile and the Slovak Republic. More generally, the results show that principals’ perception of disadvantage correlates with inequalities in education opportunities more strongly than real disadvantage does.

There is another way of looking at this: In Korea and Singapore, more than one in two students from the bottom quarter of the socio-economic spectrum score among the most proficient quarter of the world’s students on PISA; in Japan, 45% of disadvantaged students are similarly “resilient” and perform better on the PISA test than their backgrounds would predict. By contrast, in France and the United States, only around 20% of students are resilient, and in Israel, just one in 10 is.

So what does all this mean? Socio-economic disadvantage is a challenge to educators everywhere, but in countries like France and the United States, perceived disadvantage is far greater than real disadvantage and it makes a significant difference for student performance. In countries like Singapore, real disadvantage is far greater than school principals’ perception of it, but Singapore’s schools seem to be able to help their students overcome that disadvantage.

1. Or more precisely, the percentage of lower-secondary teachers in schools whose principals reported that more than 30% of students are from disadvantaged homes. Data are based on the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), which is representative of the teaching force in the participating countries.
2. Referred to as the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS).
3. Significant here means more than 30% of students from disadvantaged homes in the school.
4. Measured here by the percentage of variation in mathematics performance that is explained by the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS).

PISA 2012 Results: Excellence Through Equity: Giving Every Student the Chance to Succeed (Volume II)
The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) - 2013 Results
Chart source: © OECD TALIS 2013 and PISA 2012 database

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Education professionals as social innovators

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

The famous French social scientist Emile Durkheim – the founding father of the academic discipline of sociology of education – grounded the view that by transmitting society and culture into the next generation, education was inevitably looking more to the past than to the future. His legendary quote – “Education is only the image and reflection of society. It imitates and reproduces the latter… it does not create it” – coined the notion of education merely ‘reproducing’ societies. When social change accelerates, it is no surprise that the ‘conservative’ role of education becomes increasingly perceived as a problem in itself. Today, many economic and political leaders tend to share the view that education is losing the race with technology and is not changing fast enough to cope with future challenges.

But is this a fair account? And how do professionals in the education sector view their own jobs? There are very few data sources to empirically assess the innovative potential of education. Measurement of innovation has progressed significantly in recent years, but applying such measures on education has been rare. The most recent issue of OECD Education Indicators in Focus, based on the new publication Measuring Innovation in Education: A New Perspective produced by the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI), analyses measures of innovation in education by using data of the Research into Employment and Professional Flexibility (REFLEX) (2005) and Higher Education as a Generator of Strategic Competences (HEGESCO) (2008) surveys in 19 European countries on how tertiary graduates working in education perceive their own jobs. The results are surprising: no less than 59% of education professionals hold a highly innovative job.

Jobs are defined as highly innovative when tertiary educated employees say that they work in an organisation at the forefront of innovation and that they contribute themselves to innovation. With this measure of innovation it becomes possible to compare education with other sectors in society. In the manufacturing sector, 64.4% of the tertiary educated professionals work in highly innovative jobs, but education follows closely with 59.0%, well above the average across all sectors of 54.9%. The health sector, commonly perceived as more innovative than education, only counts 50.4% of jobs defined as highly innovative. Public administration closes the list with 39.5%. It is less of a surprise that within education there are huge differences between primary, secondary and tertiary (or higher) education: the higher education sector is, with 69.2%, the most innovative one, while primary (56%) and secondary (54%) education are situated much lower, but still around the cross-sector average.

Innovation research distinguishes between three types of innovation: ‘knowledge or methods’, ‘products or services’, and ‘technology, tools or instruments’. On average across sectors, innovation in knowledge or methods is the most prevalent one (36.6%), followed by innovation in products or services (28.8%) and innovation in technology, tools or instruments (21.3%). Education shares the same ranking of types of innovation, but with greater differences. Of all sectors, education has the highest percentage of highly innovative jobs in knowledge or methods: 48.5% (in higher education alone even going to 59.5%!). On the other hand, education is on the low side regarding innovation in technology, tools or instruments: only 20.6% (29.6% in higher education) of the tertiary educated professionals in education see their job as highly innovative for this type of innovation.

These data – which are innovative in themselves – put education in a different light than Emile Durkheim did more than a century ago. The idea that education is intrinsically conservative should be revisited, or at the least nuanced. Education professionals seem to align themselves more with the opposite view, of which John Dewey, the famous American philosopher of education, is the main exponent. By leading the next generation into the future, Dewey saw education as intrinsically progressive. In one of his most inspiring quotes – “Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself” – he equated education with growth and change, just as life itself. The progressive movement in American education of the mid-20th century was very much inspired by this idea and demonstrated that education could indeed lead the way in transforming society.

In various aspects education is as innovative as many other sectors, in some cases even more so. Certainly, a lot more should be done to make education a truly transformative engine of social change, to align it better to the changes 21st century societies are experiencing. But divergent views among stakeholders on the future of education should be discussed on their own terms, and not presented as a lack of innovation.

These data also show that it is good to listen to the voice of educational professionals themselves before making normative judgments on the education system. A few weeks ago the OECD published the results of the TALIS 2013 survey, an international survey of teachers on their profession and their working conditions. The TALIS data also present a different view on education than what outsiders typically believe: one of teachers generally satisfied with their job, confident that they are up to the challenges, but demanding more professional working conditions and a greater respect from society. The new data on innovation in education bring a similar message: education professionals presenting themselves as social innovators in a system perfectly capable of guiding social transformation.

Education Indicators in Focus, Issue No. 24, by Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin and Gwénaël Jacotin
TALIS 2013 Survey
Measuring Innovation in Education: A New Perspective
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus:
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators:
Chart source: © OECD

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

What do teens know about money?

By Andreas Schleicher, 
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills


It used to be about what to do with the babysitting money; now it’s all about trying to get the best value for money. Or is it? What do 15-year-olds really know about money matters? Can they make sensible decisions about whether to spend or save? Can they tell the difference between a financial risk and a sound investment? (For that matter, how many of the rest of us can?)

Eighteen countries participating in PISA wanted to find out. They conducted the first-ever international assessment of students’ financial literacy. The results from that survey, released today, are presented in this month’s PISA in Focus.

The financial literacy assessment, which was administered as an option in parallel to the international PISA test, was conducted among 29 000 students – representing around nine million 15-year-olds – in the participating countries and economies.

What the assessment shows is just how varied are students’ knowledge of and understanding about money matters. Across the 13 participating OECD countries and economies, only one in ten students scores at the highest financial literacy proficiency level – Level 5. These students can solve non-routine financial problems, such as calculating the balance on a bank statement, taking into account such factors as transfer fees, and can demonstrate an understanding of the wider financial landscape, including the implications of income-tax brackets. At the other end of the proficiency spectrum, 15% of students, on average, score below the baseline level of performance, Level 2. At best, these students can recognise the difference between needs and wants, make simple decisions about everyday spending, recognise the purpose of everyday financial documents, such as an invoice, and apply single and basic numerical operations (addition, subtraction or multiplication) in contexts that they are likely to have personally encountered.

Students in Shanghai-China score the highest in financial literacy, with a mean score of 603 points, 103 points above the OECD average. Students in Australia, the Flemish Community of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, New Zealand and Poland also score higher than the OECD average.

Coming on the heels of the biggest global financial crisis since the Great Depression – one felt keenly by millions of young adults who are having trouble finding work after they graduate from school – and at a time when financial products and services are becoming increasingly complex, the results show that, even in some of the countries that performed well on the assessment, there are sizeable populations of students who lack essential financial skills. That is of concern. Students who have difficulties with simple things, like assessing the long-term liabilities arising from debt, risk getting ripped off by outrageous interest rates on their credit cards. And let’s remember that one of the triggers of the global financial crisis was the corrosive mix of people living beyond their means combined with unscrupulous lending practices.

So what can we do about this? Countries approach the goal of preparing students for an ever-more complicated financial world very differently. Some have begun to introduce financial education explicitly in their school curricula, which can help strengthen the links between school and real life. But of course, other interest groups are doing that too: those who want to make sure that there is digital education to strengthen digital literacy, health education to strengthen health literacy, environmental education to strengthen environmental literacy, and so on, with the result that students often end up with mile-wide, inch-deep curricula that lack the depth on which to build solid foundations for learning. That may also explain why some of the countries where students have the greatest exposure to financial education don't do particularly well on financial literacy – or on any of the other PISA assessments.

Other countries place their efforts squarely on strengthening students’ conceptual understanding in key areas, such as mathematics, and then expect their students to be able to apply that understanding in different contexts, including financial ones. That risks disconnecting students from the real world. But the fact that the latter group includes top performer Shanghai, whose students show higher financial literacy skills than those in any other country, even though they are rarely exposed to financial contexts in school, shows that the question of how best to develop financial literacy is still very much open to debate.

Whatever the right balance between a focus on conceptual understanding and real-life application in school curricula, the results show clearly that many students need to have higher levels of financial literacy.

PISA 2012 Results
PISA in Focus No. 41: Do 15-year-olds know how to manage money?
Press release: First OECD PISA financial literacy test finds many young people confused by money
Launch of the OECD PISA Financial literacy assessment of students, 9 July 2014, Paris
Follow on twitter:  #OECDPISA and #OECDfe

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

What did we learn from TALIS?

by Kristen Weatherby
Senior Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Last week we shared with the world the latest results from the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) , at an Informal Meeting of Ministers of Education (17th OECD/Japan Seminar) held in Tokyo on 25-26 June. 

TALIS touched upon a wide range of teacher-centred topics, from professional development to collaboration and teaching practices. TALIS has revealed many areas about teacher policies and behaviour that should be encouraged to continue development of the profession as a whole. However, it has also highlighted areas in some countries that could benefit from reform. The results of TALIS were widely received across countries as valuable information from which school leaders, teachers and policy makers can benefit.

For example, at the launch event in Mexico last week, the OECD presented the finding that 1 in 4 Mexican teachers do not feel prepared for their work. Furthermore, the TALIS results indicate that Mexico has the lowest percentage of teachers who have completed initial teacher education (only 62% versus 90% on average across countries). Additionally, 7% of Mexican teachers do not feel qualified to perform their work. The Mexican Secretary of Basic Education, Alba Martinez Olive, conceded that the TALIS results were not surprising given the complex realities that Mexican teachers face.

At the U.S. launch of TALIS, it was very encouraging to learn that so many teachers love their jobs (nearly 90%) but less heartening to find that only around 40% of US teachers believe the best-performing teachers in their schools receive the most recognition. However, there was much discussion about the support that is provided to teachers, in terms of quality, professional development and feedback on their teaching. Participants in the U.S. launch discussed the importance of increasing in-depth collaboration between teachers and how school leaders and districts need to provide space and guidance for teachers to do this.

The Education Fast Forward debate (EFF 10) on the TALIS results further emphasised the significance of teacher collaboration, and the topic resonated amongst followers on Twitter. Participants also discussed the important role of interpersonal relationships between teachers in negating some of the otherwise detrimental effects that a challenging classroom climate might have on a teachers’ job satisfaction and feelings of self-efficacy.   

Meanwhile, in Spain, TALIS was launched at a National Seminar for teachers. Participants discussed the findings that feedback and appraisal mechanisms for teachers are rare in Spain. One-third of teachers (32%) report never having received feedback in their current school and less than half (43%) of teachers in Spain report receiving feedback following a classroom observation.

This is only a small sample of the wealth of national and international findings that are available from the TALIS data. More importantly, it’s not only the data, but what we do with the data that is important. In addition to the international report, country-specific findings and the TALIS dataset, you can also download the TALIS Teachers’ Guide on our website. This small report offers insights to teachers and school leaders as to how they can make changes to improve teaching and learning in their schools, based on key findings in TALIS. 


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What can we learn from our teachers?

by Kristen Weatherby
Senior Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

The latest results from the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) are made public today at various events in countries around the world. TALIS 2013 surveyed 107,000 lower secondary school teachers in 34 countries.  Everyone from education ministers – who are gathered at an event in Tokyo – to teachers – like those at a TALIS conference in Madrid – want to learn from the data collected in the survey in order to improve the teaching and learning in their schools.

So what are teachers telling us? First of all, teachers love being teachers. On average across TALIS-participating countries, 9 in 10 teachers report being satisfied with their jobs, and nearly 8 in 10 (78%) report that they would still choose to become a teacher if they had to make the choice again.

Given this finding, it is perhaps surprising that, on average, more than two out of three teachers across TALIS countries do not feel that their profession is valued by society. This percentage varies by country: in some countries, particularly those with high-performing education systems (Finland, Korea, Singapore), notably larger proportions of teachers report feeling that their profession is indeed valued by society.

Why do most teachers feel that teaching isn’t valued? And why does it matter? In some countries, it could be that the teachers’ perceptions are correct, and that societies may not value teaching as much as other professions. But it could also have something to do with how teaching has evolved – or not – as a profession. If you take a look at TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning, you will learn a great deal about what teachers say about their background, education, support, development and teaching practices. Together with data from school principals, these data paint a picture of the teaching profession around the world today.

When you look at the statistics on teacher appraisal and feedback, for example, it’s not difficult to see why some teachers may not feel valued. The teachers surveyed agree that appraisals are helpful, with more than 6 in 10 teachers reporting that appraisal leads to positive changes in their teaching practices. Yet nearly half of teachers feel that the appraisals in their school are performed simply to fulfil administrative requirements. Only about one in three teachers feels that the feedback received will lead to any kind of career advancement, which might include higher pay or additional responsibilities. Indeed, nearly 80% of teachers report that annual increments in their salaries are awarded regardless of the outcome of formal teacher appraisals.

If we want teaching to improve so that school systems can produce the skilled citizens that our societies need, then we not only need to change the practices of existing teachers, we also need to ensure that teaching attracts high-quality candidates. Providing teachers with a career path that includes recognition for good performance and support to improve is certainly one way to start. TALIS data also indicate that teachers who are given the opportunity to participate in decision making at school not only are more likely to report that teaching is valued as a profession, they also report higher job satisfaction and more confidence in their own abilities as teachers. Thus it seems about time to treat teachers as the professionals they are.

2013 TALIS Results
Free Teachers’ Guide to TALIS
Education Fast Forward (EFF10) Global live debate - 25 June 2014
Alliance for Excellent Education webinar - 27 June 2014
Photo credit: © Fotolia

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The urban paradox

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

Our world is becoming more and more urban. Today, more than half of the world’s population live in cities, and this proportion will continue to grow. On average across the OECD, over 85% of the population will be living in cities by 2050.

The growth of cities is driven by hopes and dreams for a better life: large urban environments provide more educational and career opportunities, better access to high quality health and emergency services, and as well as a number of other positives. Yet urban areas are confronted with a paradox: they concentrate wealth and employment opportunities, but they can also host high levels of poverty and labour-market exclusion.  In addition, the agglomeration of workers and firms is often accompanied by negatives such as more tenuous social networks and disconnection from family and community, which can engender social alienation and violence.

Schools increasingly provide a sense of belonging and play the role of the immediate community and neighbourhood in urban areas. A just released Trends Shaping Education Spotlight looks at the role of education in our increasingly urban societies.

First, the good news: the urban advantage in education is real. Students who study in urban areas scored on average 20 points higher in PISA 2012 than students in small towns and rural schools even after controlling for socio-economic status (which is generally higher in cities). This urban advantage is on average equal to half a year of schooling and is particularly large in countries like Hungary, Mexico and Slovenia which have high gaps in performance between urban and rural schools.

Why is this? The wealth of cultural opportunities and science institutions in urban environments expose young people to a diverse set of educational and career opportunities that are largely unavailable in rural setting. Such experiences can inspire, motivate, and challenge children and young people to achieve more. In addition, schools in urban centres are generally larger and more autonomous and might therefore be better able to allocate resources and retain qualified administrative and teaching staff.

However not everyone can benefit from these opportunities. Families with lower socio-economic status, immigrant families, and single-parent families are all less likely, on average, to be able to benefit from the urban advantage. It is thus important to address urban inequities that can undermine children’s access to quality education, such as unequal allocation of educational resources, lack of access to cultural institutions, residential segregation in major cities, higher concentration of single-parent families, and more disparate income levels. Only then can all students benefit from the opportunities unique to an urban environment.

The urban paradox is real, then. Along with increased opportunity come larger threats. In densely populated regions, poor social cohesion and rising inequality can lead to conflict and tension. Attempts to improve the security and safety of urban environments often rely on schools as a way to reach out to young people at risk. In addition to ensuring academic excellence, schools will continue to be called upon to strengthen bonds within the urban community by helping young people develop skills in non-academic areas such as tolerance, conflict resolution, and civic participation.

Similarly, schools have begun to take a more active role in promoting mental and physical health, and teachers are increasingly relied upon to detect students who are showing signs of withdrawal and alienation and to effectively model positive social behaviours.

However, there is a real question about the responsibility of schools in addressing all these important issues. Youth at risk are more likely to drop out of school before completing their studies, and can therefore not be reached by standard school-based programmes. Furthermore, teachers are already charged with an important educational mission that does not necessarily overlap with a demand for crime prevention and mental health approaches.

Who is responsible for what, and how can this all be balanced in our changing (and increasingly urban) world? This is not a new question, but it is becoming ever more important as we continue to become more urban and more diverse. As schools become microcosms of our progressively more diverse society, they have the opportunity to prepare children for our increasingly heterogeneous, more global and less locally connected world. Are our education systems ready for this challenge?

Trends Shaping Education 2013
PISA 2012 Results: Excellence Through Equity: Giving Every Student the Chance to Succeed (Volume II)
OECD working paper: Urban Trends and Policies in OECD Countries
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
Photo credit: Young boy in urban background / @Shutterstock

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The socio-economic divide in pre-primary education

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

The metaphor “levelling the playing field” crops up a lot in discussions about pre-primary education.

As well it should: attendance in those programmes has been shown to improve education outcomes later on. But as this month’s PISA in Focus shows, not even a steamroller can level the playing field of formal education if disadvantaged students are sidelined from the beginning.

PISA consistently finds that 15-year-old students who had attended pre-primary education tend to perform better than those who had not attended pre-primary education, even after accounting for the students’ socio-economic status. 51 points – the equivalent of substantially more than a year of formal schooling.

In 2012, the vast majority of 15-year-old students in most PISA-participating countries and economies reported that they had attended pre-primary education; and PISA data confirm that enrolment in those programmes has grown over the past decade. In 2003, 69% of 15-year-olds across the OECD countries that have comparable data between 2003 and 2012 reported that they had attended pre-primary school for more than one year; in 2012, 75% of students reported so.

But PISA also finds that while 15-year-old students in 2012 were more likely than 15-year-olds in 2003 to have attended at least one year of pre-primary education, pre-primary enrolment is higher among advantaged students than disadvantaged students, and higher among students attending advantaged schools than those attending disadvantaged schools. In 2012, an average of 67% of disadvantaged students had attended pre-primary education for more than one year, while 82% of students in advantaged schools had done so.

This difference in enrolment between advantaged and disadvantaged students is seen in almost all PISA-participating countries and economies. It is largest – 48 percentage points – in Poland, and between 25 and 30 percentage points in Portugal, the Slovak Republic and Uruguay. This means that the students who could benefit the most from these programmes – those from disadvantaged backgrounds – are less likely to participate in them. This socio-economic divide widened in the Slovak Republic between 2003 and 2012 as it did, to a lesser extent, in Finland, Greece, Latvia, Luxembourg, Poland and the Russian Federation; it narrowed, however, in Germany, Korea, Macao-China, Portugal and Uruguay. 

That pre-primary enrolment rates are growing faster among advantaged students than among disadvantaged students signals that countries have to work harder to ensure that all families, particularly disadvantaged families, have access to high-quality pre-primary education, and to information about such programmes, near where they live. An investment in early education, both for parents and for governments, pays dividends later on in life. Which brings to mind another apt expression: “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

PISA 2012 Findings
PISA in Focus No. 40 : Does pre-primary education reach those who need it most?
Photo credit: Kids Hands / @Shutterstock

Thursday, June 05, 2014

TALIS 2013 Results: A voice for teachers

by Kristen Weatherby
Senior Analyst, Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)

Results from the most recent round of Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) are to be released at the end of this month in Japan where education ministers will gather to exchange views on how to best shape teacher policy so as to have the strongest impact on the quality of the learning environment.

Why should teachers care? 
Well, teachers are at the heart of TALIS.  Along with the release of the in-depth international report which provides analyses of cross-country data on the 25th of June, a free Teachers' Guide to TALIS will be available on our website.  This handbook will  present the main results with insights and advice to teachers and school leaders on how they can improve teaching and learning in their schools.

How can you get involved?
Join Education Fast Forward’s global live debate:  On June 25, 2014 at 1pm (BST) Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills and Michael Fullan, former dean of the Ontario Institute of Education Studies in Education will be hosting a live webinar to discuss the outcomes of the TALIS 2013 Survey. Post your questions and comments using the twitter hashtag #EFF10.

Join the Alliance for Excellent Education webinar:  On June 27, 2014 between 4:00 pm – 5:15 pm (EDT), Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills and Stephanie Hirsch, Executive Director, Learning Forward, United States will discuss the key findings from the TALIS 2013 Survey, as well as the implications for improving teaching effectiveness in the United States. This webinar will be moderated by Bob Wise, President of the Alliance for Excellent Education and you can send your questions concerning the webinar to:

TALIS will help you gain an understanding of what other teachers are doing in other countries, and help build excellence into teaching. You'll find the answers there on 25th of June, watch this space!

OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 
Launch events:
Follow TALIS on twitter:  #OECDTALIS

Monday, June 02, 2014

Going for excellence: evaluation and assessment in Dutch schools

by Deborah Nusche
Policy Analyst,  Early Childhood and Schools Division, Directorate for Education

Dutch education is at a turning point. Although the Dutch education system
has made progress on many fronts and has a high standing on international assessments, there is a general appreciation that the system must continue to improve and strive for the next level.
The nature of that next level, however, has not yet been specified.
According to various groups interviewed as part of an OECD Review published today, it could mean further improving the country’s standing on international assessments, with particular focus on top performers; or enhancing general academic achievement and responding better to the learning needs of different student groups; or turning attention to “21st century skills” such as creativity, collaboration and ICT literacy.

The Dutch government has launched a general policy emphasising excellence in education. This includes a focus on providing better support to gifted and talented students and stimulating schools to aim for higher levels of achievement. For example, school inspection visits are becoming more differentiated to help schools with average and good results to further improve towards excellence. Teacher professionalism, and teachers’
capacity for “results-oriented work”, are being promoted as key elements in achieving excellence in education. Recent laws on student assessment make it mandatory for primary schools to implement regular student monitoring systems and a standardised end-of-primary test.

The Dutch government invited the OECD to visit the Netherlands and review how current evaluation and assessment approaches contribute to improving teaching and learning in Dutch schools. The OECD review team found that in many ways evaluation and assessment in Dutch schools are in line with the principles identified by the OECD to develop an effective evaluation and assessment framework. Central instruments for student assessment, school evaluation and education system monitoring are highly developed, and schools are responsible for assuring their own quality. The involvement and cooperation of multiple stakeholders has resulted in a comprehensive and balanced approach to evaluation and assessment, producing ample information and feedback for actors at all levels of the system.

Going forward, the Netherlands needs to ensure that the available evaluation and assessment results are effectively used for improvement in all schools, including in those that are already achieving basic quality. An overarching strategy for evaluation and assessment in the Netherlands could help map out the existing instruments, clarify responsibilities and point to adequate uses of evaluation and assessment results. Teachers, school leaders and governing boards would benefit from enhanced training to interpret and use the information generated by evaluation and assessment for improvements at the school and classroom level. Effective appraisal and feedback systems for school professionals, linked to professional development, can play a key role in building such capacity. Innovative approaches to school evaluation will further contribute to stimulating reflective practice and excellence in schooling.

If evaluation and assessment are to be tools for improving learning rather than the drivers of education in the Netherlands, the system also needs to build consensus on education goals for future generations. What does excellence mean for Dutch schools in the mid-21st century? Are schools sufficiently focused on valued learning goals such as problem-solving, collaboration, ICT literacy and creative thinking? How can evaluation and assessment support rather than stifle innovative teaching and learning? Greater clarity on national learning goals for the mid-21st century will help inform reflection and dialogue on how evaluation and assessment should evolve in order to support a future-oriented education system.

OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education: Netherlands:
Country Review
Main Conclusions
For more on OECD Reviews on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes: 
Photo credit: © Fotolia

Friday, May 30, 2014

Understanding Employer Engagement in Education

by Anthony Mann
Director of Policy and Research, Education and Employers Taskforce, London, UK

Across the world, governments are asking themselves how can they close the gap between the worlds of education and employment? How can they better engage employers in the work of schools?

While hardly a new phenomenon, the attention of policy makers and commentators has grown significantly over the last decade.  It is a policy which has won the recent attention and the strong endorsement from the OECD – in its key 2010 strategic review of vocational education, Learning for Jobs – from European Union agencies (CEDEFOP and InGenious) – and from an influential team at Harvard University (Pathways to Prosperity).  In England, the main political parties no longer argue whether a period of one or two weeks work experience should be a mandatory element of secondary education, but at what age placements should best be undertaken.

Employer engagement has become rapidly established within global priorities for schooling.  It is a development which has happened largely in the absence, as set out in a new collection of essays published by Routledge, of significant research.  The collection, Understanding Employer Engagement in Education, marks the very first gathering together of serious research essays into the character, delivery and consequences of employer involvement in the learning and progression of young people.  It brings together insights from papers first offered at the international conferences and seminars arranged by the London-based education charity, the Education and Employers Taskforce.  Over seventeen essays, authors from around the world (if with a strong UK focus), analyse the phenomenon of employer engagement both within vocational education and training, through school or college based apprenticeships, and within mainstream academic schooling seen in such activities as careers talks, enterprise competitions, business mentoring and workplace visits as well as short work placements. Collectively, the contributors consider why governments have become so determined to bring workplace experiences into schooling, how such interventions can best be theorised and understood within labour markets undergoing radical change, what impacts school-mediated workplace exposure can be expected to have on recipients and how access to such experiences are distributed across society.

The collection is likely to gain most attention for three chapters which offer measurements of the impact of employer engagement in education on the educational and employment outcomes of young people.  Percy and Mann (Education and Employers Taskforce) apply quantitative analysis to recent UK survey data to show significant links between the extent of teenage employer contacts arranged through schools and later earnings, employment levels and self-declared career confidence. Massey (UKCES) explores the phenomenon from an employer perspective, analysing large scale polling to show how commonplace it is for British employers to take on permanent recruits after short periods of school-managed work placement.

From a Canadian and VET perspective, Taylor et al (University of Alberta) finds participants in school-based apprenticeships to achieve better in school and apprenticeship completion rates than peers.  The three studies add considerably to a relatively slim literature applying robust methodologies to provide the evidence that endorses the instincts of so many policy makers.

The ambition of the collection though is not just to measure gains related to employer engagement, but to critically understand how and why such benefits might be expected and to who can be expected to gain most from them.  The work begins by offering a long overdue attempt to conceptualise the experience of employer engagement within wider social and economic theory concerning the progression of young people through their educational experiences and into the labour market.  Louise Archer (King’s College, London) provides a critical review of the concept of aspiration and Julian Stanley (University of Warwick) and Anthony Mann (Education and Employers Taskforce) draw on human, social and cultural capital theory to offer a conceptual framework to help understand how young people encounter such employer contacts and how they might turn such experiences into resources of ultimate labour market value.  From a US perspective, James Stone III (University of Louisville) locates employer engagement firmly within pedagogic debates concerning the nature of practical and academic learning, while the OECD’s Kathrin Hoeckel describes the character of contemporary youth unemployment.  The collection locates employer engagement in education, consequently, squarely within fundamental debates over the relationship of education and skills provision to individual and national economic success and the changing character of school to work transitions.

Essays by Li and Devine (University of Manchester) and Holmes and Mayhew (University of Oxford) provide new quantitative analysis of longitudinal data tracking the winners and losers in the changing British labour market.  Casting new light on the nature of the problem, studies of British teenagers in urban areas by St Clair et al (University of Glasgow) and Norris (RSA) and Francis (King’s College, London) show teenage career aspirations to be almost uniformly high, but formed without “the active knowledge of what the labour market offered or close knowledge of the educational requirements of particular occupations.”

In the British context, through a series of essays it becomes clear that it is young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds who are placed at structural disadvantage in attempting to access workplace experiences to inform developing career aspirations and to provide access to resources of value to their progression out of secondary schooling.  Teenagers educated in English fee-paying schools are seen, in essays by Mann and Kashefpakdel (University of Bath), Huddleston et al (University of Warwick) and Jones (University of Manchester), to be routinely accessing work placements and careers related engagements closely linked to occupational ambitions and highly relevant to immediate designs on university admission.  In contrast, Le Gallais and Hatcher (Birmingham City University) show how social circumstances dictate access to work experience placements, unless schools actively intervene to secure and manage placements. Through these chapters, the influence of social and cultural capital theory is writ large. Bourdieu and Granovetter have much to say of relevance to contemporary policy.

In their foreword to the collection, Nancy Hoffman (Boston’s Jobs for the Future) and  Robert Schwartz (Harvard University) reflect on the significance of the issues raised in the book following their own participation in the OECD’s Learning for Jobs review.  “The urgency to engage employers in the transition from school to work in not only about the labour market”, they write. “It’s about the welfare of young people.  Youth unemployment has risen to historic proportions in many countries as a result of the global fiscal crisis, and youth across the world have articulated their frustrations about the lack of opportunities for their futures.”  In this context, the collection serves to introduce employer engagement in education as a new field of critical enquiry relevant to policy makers, practitioners and young people themselves as they seek to gain footholds in the shifting sands of the twenty-first century labour market.  In so doing, the book raises many important questions for ongoing research, marking the beginning of what is hoped will be an international exchange of evidence enabling fuller understanding of what can happen when a young person interacts with the economic community and how positive impacts can be most fully, and most equitably, distributed.

Understanding Employer Engagement in Education: Theories and Evidence, Edited by Anthony Mann, Julian Stanley and Louise Archer (London: Routledge, 2014)
OECD work on Vocational Education and Training (VET)
OECD work on Skills
Photo credit: Young employees / @Shutterstock

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Are university students taking less time to graduate?

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

University is both a formative and enjoyable period in a young person’s life. Some who can afford to postpone their entry into the job market like it so much that they spend many years studying for a degree. Others have to repeat courses and semesters to succeed. Traditionally university programmes are designed as long and demanding trajectories, especially within Europe. In a paradigm of higher education, oriented towards the selection of the future elite, the length of study in itself works as a selection tool.

With massification of higher education from the 1970s onwards, as well as changes in the purpose and social functions of universities, the length of study became a policy issue. Each year of an individual’s study required  a significant public investment, therefore the time spent acquiring a degree became a budgetary concern. Moreover, time spent at colleges and universities was increasingly seen as an inappropriate mechanism of social selection, favouring those who had the resources to spend their young lives studying and punishing those unable to postpone earning a salary for too long. Additionally, demographic challenges increased the need to raise the activity rate in the population, and the need to recruit  young people for the job market sooner. Consequently, governments started to develop policies to shorten the length of study, shift some of the financial burden to students, and provide universities with the incentives for shorter study programmes.

By the time the Sorbonne and Bologna Declarations were discussed and approved, in 1998 and 1999 respectively, this policy challenge had become very real. In at least two of the signatory countries of the Sorbonne Declaration – Germany and Italy – studying until the age of 28 was the rule, not the exception. Ministers were very interested in the Anglo-Saxon qualification structure, because it would allow them to break up very long study programmes and stimulate students to acquire a first degree after only three or four years of study. Next to the objectives of having more comparable degree and credit systems and fostering mobility, the Bologna Declaration also intended to shorten study trajectories.

Data presented in the latest issue of the Education Indicators in Focus series allows us to evaluate the changes in the length of study careers, at least up until graduation with a first degree. Comparing OECD countries with available data, we learn that the median age of graduation decreased from 25.2 in 2005, to 25.0 in 2008 and down to 24.7 in 2011. This means that in 2011 the median student graduated half a year earlier than in 2005. The decrease differs across the age distribution: it is less significant for students graduating at a younger age, but it is very significant among students graduating at a higher age. The age of graduation at percentile 75 dropped from 28.7 in 2005 to 27.9 in 2011. Thus the share of students who took many years to graduate dropped significantly.

Students also entered universities at a slightly younger age, but the earlier age of graduation is predominantly determined by shortening the time spent acquiring a first degree. Between 2005 and 2011, the time taken to acquire a first degree fell by almost half a year, from 4.6 years to 4.2 years. Of course, many students pursue their studies beyond a first degree, but the combined effect of shorter study programmes and more effective study trajectories is quite significant.

These average changes conceal huge variations across countries. In some countries, the decrease in the median age of graduation between 2005 and 2011 is very marked. In Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Portugal and Slovenia, the median age fell by more than one year between 2005 and 2011. Despite the general trend, in some countries including Austria, Israel, Spain and Turkey, the median age of graduation actually increased during the same time frame. . Various institutional factors and participation patterns might explain these differences, but the socio-economic context should also be taken into account. For example, huge youth unemployment in Spain probably played a role in keeping students longer at university in 2011 compared to 2008.

The average decrease in the age of graduation, especially in countries where youth was less affected by the economic crisis and the job market still offered prospects for earning a living, might also be explained by composition effects. Students coming from less affluent families tend to have shorter studypaths, because they cannot afford to postpone earning a salary fortoo long. In several countries this is also noticeable in the increase of the number of students studying part-time. Flexible work-study arrangements allow students to combine study with work. When the economic crisis erupted in 2008, on average 19.6% of students studied part-time; in 2011 this number had  risen to 22.0%. The increase was very significant in again, Spain (from 12.2% to 27.1%), Germany (4.5% to 13.5%), Belgium (12.6% to 17.3%) and Canada (17.7% to 22.8%). Credit-systems and increased flexibility in study arrangements have provided more opportunities for part-time study and combined study-work trajectories. Of course, having more part-time students works against having a lower median age of graduation.

Today a first university degree – in most cases a bachelor’s degree – takes less time to acquire than in the past. Pressures on students to graduate faster have increased, both as a result of government policies, institutions’ actions to improve quality and efficiency and the general socio-economic context. University might be less leisurely, but on-campus life, learning soft skills such as making friends and forming social networks, is still an essential part of nurturing successful study.

Education Indicators in Focus, Issue No. 23, by Dirk Van Damme and Corinne Heckmann
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus:
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators:
Chart source: © OECD

Friday, May 23, 2014

The OECD Tohoku School: Moving forward together

Interview with Kohei Oyama and Yoko Tsurimaki, Students of the OECD Tohoku School Project

During a break from the OECD Forum, two students (11th grade and 12th grade) from the OECD Tohoku School Project shared their learning experiences with Cassandra Davis and Meredith Lunsford of educationtoday. They began by explaining the student-designed OECD Tohoku School logo. Like many things in Japan, every element of the logo has a significant meaning. The 15 multi-coloured arrows piercing through the bull’s-eye represent the 15 regions of Japan touched by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011. Each arrow carries a unique colour to represent the individually diverse personalities that the respective regions hold. The tri-coloured rings surrounding the arrows represent the past, present and future of Japan. The most significant facet of the logo is the individual arrows pointing upwards from right to left, following Japanese calligraphy. This is meant to represent each region’s path reaching toward a common goal: to move forward together.

educationtoday: The OECD places a high value on student motivation, curiosity and creativity. In collaboration with the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and Fukushima University, there has been an importance placed on the idea of “creative recovery”. What does “creative recovery” mean to you? Why is “creative recovery” important (versus traditional forms of recovery and reconstruction)?

Kohei Oyama: There have been several types of recovery, with infrastructure being the basic component. But in Tohoku we have focused on creative recovery. We creatively think about the people affected by the tsunami and the futures that they seek. Then, we creatively think about how to draw people back into the impacted areas.

educationtoday: The OECD Tohoku School Project works through a series of project-based workshops which include lecturers, hands-on experiences and discussion. Has this project-based learning changed the way you learn? How?

Yoko Tsurimaki: What we do at the Tohoku School is different from a “regular” school in that we don’t follow a curriculum that is given to us by our teachers. Instead, we design the curriculum ourselves, we decide the best course of action to facilitate recovery and, then, we implement it.

educationtoday: What other Tohoku School derived methods can we use to foster creativity in order to facilitate recovery and reconstruction?

Kohei: The student-driven learning method used in the Tohoku School project is the best strategy for other schools to implement. The students have the freedom to decide what they want to learn and how they want to implement these ideas.

educationtoday: The students carrying out this project were anticipated to gain real-life skills such as initiative taking, leadership, critical thinking, co-operation and creativity. What are some of the skills that you learned through the Tohoku School project? What skills did you learn that you think will transfer into your real life? What skills do you imagine will be useful in your future career?

Kohei: The most important skill that I learned through this process is how to communicate effectively. Both inside the classroom and outside the classroom, communication is a necessity. If you have a great idea, you must still be able to communicate that idea to others in order to make it a reality. Otherwise, the idea will be lost through miscommunication.

Yoko: The most important skill I have learned is critical thinking. But, I have also learned so much about the differences in value systems inside and outside of Japan. Within Japan, there is increasing internationalisation and it is becoming more and more necessary for future generations to be able to communicate effectively with other people and other cultures.

educationtoday: Since the launch of the Tohoku School Project two and half years ago, the mission has been for the students to organise an international event here in Paris to show to the world the attractiveness and creative recovery of your country. What is the major achievement or the take away message from the Tohoku School?

Yoko: To be able to demonstrate how hard the junior high and high school students have worked. Through all of the ups and downs, we have persevered and accomplished what we set out to do.

Kohei: This journey has been like sailing on a ship. It wasn’t always easy and there have been many waves. However, if the ride had always been stable (like in school), we wouldn't have really learned the skills needed in real life situations, full of unexpected surprises! Instead, we have so much to take away from this experience.

As we concluded the interview, we were presented with t-shirts and bags that had been designed by the students of the Tohoku School. The appreciation of the OECD’s support on education and skills development in Japan is evidenced in the students’ answers to our questions as well as this meaningful gesture of gratitude.

OECD Tohoku School
OECD Forum
Japanese version of the OECD-Tohoku School website
Image: ©OECD Tohoku School

Friday, May 16, 2014

Education in the 21st Century: Five lessons from China

by Dr. Catherine Yan Wang
National Institute of Education Sciences

China has redesigned its education system since embarking on opening up the country and implementing reforms in the latter half of the 70s. The journey of change started from an ethos of “Orientation Towards Modernisation, Orientation Towards the Future, and Orientation Towards the World”, created during the late 70s, which went through a three-decade long reflection and debate on quality-oriented education (versus examination-oriented education). It  gained momentum in 2001 with an Action Plan for Invigorating Education for the 21st Century, and resulted in the ground-breaking Basic Education Curriculum Reform that profoundly changed education philosophy, content and pedagogy for education from Grade 1-12. After three decades, not only has China achieved universal access to basic education, Shanghai also became a top-performer in the PISA 2009 round of tests. And the changes continue. Although there are still many challenges and barriers facing the education system in China, several strategies and approaches proved to be workable and effective, including the following five lessons:

1) Evidence-based, participatory policy-making. Like many policies in China, the formulation of the Basic Education Curriculum Outline involved five steps: conducting surveys, drafting, consulting, experimenting and implementation and expansion. It began with a stakeholder survey including teachers, parents, researchers, local authorities and communities, followed by the drafting of the document by a team consisting of researchers, practitioners and administrators. It then went through consultations with schools, teachers and local governments, to solicit their opinions on the relevance and feasibility of the policy. The policy for trial was piloted in four provinces and amended on the basis of piloting. The finalised Outline was then implemented nationwide.

2) Provision of professional support to teaching. China created a Teaching Research System, to provide ongoing support to teachers’ classroom methods, which consisted of teaching research institutes at provincial, prefecture (municipality) and county levels. The researchers, mostly selected from the best in the profession, support other teachers’ work by coordinating school-based research projects, regular visits to schools, interpreting curriculum standards, analysing classroom teaching, preparing teaching lessons, developing teaching materials and distilling best practices for extension (e.g. through demonstrations). Some of the institutes have been integrated with teaching training college and this has made teaching research a booster of teachers’ professional development.   

3) Learning from the world. China, its government agencies, research institutions and even schools all look to other countries’ experiences for inspiration in the process of making changes for improvement.  Since the 1980s, government officials have made many overseas study tours to learn different practices.  These brief glimpses of the outside world have impacted their way of thinking and how they do their work. Major studies almost always contain a component of international comparative study to benchmark against developed countries, and draw upon best practices in order to generate policy recommendations. The schools, in their pursuit of internationalisation, developed exchange partnership with overseas counterparts, and also kept on learning from the outside world to update their teaching content and methods.

4) Experimentation. Partly originating from a principle borrowed from the economic reform, “cross the river by touching stones,” various new thoughts and ideas have continually been tried as experiments in the education system, with successful experiments often being translated into policies. A typical example is the “Shiyi Experimental School”: it abandoned the  traditional way of organising students’ learning in fixed classes on dozens of subjects, and instead, developed over
1 000 courses from which 4 600 students could choose, many of them relating to emerging issues of the 21st century. This has recently sparked a nationwide debate on how to deliver education in China.

5) Balancing between unity and diversity. In 2001, China adopted a three-level curriculum structure aligned with the principle of “common basics, diversified options” that encompasses national, local, and school-based curricula, of which the national curriculum accounts for 80%, and local and school-based curriculum 20%. Such a structure ensures that all the students master fundamental knowledge and skills, while leaving schools ample room for experimentation and innovation.

It is hard to generalise about education development, given its inherent complexity which is only compounded by the size and diversity of such a large country as China. The Chinese idiom “Bearing a global perspective (the big picture) in mind, and start from a (small) concrete action” might best summarise and illustrate lessons for China in setting educational policy for the 21st century . Education can, and will, make a difference on students' learning and social well-being, especially when taking into consideration the tremendous changes happening in the 21st century and the actions that will be taken in the future to meet these challenges and opportunities step by step.

Global Education Innovation Initiative (GEII)
PISA 2012 results
Video series: Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education - Shanghai, China 
Related blog posts:
A new direction for education reform in China, by Dr. Catherine Yan Wang 
Implementing educational reform in China, by Andreas Schleicher
Image Credit: Students and teacher looking at globe / @Shutterstock