Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Educating for the 21st century

Andreas Schleicher, Acting Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General, shared his thoughts as part of the Global Education and Skills Forum on Bigthink on how education can help students meet the challenges of today.

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. Twenty-first century schools help students to develop autonomy and identity that is cognisant of the reality of national and global pluralism, equipping them to join others in life, work and citizenship.
These days, we no longer know exactly how things will unfold, often we are surprised and need to learn from the extraordinary, and 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. A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would last for a lifetime of their students. Today, schools need to prepare students for more rapid economic and social change than ever before, for jobs that have not yet been created, to use technologies that have not yet been invented, and to solve social problems that we don’t yet know will arise. 21st century skills help people, organisations and systems persist, perhaps even thrive, amid unforeseeable disruptions. And at the aggregate level, they provide communities, institutions and infrastructure with the needed flexibility, intelligence and responsiveness to economic and social change.
How do we foster motivated, engaged learners who are prepared to conquer the unforeseen challenges of tomorrow, not to speak of those of today? The dilemma for educators is that routine cognitive skills, the skills that are easiest to teach and easiest to test, are also the skills that are easiest to digitise, automate and outsource. There is no question that state-of-the-art knowledge and skills in a discipline will always remain important. Innovative or creative people generally have specialised skills in a field of knowledge or a practice. And as much as ‘learning to learn’ skills are important, we always learn by learning something. However, educational success is no longer about reproducing content knowledge, but about extrapolating from what we know and applying that knowledge in novel situations. Put simply, the world no longer rewards people for what they know – Google knows everything – but for what they can do with what they know. Because that is the main differentiator today, global education today needs to be much more about ways of thinking, involving creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making; about ways of working, including communication and collaboration; about tools for working, including the capacity to recognise and exploit the potential of new technologies; and, last but not least, about the social and emotional skills that help us live and work together.
Conventionally our approach to problems was breaking them down into manageable bits and pieces, and then to teach students the techniques to solve them. But today we create value by synthesising the disparate bits. This is about curiosity, open-mindedness, making connections between ideas that previously seemed unrelated, which requires being familiar with and receptive to knowledge in other fields than our own. If we spend our whole life in a silo of a single discipline, we will not gain the imaginative skills to connect the dots where the next invention will come from.
The world is also no longer divided into specialists and generalist. Specialists generally have deep skills and narrow scope, giving them expertise that is recognized by peers but not valued outside their domain. Generalists have broad scope but shallow skills. What counts today are the versatilists who are able to apply depth of skill to a progressively widening scope of situations and experiences, gaining new competencies, building relationships, and assuming new roles. They are capable not only of constantly adapting but also of constantly learning and growing, of positioning themselves and repositioning themselves in a fast changing world.
Equally important, the more content knowledge we can search and access, the more important becomes the capacity to make sense out of this content, the capacity of individuals to question or seek to improve the accepted knowledge and practices of their time. In the past, you could tell students to look into an encyclopaedia when they needed some information, and you could tell them that they could generally rely on what they found to be true. Today, literacy is about managing non-linear information structures, building your own mental representation of information as you find your own way through hypertext on the internet, about dealing with ambiguity, interpreting and resolving conflicting pieces of information that we find somewhere on the web.
Perhaps most importantly, in today’s schools, students typically learn individually and at the end of the school year, we certify their individual achievements. But the more interdependent the world becomes, the more we need great collaborators and orchestrators. Innovation today is rarely the product of individuals working in isolation but an outcome of how we mobilise, share and link knowledge. In the flat world, everything that is our proprietary knowledge today will be a commodity available to everyone else tomorrow. Because technology has enabled us to act on our imaginations in ways that we could never before, value is less and less created vertically through command and control - because everyone can do that anywhere in the world - but increasingly so horizontally by whom we connect and work with. Success will be with those who master the new forms of collaboration.
Expressed differently, schools need to drive a shift from a world where knowledge that is stacked up somewhere depreciating rapidly in value towards a world in which the enriching power of communication and collaborative flows is increasing. And they will need to help the next generation to better reconcile resilience – managing in an imbalanced world – with greater sustainability – putting the world back into balance.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Education Policy Outlook: Vocational Pathways in Denmark, France, Germany and Spain

by Andreas Schleicher
Acting Director and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General

As Helen Keller said “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”. In classrooms around the world, teachers encourage peer-to-peer learning in order to enhance student learning outcomes.  In the same way, fellow peers learn from each other on how to improve their educational systems.

Since early 2012, the OECD Education Policy Outlook series has produced profiles for Australia, Chile, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, and Turkey. Today, four new country profiles are being added to the roundtable discussion: Denmark, Germany, Spain and France. While each of these countries face specific educational challenges, they each have successes that can serve as a lesson for others.

Every country assessed is concerned with similar reform domains. Vocational education and training programmes (VET) is a common area to all four countries that could stand to see improvements. According to the Education Policy Outlook on Denmark, for example, VET programmes see high enrolment rates, but also high dropout rates. In 2012, only 52% of VET students completed their programmes. Denmark responded with recent reforms that improved flexibility and attractiveness so that students can tailor the programmes to fit their needs. Further educational reforms will enter into force in 2015, which aim to improve the quality and attractiveness of current programmes through increased apprenticeships and professional development.

Germany also faces challenges to their long-established VET programmes. The dual functioning system consists of 3-4 days a week spent in hands-on training in a firm and 1-2 days a week spent in the classroom. Contrary to Denmark, where the challenge lies in students’ completion of programmes, the challenge in Germany lies in the transition from compulsory education to VET programmes. Germany has already implemented a few initiatives to address this challenge. A vocational orientation programme has been implemented early on in a students’ education path as preventative support. The goal is to facilitate job creation prospects, avoid early dropout and ensure a smooth transition into VET programmes.

Education in Spain has also been faced with some challenges regarding enrolment. Spain, similar to Denmark, is seeing high student dropout rates. In order to tackle this challenge, policy makers in Spain are proposing to introduce a new reform that will allow for greater flexibility in students’ educational path. At age 15 and 16, students could be able to choose to continue with general academic courses or pursue more vocationally oriented courses. At the end of the school year, the student, again, could have the choice to take an exam to earn a traditional diploma or choose to take an exam that would allow transitions into a VET programme.

France has also implemented educational reforms geared towards VET programmes. Social inequalities are a reality that France has been faced with and in order to level the playing field somewhat, these reforms aim for increased individualism in education. Accompanying the learning experience better prepares students for higher education, ensures academic success and allows for a better understanding of the appropriate career choice after school. France, similar to Denmark, Germany and Spain, also struggles with students’ transition from education to the labour market.

Denmark, Germany, Spain and France all face challenges to transitions in different ways. Among other hurdles discussed in the reports, each country is faced with challenges to their vocational education and training programmes, such as transitions to and from VET programmes, high dropout rates, or inflexible paths.  Each country has implemented note-worthy reforms, but would be well-served to make additional improvements. The Education Policy Outlook series are valuable because they  enable countries to learn from each other. But, more importantly, recognition from peers is a positive way in which we can congratulate others on their achievements, and encourage future progress.

Education Policy Outlook
Country profiles
OECD Work on Vocational Education and Training (VET)
Image credit: © Copyright Sasha Chebotarev

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Are 15-year-olds good at solving problems?

by Francesco Avvisati
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

As our economies and societies grow ever more complex, success in life and work is increasingly determined by our ability to adapt to new situations, learn from mistakes and try out new approaches. Are these the qualities that today’s 15-year-olds learn in school?

PISA 2012 investigated this question with a special set of assessments based around creative problem-solving. Students in 44 countries and economies took part in this computer-based assessment, tackling real-life, interactive problems, such as troubleshooting a malfunctioning MP3 player and planning a trip, available online through PISA 2012 Problem-Solving questions. aim was to assess how well they could resolve problems with no immediately obvious solutions, so demonstrating their openness to novelty, ability to tolerate uncertainty, and capacity to reason and learn outside of school contexts.

Results, published today, show that students in Singapore and Korea, followed by students in Japan, score higher in problem solving than students in all other participating countries and economies. Students in these countries are quick learners, highly inquisitive, and are able to solve unstructured problems in unfamiliar contexts. Four more East Asian partner economies rank between 4th and 7th place: Macao-China, Hong Kong-China, Shanghai-China, and Chinese Taipei (in descending order of their mean scores). Canada, Australia, Finland, England (United Kingdom), Estonia, France, the Netherlands, Italy, the Czech Republic, Germany, the United States and Belgium (in descending order of their mean scores) all score above the OECD average, but below the former group of countries.

Just because a student performs well in core school subjects doesn’t mean he or she is proficient in problem solving. In Australia, Brazil, Italy, Japan, Korea, Macao-China, Serbia, England (United Kingdom) and the United States, students perform significantly better in problem solving, on average, than students in other countries who show similar performance in reading, mathematics and science. This indicates, for instance, that the best students in Australia or the United States not only learn the curriculum, they also learn how to enrich their knowledge and use that knowledge outside of school contexts. In some countries, however, it may also signal that schools do not always make the most of students’ potential when it comes to learning the core subjects.

Many of the best-performing countries and economies in problem solving are those with better-than-expected performance on knowledge-acquisition tasks, which require high levels of reasoning skills and self-directed learning. Meanwhile, compared to students of similar overall performance, students in Brazil, Ireland, Korea and the United States perform strongest on interactive problems, which require students to uncover useful information by exploring the problem situation and gathering feedback on the effect of their interventions. In order to solve interactive problems, students need to be open to novelty, tolerate doubt and uncertainty, and dare to use intuition to initiate a solution.

Today’s 15-year-olds are the Robinson Crusoes of a future that remains largely unknown to us. They will need to cope with a changing environment, work in jobs that do not exist today, using tools to which they had no introduction in school. Adapting, learning, daring to try out new things, and always being ready to learn from mistakes are among the keys to resilience and success in an unpredictable world.

What the results of the PISA assessment of problem-solving skills suggest is the important role of teachers and schools in preparing students to confront and solve the kinds of problems that are encountered almost daily in 21st century life. In countries and economies that rank at the top in problem‑solving proficiency, students not only learn the required curriculum, they also learn how to turn real-life problems into learning opportunities – creatively devising solutions and reasoning with a specific purpose outside of school contexts.

PISA 2012 Results
OECD Press release: Singapore and Korea top first OECD’s PISA problem-solving test
Creative Problem Solving: Students' Skills in Tackling Real-Life Problems (Volume V)
PISA 2012 Problem-Solving questions
VIDEO: Alliance for Excellent Education interview with Andreas Schleicher
Pisa in Focus No. 38: Are 15-year-olds good at solving problems?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Higher but also more flexible teacher salaries

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

If one were to ask today’s education ministers which topics were at the forefront of their mind, they would almost certainly refer to the quality of the teaching work force in their country. Countries have been looking towards combination of ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’ policies to address quality concerns regarding teachers. ‘Stick’ policies mainly include strengthening accountability and teacher evaluation procedures, sometimes linked to student achievement measures. But many countries understand that tightening the screws on teachers might not be the best answer;  the attractiveness of the teaching profession also comes into play. They are concerned that they don’t get the most promising students in teacher training, that they don’t recruit the best graduates in the teaching profession, and that many of them leave the profession too soon. And several countries fear being confronted with / the confrontation of teacher shortages in specific subject fields, but also more generally as the ageing teaching work force will result in important replacement problems in the near future.  A bigger ‘carrot’ might also be part of the solution.

The compensation of professionals is a complex issue, with many costs and benefits entering the equation of the relative attractiveness of a profession in an increasingly competitive market. Salaries are seen as part of the full package which also includes medical insurance, pensions, etc. In the case of the teaching profession, several secondary benefits – such as the work-life balance or the autonomy in the time-organisation of the tasks in relationship to the overall work load –play an important role in the  student’s decision-making. But the monetary compensation in the form of salaries is a crucial component of the package.

The most recent issue of the Education Indicators in Focus series provides the comparative statistical evidence on the salaries of teachers. The positive side of the picture is that in virtually all OECD countries, teachers’ salaries increased in real terms between 2000 and 2011. This trend coincided with a general rise in the qualifications needed to enter the teaching profession. However, the brief also shows enormous/ significant differences between countries in the relative pay of teachers, measured against the salaries of tertiary qualified professionals in general. As the graph above shows some countries pay their teachers up to 30% more than the average for tertiary educated professionals, but there are many more which pay them up to 30% less. The OECD average for upper secondary teachers is 89% of that benchmark salary. For lower-secondary school teachers it is 85% and for primary school teachers it is 82%.

Even if partially compensated with various other benefits, these figures do not support  the claim that teachers are among the better paid professionals. Their level of monetary compensation does not match the increasing social expectations and demands being placed on teachers or the ambitions of policy makers to recruit future teachers in the upper ratio of skills distribution of tertiary qualified graduates. Budgetary concerns, with which many countries are confronted, preclude massive increases in the short term. The expectation that a demographic decline in the size of the student population would create some room for salary increases, did not materialize due to a higher participation to education as a result of the economic crisis. Still, it is difficult to see how countries will be able to resolve their concerns in regard to teacher recruitment, without including higher compensation in the package of teacher policies.

The brief also reveals another important point: the rigidity of the salary structure of teachers. Statutory salaries are mainly determined by the level of education and by the age of teachers, formal criterions for which the rationality is difficult to ascertain (why should a primary school teacher be less educated and less well paid than an upper secondary one?). There still seems to be very little diversification or flexibility in the compensation of teachers. This fact is at odds with developments in other highly educated professions. The role of remuneration in the attractiveness of the teaching profession is perhaps not so much determined by its average level, but instead by the more specific relationship of salaries and tasks and demands, as well as the way teachers can positively influence their salaries through excellent performance. Countries should use salary flexibility to address specific policy concerns, such as recruiting/placing the best teachers in the most demanding schools. Teachers deserve a better compensation, but excellent teachers in demanding jobsare the most deserving.

Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 21, Eric Charbonnier
International Summit on the Teaching Profession 2014
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus:
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators:
Related blog post:
The ever growing generation gap in the classroom, Dirk Van Damme

Chart source: OECD Education at a Glance 2013: Indicator D3.1  (

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Charting the way towards excellence and equity in education

by Andreas Schleicher
Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary General

Something remarkable is taking place in New Zealand right now: ministers and teacher union leaders from the best-performing and most rapidly improving education systems are making a unique global effort to raise the status of the teaching profession. The agenda of this year’s International Summit on the Teaching Profession focuses on three policy goals: excellence, equity and inclusion. Vital questions are being addressed, such as how can equity be achieved in increasingly devolved education systems, and how can high-quality teachers and leaders be attracted to schools with the greatest needs?

Why are these questions so important? To teachers, parents and young people, these questions may appear remote from the realities of school life; but the Summit’s unique mix of delegates enables both policy and practice to come under the spotlight. Largely as a result of PISA’s policy messages, many school systems have moved away from top-down administrative control towards giving schools greater autonomy. However, if autonomy is to benefit schools, teacher self-efficacy and the quality of learning, education systems should enable schools to enhance their capacity and encourage a culture of collaboration.

Knowledge about effective education practices tends to stay in the places where it is created, and rarely spreads without effective strategies and powerful incentives to share it. We need to think harder about how to spread good practice and innovation.

This year’s Summit host, the New Zealand Government, has one of the most devolved school systems in the world. Its schools are used to autonomy, but they also benefit from national interventions that focus on enhancing teaching and learning and sharing good practice, and that fully involve their teachers and their unions.

There is a message here. If the benefits of devolving responsibility to schools are to be realised, then the education system itself has to be coherent and effective enough to support schools. The evidence from PISA is that collaborative school management and co-operation among schools are factors in improving student achievement, as is a systemic approach to accountability. That requires a coherent, system-wide approach to the selection and education of teachers and to their pay structure. It also requires close attention to helping teachers who face difficulties in improving the quality of their teaching. And it requires an environment in which there are intelligent pathways for teachers to grow in their careers and in which they can work together to develop new knowledge and practice.

Indeed, everything that previous Summits tell us is that teachers’ engagement in reform is crucial, and that strong, proactive teacher unions have a vital role in developing education policy as well as in supporting teachers professionally.

Essential as the development of teachers is, equity and inclusion are also promoted by other measures being in place. Evidence shows that early tracking, or grouping students by ability, amplifies the impact of students’ socio economic status and limits the achievement of disadvantaged pupils. As a result, countries and regions, such as Poland and a number of Lander in Germany, have recently adopted more comprehensive school systems.

Evidence also shows that school choice has to be managed if the children of parents from disadvantaged backgrounds are not to be disadvantaged, themselves, when it comes to school admissions. In a system with greater school autonomy, it is crucial that equitable admissions criteria apply to all schools.

Nowhere is a coherent, system-wide approach more necessary than for schools with the greatest needs. Again we need to think harder about how to attract dedicated and committed teachers to work in the most challenging classrooms and the most effective principals into the toughest schools.

How education systems respond to disadvantage is a test of their overall effectiveness. Such schools need a range of strategies. They include: providing adequate learning resources; creating a teacher workforce that is responsive to students’ backgrounds; preparing teachers for working in disadvantaged schools; offering mentoring and coaching for such teachers on an ongoing basis; improving working conditions; introducing financial incentives as part of teachers’ career structures; providing regular professional development that addresses diversity issues; and guaranteeing effective employment conditions.

Above all, we need to do better in thinking about how to promote a common vision of schooling and a united school system. These are big issues for teacher unions and governments alike and we have only skimmed the surface. Watch the Summit's Youtube channel for video footage of the event.

International Summit on the Teaching Profession 2014
OECD Summit Background Paper: Equity, Excellence and Inclusiveness in Education, by Andreas Schleicher
OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey
PISA 2012 Results: Excellence Through Equity: Giving Every Student the Chance to Succeed (Volume II)
Follow the summit on twitter @OECD_Edu  #ISTP2014
Photography courtesy of: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sweet smarts: fighting the child obesity epidemic

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

The Academy Awards have come and gone, treating us to glimpses of the rich and famous – and very thin. Amid the buzz and glamour of this spectacle it can be hard to remember that the stars represent only a tiny portion (literally and figuratively) of our populations.

In fact, the growing rate of obesity is one of the most significant health trends in OECD countries and increasingly, in Brazil, Russia, India and China, the “BRIC” countries.  A just released Trends Shaping Education Spotlight highlights this issue from an educational point of view, with a special focus on children.

Obesity now affects more children than ever before, with one in five children between the ages 5 and 19 estimated to be overweight. The figures are higher for Greece, Italy, New Zealand and the United States, where almost one in three children is overweight. Especially disturbing is the leap in child obesity rates in China, Korea and Turkey, which jumped from 10% or less to 16% or more in only three years.

For those who think that it’s just a phase that children will naturally grow out of, we have bad news. A recent American study demonstrated that overweight 5-year-olds were four times more likely as normal-weight children to become obese by the time they were 14. Although the jury is still out on why this is so, it does suggest that efforts to prevent obesity must start much earlier than they currently do and focus more on the children at greatest risk.

What are some of the ways education can play a role in reversing this unhealthy trend? In general, education and better schooling is a positive - research has demonstrated that additional years of education are linked to a lower chance of being obese. More specifically, education can help:

  • instil healthy lifestyle patterns at an early age and empower children and their families to make better choices for a healthy future;
  • teach children important skills such as delayed gratification, moderation and critical thinking;
  • improve psychosocial factors such as grit, self-esteem, resilience and empowerment.

Health education can teach children the consequences of risky behaviours (such as poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle) as well as improve their ability to gather and interpret health-related information. Education can also help children identify and deal with eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia.

But of course this is a complicated problem, and there are no magic solutions. Reducing junk food in school cafeterias is a start, but challenging negative assumptions and stereotypes that can shape teacher and student expectations is crucial. If we cannot reverse this trend, even simple details like the size of desks, chairs, and yes, washrooms, will need to be rethought.

Many countries have been working hard in their schools to combat obesity, with little improvement to show for their efforts. It must be remembered that education does not exist in isolation. Children are in school for less than half their waking hours, and families, peers, and the community all have important impacts on their choices. Success in combatting this unhealthy trend on a societal level means involving all stakeholders: government, schools, parents, students, civil society and the private sector.

There is one other area where we can do more. Recent research has demonstrated that early intervention matters: overweight 5-year-olds were four times as likely as normal-weight children to become obese by the time they were 14.

Rising enrolments in early childhood education provide an opportunity for such early intervention. High quality early childhood education and care is linked to a host of positive outcomes, including improved child well-being and learning, the reduction of poverty, and increased inter-generational social mobility. It may also be able to help instil healthy eating and physical activity behaviours.

We have a challenge before us. Increasing obesity is not unavoidable. We must do all that we can to keep fighting the trend, and education is one of our best weapons. The health – and weight – of our nations depend on it.

Trends Shaping Education Spotlight No. 2: Body and Society
Center for Education Research and Innovation (CERI)
Trends Shaping Education 2013
Obesity and the Economics of Prevention: Fit not Fat
Photo Credit: Attractive Woman Makes A Choice Between Healthy and Unhealthy Foods / @shutterstock 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The ever growing generation gap in the classroom

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

It is perfectly normal that teachers and students are not of the same age. In contrast to other public services, it is a distinctive feature of education that the professionals, i.e. the teachers, are older than their clients, i.e. the students. One could think of education as an institutionalised dialogue between generations, as a social space in which they interact. Through education, societies transmit the knowledge, skills, culture and values of a society from one generation to another. Nevertheless, students are not just passive recipients of former generations’ knowledge and values, but also transform and build upon them, thus influencing the development of societies. Especially in a period of rapid social change, the dialogue between generations is critical to ensure that no generation gets left behind. Across OECD countries, some schools take this role very seriously and even try to organise opportunities for individuals of all ages to meet and exchange, for example by inviting grandparents to school or by welcoming senior members of the community to interact with younger students.

From an educational point of view, the age of teachers is an important variable in the quality of teaching and learning environments. Ideally, students should be able to interact with a variety of generations of teachers. Each age group adds a specific dimension to the learning process. Older teachers bring quality associated with their experience, both with regard to professional experience and wider life experience. And younger teachers bring innovation associated with recent training and the enthusiasm of youth itself. Adolescents generally connect and identify better with younger teachers and expect that they will have a greater understanding of their lifeworld and the challenges related to growing up in modern societies. Education systems benefit from a balanced age distribution among teachers.

The new issue of the Education Indicators in Focus series presents the most recent statistical evidence on the age of teachers. The data show a worrisome trend. The average age of teachers in secondary schools across OECD countries continues to increase. A male secondary school teacher’s age was 44 on average in 2000; and 45 in 2011. For a female secondary school teacher, the average age in 2000 was 42, while it was 43 in 2011. Correspondingly, the share of older teachers (>50 years old) in the teaching work force also increased. Among secondary school teachers, the share of older teachers increased from 35% to 39% for males, and from 28% to 34% for females. These changes may not seem very dramatic, but they imply that every year a typical secondary school teacher is one month older than the year before. Differences between countries are large: in 2011, 55% of the male secondary school teachers in Germany were over age 50, 52% in Iceland, 55% in The Netherlands and even 67% in Italy.

An ageing teaching force leads to various policy challenges, such as upward pressures on the salary mass, peaks in teacher replacement and recruitment, or increased needs to invest in training and professional development. From an economic point of view, countries would be better off with a more balanced age distribution of teachers. But maybe more important are the implications for the quality of the teaching and learning process. Older teachers have the experiential knowledge and skills which potentially make them excellent teachers. But if the professional development is lacking to enrich their experiential knowledge and skills with the best recent research and evidence from innovative practice, older teachers risk sticking to what has worked well in the past and may have the tendency to sidestep innovation.

No one would accept being treated in hospital by a medical doctor who would not have updated his knowledge and skills since he or she left college 20 years ago. The teaching profession also would benefit from balancing experiential knowledge embodied by older teachers and innovation-oriented, research-informed knowledge which comes with younger teachers. In order to connect and identify with schooling, adolescent students need teachers who can read and understand their behaviour, their issues, their culture and values, teachers whose world view is not too remote from their own. It is difficult to imagine that, with more than half of their teachers 35 years older than they are, adolescent students can identify with school and engage in high-quality teaching and interactive learning.

Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 20, Dirk Van Damme
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 Education at a Glance 2013, Indicator D5 (

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Our mothers were right: Hard work and perseverance do pay off

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

How many times have you heard successful people, in all walks of life, credit their triumphs to hard work and perseverance? Now PISA adds to the chorus with some hard evidence: when students believe that working hard will make a difference in their studies, they score significantly higher in mathematics.

This month’s PISA in Focus examines how students’ perseverance and belief that hard work yields positive results are clearly linked to better performance. Students who reported, through the PISA student questionnaire, that they continue to work on tasks until everything is perfect, remain interested in the tasks they start, do not give up easily when confronted with a problem, and, when confronted with a problem, do more than is expected of them, have higher scores in mathematics than students who reported lower levels of perseverance. In as many as 25 countries and economies, students who have greater perseverance score at least 20 points higher in mathematics than students who reported lower levels of perseverance; and in Finland, Iceland, Korea, New Zealand, Norway and Chinese Taipei, this difference is larger than 30 score points.

Similarly, students who strongly agreed with the statement “If I put in enough effort, I can succeed in mathematics” perform better in mathematics than students who did not agree by an average of 32 score points. The score-point difference in mathematics performance that is associated with this self-belief is 50 points or more in Iceland, Korea, Norway and Chinese Taipei – well over the equivalent of a full school year.

The relationship between students’ perceived control over their success in mathematics and their performance in mathematics appears to be particularly strong among the highest-achieving students. Among these students in OECD countries, those who strongly agreed that they can succeed in mathematics if they put in enough effort have a performance advantage of 36 score points over students who did not agree with that statement; among the lowest-achieving students, the difference is only 24 score points. In 24 countries and economies, this difference is 15 score points or more, and it is particularly large – 30 score points or more – in Hungary, the Slovak Republic, Sweden and Turkey.

Students’ perseverance and drive to learn are not immutable; they can be nurtured with the right kind of guidance and teaching. For example, PISA results reveal that teachers’ use of cognitive-activation strategies, such as giving students problems that require them to think for an extended time, presenting problems for which there is no immediately obvious way of arriving at a solution, and helping students to learn from their mistakes, is associated with students’ drive. And students who reported that their mathematics teachers use teacher-directed instruction (such as when teachers set clear goals for learning) and formative assessments (when teachers give students feedback on their strengths and weaknesses in mathematics) also reported particularly high levels of perseverance and openness to problem solving.

Yet, the use of such strategies among teachers is not widespread: only 53% of students across OECD countries reported that their teachers often present them with problems that require them to think for an extended time, and 47% reported that their teachers often present problems for which there is no immediately obvious way of arriving at a solution. On average across OECD countries, only 17% of students reported that their teacher assigns projects that require at least one week to complete.

What this suggests is that many more students need to be given the chance – and encouragement – to show that they are capable of putting in the hard work – and doing so over a longer time – so  that they, too, can ultimately add their voices to the growing chorus.

Pisa in Focus No. 37: Do students have the drive to succeed?
PISA 2012 Results: Ready to Learn: Students' Engagement, Drive and Self-Beliefs
Photo credit: Sisyphus, Simple Drawing and Modern Representation of famous Greek mythology character /@shutterstock

Thursday, March 06, 2014

What’s at the root of women’s absence in STEM occupations?

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

If you sift through all the education data the OECD has produced over the past year, you’ll come up with decidedly mixed results when it comes to women’s (and girls’) progress. Education at a Glance 2013 told us that gender gaps in educational attainment are not only narrowing, but are, in some cases, reversing, and that women are now more likely than men to enter and complete a university-level programme. Results from the first Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), found that gender differences in the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) have narrowed considerably among 16-24 year-olds, and that, among younger adults, there is, on average, no gender difference in proficiency in numeracy or literacy. In fact, in those countries where there is a difference between young men’s and young women’s levels of literacy, it is young women who score higher.

So, given these data, we have reason to be optimistic.

Unfortunately, this is only part of the story; there are also some other data to consider: Education at a Glance revealed that, among tertiary-educated adults, women still earn less than men (only in Austria, Belgium, Finland, New Zealand, Slovenia and Spain do the earnings of tertiary-educated women amount to 75% or more of men’s earnings; in Brazil, Chile and Estonia, university-educated women earn 65% or less of what similarly educated men earn). What might explain these gender-related disparities in pay?

As the publication also reported, women are still less likely than men to work full time; and 15-29 year-old women are twice as likely as men the same age to be neither in the labour force nor looking for a job. Meanwhile, the Survey of Adult Skills found that in all countries that participated in the survey, similar proportions of men (36%) as women (32%) are proficient in using ICTs. But the survey also found that in 15 of 23 participating countries, men use ICT at work significantly more often than women do – and that the extent to which problem-solving skills are used at work accounts for nearly half the gender gap in wages.

One of the most troubling of findings comes from the PISA 2012 survey of 15-year-old students. Based on information gathered from students through questionnaires, PISA found that, even among the highest-achieving girls (many of whom perform just as well as boys in mathematics), girls have self-sabotaging attitudes towards mathematics: they are more likely to feel anxious towards mathematics, and have less confidence in their own mathematical skills and in their ability to solve mathematics problems than boys.

These attitudes have repercussions later on, as can be seen in other data from Education at a Glance. That publication reports that, in 2011, an average of only 14% of women entering university-level education enrolled in science-related fields (which include science and engineering) or in manufacturing and construction, compared to 39% of men who entered this level of education in these fields. If so few women aim for the so-called STEM professions (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), there will continue to be few role models in these fields for young girls to emulate, and the cycle will simply perpetuate itself.

What all these data, combined, tell us is that we have no reason to be complacent. The gender gap in students’ self-beliefs about their abilities in mathematics has remained stable in most countries since 2003. In the short term, changing these mindsets may require making mathematics more interesting to girls, identifying and eliminating gender stereotypes in textbooks, promoting female role models, and using learning materials that appeal to girls. Over the longer term, shrinking the gender gap in mathematics performance will require the concerted effort of parents, teachers and society, as a whole, to change the clichéd notions of what boys and girls excel at, what they enjoy doing, and what they believe they can achieve.

Girls and women have made genuine and enormous gains in education and in the labour force over the past half century; but as long as girls continue to tell themselves that they’re no good at math – or science or engineering or any other subject where men have traditionally dominated – even in the face of hard evidence to the contrary, then we’re still losing half of our talent to the destructive power of stereotypes.

International Women's Day
OECD Gender Data Portal
OECD Insights Blog: Gender Quiz
Are boys and girls equally prepared for life?
Photo credit: Moscow, USSR - Circa 1920s students-biologists conduct a scientific experiment / @shutterstock

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Expanding PISA’s circle of influence (part two)

by Barbara Ischinger, Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
Michael Ward, Senior Policy Analyst, PISA for Development
and Alejandro Gomez Palma, Policy Analyst, PISA for Development

In our previous blog about PISA for Development, we were pleased to announce Ecuador’s agreement to participate in this new pilot project. We’ve just returned from the Zambian capital of Lusaka and are delighted to report that Zambia has also agreed to participate – the first sub-Saharan African nation ever to take part in any PISA survey.

You might well ask: how can we compare the performance of students in highly developed countries – such as Japan and Germany – with that of students in low- and middle-income countries in Africa? And how do we assess the competencies of the tens of millions of 15-year-olds in developing countries who aren’t enrolled in school? These were precisely some of the challenges we put to ourselves when the idea of PISA for Development emerged from discussions with countries and OECD partners.

To make the assessments of 15-year-olds more relevant to a wider range of countries, including Zambia, we knew that we would have to adapt both the tests and the contextual information we collect through PISA’s student, school and parent questionnaires. For the assessment of reading, mathematics and science, we will tap into our large stock of questions that were already successfully used in previous PISA cycles and, in collaboration with our partners, select, review and adapt and then field trial those that we find are best suited to assess the level of skills we identify in the participating countries. The PISA for Development assessments will be better targeted to describe the performance at the middle and low end of the proficiency spectrum, while also measuring the higher levels and maintaining comparability with the international PISA scales. The range of questions included in the assessment will give us a fine-grained picture of performance at these lower levels that will, in turn, provide more valuable diagnostic information for countries. 

The questions we select will be field tested in Zambia and the other participating countries to see how well students respond to them, then reviewed and adapted, as necessary, with the assistance of local and regional experts, to ensure they are relevant across countries and cultures. This adaptation may involve making the questions more familiar to students by changing choices of words and references, for example, and, where necessary, translating the questions into the languages of the participating countries. The translation and verification process is well established in the main PISA assessment and it also allows for some adaptations to accommodate local contexts. There are, for example, different ways of asking the same question depending on whether the student taking the test lives in Australia or in the United Kingdom; and Scotland also adapts some of the terminology of some of the PISA test questions. But regardless of these contextual changes, the nature of the questions, and the knowledge and skills assessed, must remain true to the original intent of the question, so that the assessments still measure what they were originally designed to measure and results are comparable with those of other countries.

The context questionnaires, distributed to students, school directors and parents, will be similar to those we already use in the main PISA assessment, but will be developed to include questions that may be more relevant to countries like Zambia. So, for example, where the current PISA questionnaire to school directors asks about school facilities and resources, this would need to be adapted to include such questions as: Does the school have separate sanitation facilities for girls and boys? Does the student have electricity at home? Running water? A separate kitchen? And we will have to be prepared for very different answers to some basic questions – like: who is the head of your household? – as households in developing countries are sometimes headed by children or grandparents. An important point to remember is that we have to keep some questions common to all so that we can assess all countries on the same scale.

Field trials of the PISA for Development assessment will begin in the second half of 2015; we’re expecting that more than 25,000 students in 4 or 5 countries – including Ecuador and Zambia – will participate. The main assessment will be conducted during 2016 and early 2017. During this time, we’ll also continue working with our partners, including the World Bank, UNICEF and UNESCO, to try to identify 15-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and develop ways of reaching them, too. It’s an ambitious agenda, certainly. But we’re convinced that, as the world moves beyond the Millennium Development Goals towards a new post-2015 education agenda that is focused on improving learning outcomes worldwide, we must be sure that children in all countries not only have access to school, but are acquiring both fundamental and 21st century skills when they get there.

Expanding PISA’s circle of influence
PISA for Development
Millennium Development Goals
Photo Credit: Drawing of Zambia on Blackboard, drawn in chalk / @Shutterstock

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Working to change the mindset for math

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

What is it about math that strikes fear and trembling in students and adults alike? Perhaps the fault is not in the math, but in ourselves – in how we teach and learn it. Jo Boaler certainly thinks so. She calls mathematics literacy the issue of the 21st century. Even as more companies are looking for people who can use advanced reasoning skills to solve problems, students spend most of their time in math class learning how to compute, she says. Boaler, a British-born professor of mathematics education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and author of several books on teaching and learning mathematics, brings the latest thinking in psychology, particularly the work of Carol Dweck, and neuroscience to bear on her argument that students would be better served if teachers took a multi-dimensional approach to math (including problem solving, reasoning and communicating) rather than a one-dimensional approach (teaching how to perform various mathematical processes). Indeed, given the emerging evidence she cites of how the former type of teaching results in high student performance, “it’s a no-brainer”, she says.

But the brain, itself, provides some of the all-important evidence for advocating multi-dimensional learning of mathematics. “With recent findings about brain plasticity, we are learning that the brain is more flexible than once thought; and that brain structure changes after training,” Boaler said during a recent visit to OECD headquarters in Paris. “That means that all students can achieve.” Not only that, she says: brain activity increases when students make mistakes in the process of learning: “When you make a mistake, your synapses fire; this doesn’t happen when you get the answer right,” Boaler noted.  “Mistakes are the most useful thing a kid can make.”

So, if the evidence is so concrete and overwhelming, why aren’t we seeing wholesale changes in the way mathematics is taught and learned? “Kids who do well on procedural tests might not do as well on different kinds of problems,” Boaler said. “Teachers and parents don’t know the evidence; it’s a communication issue as well. And some of the problem is about ‘who should achieve’: some people don’t have equity in mind.”

It comes down to teachers’ attitudes, too. “Some teachers embrace change, some are much more conservative about change,” Boaler said. She finds a “huge willingness” among elementary and middle school teachers in the United States to alter the way they teach mathematics, and more resistance among high school teachers. “Good math teaching is good teaching,” she said. Right now, “math is taught as a ‘right or wrong’ subject, which conveys the message that either you can or you can’t do it. This is a stereotyped message about who can achieve; and it has all the ingredients for failure and inequity -- which is what you see in mathematics performance. A lot has to do with beliefs among teachers. One belief that the best teachers have is that all of their students can achieve.”

Change is happening, albeit slowly. In the United States, for example, the new Common Core curriculum puts greater emphasis on problem solving. (Results from the PISA 2012 assessment of problem solving will be released on 1 April.) “People are seeing results of problem-solving tests and they are freaking out,” Boaler said. “Industry wants change. Mathematics performance has to do with confidence: if students feel they can’t do it, that’s a huge barrier; it’s a damaging mindset to have, for both high- and low-performing students. But when you promote learning as a process, great things happen. ”

Boaler has started a movement to change the way math is taught in schools, which can be seen at

Jo Boaler
Stanford Graduate School of Education
What's Math Got to do With It? written by Jo Boaler
Carol Dweck
Common Core
Results from PISA 2012
Photo Credit: Concept illustration of a human brain made from crumpled paper with numbers and equations on it / @Shutterstock

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Expanding PISA’s circle of influence

by Barbara Ischinger, Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
and Alejandro Gomez Palma, Analyst, PISA for Development

The enormous worldwide interest in the PISA 2012 results, which were released last December, showed that PISA is now widely accepted as the best measure of student performance we have – and one of the best sources of data that can be used to inform policy decisions about how to improve education systems. Sixty-five countries and economies participated in PISA 2012, but that leaves well over 100 others that either chose not to or believe that participation is out of their reach. We hope that that’s going to change soon.

We’ve just returned from Ecuador where the government agreed – with a sense of pride that was palpable – to participate in our pilot PISA for Development initiative. Eight Latin American countries participated in the latest round of PISA 2012 and we’re keen to add to that number. We’ve briefly mentioned the PISA for Development project in earlier blogs, but now that countries are signing on, we want to describe in more detail what it is and what it means, both for the OECD and for the countries involved.

The OECD has already done a lot of work on development issues (among other things, we helped to define the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, for example). We have often been asked to conduct reviews of education systems in developing countries and emerging economies; but because we haven’t always had a good evidence base for these countries, we didn’t feel we could provide the kind of analysis they were looking for.

In many of these countries, the main obstacle to conducting such reviews is the absence of good data. There is hardly any information at all on education outcomes, including results of student assessments or the level of quality and equity of the education provided. While some assessments and evaluations of education are conducted at the regional level in many areas, including Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, and we have been working with – and learning from – the organisers of these assessments as we shape PISA for Development, they cannot offer the kind of global benchmarking that PISA can.

The data PISA elicits is not just used to develop “league tables” comparing countries’ performance; it can – and should – be used as a public policy tool: governments can release the information to inform a public debate on how to improve the quality of their education systems.

A lot of what we will be doing in PISA for Development is building capacity in participating countries for managing large-scale student assessments. For the countries participating, our aim is to bring the level of capacity up to the minimum level needed to implement PISA.  In fact, many developing countries that have already participated in PISA have said that one of the biggest benefits has been the attendant capacity-building that is part of PISA.

The PISA for Development project fits in nicely with work on the post-2015 agenda, the successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals, which are likely to focus on ensuring access to education plus improving the quality of education, particularly the quality and equity of learning outcomes. How is the developing world going to measure quality in education? Well, the OECD and the over 70 countries that have participated in PISA since the first round in 2000 would respond that we already have a proven instrument: PISA. What we need to do now is to modify the assessment so that it can be used by a far larger set of countries that have a wider spectrum of student performance.

We’ll tell you how we’re adapting the PISA instruments, methods and analyses for PISA for Development – and targeting countries in sub-Saharan Africa, too, none of which has ever participated in PISA – in a subsequent blog.

PISA 2012 results
PISA for Development
United Nations Millennium Development Goals
Latin American Laboratory for Assessment of the Quality of Education (LLECE)
CONFEMEN Programme for the Analysis of Education Systems (PASEC)
The Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ)
Photo Credit: INEVAL/Ecuador

Friday, February 21, 2014

Inclusive educational innovations in India

by Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin and Alfonso Echazarra
CERI Innovation Strategy, Directorate for Education and Skills

India has been hailed for being a laboratory of frugal and inclusive innovations. The Tata Nano, the cheapest car in the world, the Aravind Eye Care Hospitals, which fight “avoidable blindness” by giving cheap or free state-of-the-art eye surgery to poor Indians, or the Bharti Airtel, which offers low-rate phone calls, thanks to an innovative business model, are often-cited examples of innovations that make valuable products and services affordable to deprived populations. Just glance at the Honey Bee Network database and you will find a plethora of interesting initiatives targeted to the Indian poor: from the Mitticool, a natural refrigerator made entirely from clay that requires no energy, to the Washing and Exercise Machine, a mechanical, semi-automated, pedal operated washing machine for clothes, the jugaad spirit is ubiquitous.

This drive for inclusive innovation is visible across all sectors in India, and education is no exception. The spotlight has often fallen on the USD 35 Aakash tablet, designed to improve the teaching process and end the digital divide, and on the Mid-Day Meal programme, a government programme that provides free hot lunches for children attending school. But there are also plenty of other initiatives trying to improve the educational outcomes of the economically deprived. These initiatives are particularly welcome in a country where, in spite of remarkable progress in education, one third of the adult population remains illiterate (EFA report 2012) and improving learning outcomes remains a huge challenge, as evidenced by Pratham’s Aser report, itself another example of frugal innovation.

The Education Innovation Fund for India (EIFI), the first competitive fund for educational innovation across India and a collaboration between Hewlett Packard and the India Council for Integral Education (Sri Aurobindo Society), funds and supports about 20 initiatives addressing such challenges. As part of new work on inclusive innovation in education started by the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI), EIFI grantees have piloted our new survey and shared with us how they help poor students access better quality education. Here are a few examples of innovations they are implementing.

One reason why low income students frequently have low learning outcomes is that they are offered an education that is irrelevant to their interests and daily life. Oasis, a social innovation organisation, notes that rural children are often trained for urban professions, while schools offering good programmes in rural development are located in urban areas. As a result, neither rural nor urban kids tend to use their knowledge, notwithstanding the fact that they are very likely to have dropped out long before they complete their education. The establishment of Gramodaya schools in rural areas is meant to address this mismatch. The schools will offer rural development education to rural students so that they can implement the practical knowledge and sustainable techniques that they will learn through peer-to-peer and community-based learning.

Another reason for low learning outcomes is that well-meaning teachers are often poorly equipped to provide good teaching, in terms of both pedagogical knowledge and resources. In deprived areas, pedagogical innovations will not be adopted unless they cost virtually nothing and are accompanied by some form of pedagogical aid for teachers. But several frugal innovations show that the cost of learning resources can be made almost irrelevant (though this does not imply there is no other challenge for their adoption).

Making better use of a school building may just require some good use of paint, as Building as Learning Aid (BaLA) by Vinyãs has shown. BaLA develops standards to turn school buildings into learning resources. Diagrams painted on the floors underneath doorways, for example, support children’s learning of angles. BaLA also maps its learning resources on the Indian curriculum, showing school principals and teachers how these new resources can be used in teaching and learning. The project now operates in 18 Indian states, affecting over 10,000 government schools and their communities.

Another programme, Learning is Fun and Experiential (LIFE) Lab provides low-cost, hands-on learning models to foster experiential science learning in underprivileged schools, hoping to boost students’ interest, confidence and creativity. The balloon car, used to teach Newton’s laws of motion, only requires a balloon, a straw, an ice cream stick and four bottle caps – not to mention, of course, a healthy dose of curiosity and craftsmanship. Science teachers across India can access the “LIFE Lab” as an open source platform of hundreds of resources by attending support sessions in its community centres. Life-lab is currently working with eight schools, two community centres and 3,000 children.

India is a laboratory of frugal and inclusive innovations. But how can these promising ideas and stories empower more teachers and students in their learning and be scaled up? Making these innovations visible and shared across school and teacher networks is the aim of two EIFI grantees, both making a simple use of technology to that effect.

By identifying Gujarati schools and teachers doing much better than expected, the Educational Innovation Bank at IIM Ahmedabad is building a repository of teaching innovations meant to empower and inspire other teachers looking for practical ideas to teach more effectively in India’s under-resourced schools. With a network of 4,000 innovative teachers, the web-based database already reaches out to 100,000 more.

Design for Change (DfC) proposes another way of making inspiring success stories visible. It shows that learners can be agents of change and be made more responsible for their learning and for changing their community. DfC supports teachers and learners in virtually all Indian states with a simple method based on design thinking. Drawing on the projects submitted to its school challenge, it displays its preferred ideas in a video database containing numerous inspiring “stories of change”. Design for Change now has sister organisations in 34 countries.

All of these examples show that making quality education accessible to poor students does not necessarily require many additional resources: it can just take a better use of existing resources, cheap additional ones, or the adoption of existing good ideas – generally with some form of teacher support. While frugal innovations alone may not be enough, Indian innovators show us that the jugaad spirit can improve the education of disadvantaged children at little cost.

CERI Innovation Strategy for Education and Training: Inclusive Innovation
CERI Innovation Strategy for Education and Training
OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
OECD report on Innovation and Inclusive Growth

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hiroshima – from symbol of human destruction to leader in educational reform

by Andreas Schleicher
Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary General

I spent two days in Hiroshima, discussing education reform and global policy trends with prefectural leaders and the academic community. This city, target of a simply unimaginable attack on human mankind 59 years ago, is now the birthplace of some of the World’s most innovative education policies and practices.

No building, no tree and no other remainder of human activity in this city is older than 59 years. As school principal Kadoshima drives by an office tower on our way to his school, he explains this had been the place where his grandmother and two uncles had been burned alive like most other residents of the area, leaving nothing but a shadow on the floor. But I am also told how many of the survivors left wandering between life and death for the ensuing months and years have envied their fate. His father and his uncle were the only ones who remained from the family, as they had happened to spend the 6th of August in 1945 with classmates in the country side.

As we arrive at Hiroshima Nagisa High School, we meet a group of cheerful children on the school’s playing field. But what looks like casual play is actually part of a carefully planned and sequenced curriculum designed to help students develop their five senses; to find themselves and join others in life, work and citizenship; and to develop autonomy and identity that is social and cognisant of pluralism.

Classroom after classroom I observe deep and intense learning with a curriculum characterised by rigor, focus and coherence, and with lots of lively interaction both among students and with their teachers. Mathematics and the arts are not seen here as competing for scarce student learning time, but as reinforcing each other. Much of the school’s effort is devoted to making learning central and encouraging student engagement, to foster lifelong skills-oriented learning instead of exams-focused drill, to ensure that learning is social and collaborative, and to promote connections across subjects and activities in the school. I find Rudyard Brettargh from Australia and Olen Peterson from the United States co-teaching an English class, and that again is not by accident, but the idea is to show students that there is not just a single, but multiple ways to speak a language.

Many of the school’s pedagogical approaches are designed to construct experiences in learning, over exclusively intellectual engagement. In one classroom I meet a group of students cooking Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima’s most popular local dish, but they are not all doing the same, each student is creating and preparing their own variant of the dish. Students experience that they won’t know exactly how things will unfold, that they will be surprised, and that they will make mistakes and learn from them along the way.

During these days, a group of students from the United States is visiting Nagisa High School and they have immediately immersed into all aspects of the school life. Likewise, Nagisa High School students frequently venture outside. Principal Kadoshima shows us pictures from the many field trips his student have taken to other countries and cultures, or simply to the world of work and other social contexts in Japan. The meaning of all this to prepare global citizens for a world in which most people will need to collaborate with people with diverse views, experiences and cultural origins; and a world in which people’s lives will be affected by events that transcend national boundaries, and the authority of national jurisdictions to address them. During these trips, students learn to engage with dilemmas and controversy that result from globalization which have no singular solution, but where awareness of different perspectives on these dilemmas is essential to finding the common ground necessary to solve them. They learn to understand the global economic, social and political environmental forces that shape our lives; and to develop the skills, attitudes and values which enable people to work together to bring about change and to take control of their own lives.

Not least, the school is stretching students not just intellectually but also physically. One picture shows an exhausted group of students lying on a bridge at dawn, after walking 44 kilometres through the night. The aim is to strengthen resilience, 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. And Nagisa High School shows that learning is at the centre of resilience. This is all about helping vulnerable people, organizations and systems persist, perhaps even thrive, amid unforeseeable disruptions. At the individual level, this can shape the reach of social networks, the quality of close relationships, access to resources, but also beliefs and habits of mind, including the disposition to assess, take and manage risks. At the aggregate level, it can support Japanese communities and institutions with greater flexibility, intelligence and responsiveness to the rapid economic and social changes which Japan is facing.

Hiroshima Nagisa High School
Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education Video
Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education - Lessons from PISA for Japan
PISA 2012 Country-Specific overview on Japan
Photo Credit: Hiroshima Nagisa High School

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What do your parents do for a living? (and should it matter?)

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

Does where you come from really tell you anything about where you’re going? When it comes to parents’ occupations and students’ performance, the answer is a qualified ‘yes’ – but it also depends on where, geographically, you go to school.

Intrigued? PISA is unveiling a web-based, interactive tool (occupations@pisa2012) that allows anyone to explore and compare the relationship between student performance in reading, mathematics and science and parents’ occupations in PISA-participating countries and economies.

The tool is based on results from PISA 2012. Among many other questions concerning students’ backgrounds, PISA asked participating students what their parents did for a living. Their responses were then coded into an internationally comparable classification that allows for identifying individuals working in similar industries, on similar tasks, with the same types of responsibilities. As this month’s PISA in Focus reveals, students whose parents work in professional occupations generally outperform other students in mathematics, while students whose parents work in elementary occupations tend to underachieve compared to their peers.

PISA shows that in the United States and the United Kingdom, where professionals are among the highest-paid in the world, students whose parents work as professionals do not perform as well in mathematics as children of professionals in other countries – nor do they perform as well as the children in Shanghai-China and Singapore whose parents work in manual occupations.

Results also show that, while France and New Zealand perform around the OECD average in mathematics, the performance gap between the children of skilled workers and those of unskilled workers is among the largest observed in participating countries and economies. By contrast, the relative high performance of Finland, Hong-Kong and Korea stems from the fact that the difference in mathematics performance between children of skilled and unskilled workers is relatively small. You’ll also see that Germany is not among PISA’s strongest performers overall because, while the children of professionals in Germany are among the world’s best performers in mathematics, students whose parents work in manual occupations perform very poorly, and these families make up a large share of the country’s total population.

This all boils down to a relatively simple message: if school systems want all of their students to succeed in school, they should give the children of factory workers and cleaners the same education opportunities that the children of doctors and lawyers enjoy.

PISA 2012 Results
PISA in Focus No. 36: Do parents' occupations have an impact on student performance?

Photo Credit: Small Boy with Businessman Looking at Board with Mathematics Formulas / @Shutterstock


Skills will power Norway’s future prosperity

by Andreas Schleicher
Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary General

While in Oslo last month, I caught a glimpse of what can be achieved when social partners and governments put skills at the top of their respective agendas. This year’s annual conference of Norway’s leading employer organisation was squarely focused on the “Learning Life” and in her opening address Prime Minister Solberg set the stage. “Oil has given Norway prosperity, but it is knowledge that is Norway’s future,” she said, “Jobs will increasingly be knowledge and skills intensive.” 

The fact that the Prime Minister stayed the entire day, joined by her Ministers and most of Norway’s business elite, underlines how determined the Norwegians are to make this happen. Today, we hope to contribute to achieving this vision with the OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Report on Norway

This diagnostic report applies the framework of the OECD Skills Strategy to identify 12 skills challenges for Norway as it seeks to maximise its future skills potential. These skills challenges were distilled from a series of interactive workshops held in the course of 2013 which engaged a wide range of stakeholders including employers’ organisations, trade unions, local and county governments, student associations and education institutions. The report marshals a wide array of OECD evidence, including Norway’s results from the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), to shed light on the issues and offers concrete examples of how other countries are tackling similar skills challenges.

One of the key features of our collaboration with Norway over the past year has been the driving role played by the project team whose members are drawn from five ministries – education, labour, finance, industry and trade, local government and modernisation. This reflects the government’s strong commitment to cross-ministerial co-ordination in tackling skills challenges. As Norway’s project moves into the action phase this year we can expect to see innovative and practical ideas for tackling skills challenges emerge from this broad-based partnership across, and beyond, government.

So what are the main skills challenges facing Norway today? 

With regard to developing relevant skills, the report concludes that Norway would do well to focus its efforts on:

1. Ensuring strong foundation skills for all
2. Reducing drop-outs
3. Informing educational choices.

When it comes to activating its skills supply, Norway will need to tackle the challenges of:

4. Enhancing labour-market participation among those receiving disability benefits
5. Encouraging labour market attachment among low-skilled youth
6. Ensuring Norwegians remain active longer

Norway could make more effective use of the skills it has by: 

7. Engaging employers in ensuring a highly skilled workforce
8. Promoting innovation and entrepreneurship
9. Enhancing the use of migrants’ skills

Finally, Norway could improve the enabling conditions underpinning the overall skills system by:

10. Facilitating a whole-of-government approach to skills
11. Ensuring local flexibility and adaptability for nationally designed policies
12. Building partnerships at the local and national level to improve implementation.

In the coming months, we’ll also be releasing OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Reports for Austria and Korea.  It’s an exciting time, as we help map out countries’ skills challenges and work together to address them. 

As we do, we’re taking on board not just government’s perspectives but those of stakeholders. We’re learning from comparative data as well as on-the-ground experience. 

And we’re moving beyond diagnosis to action. 

For more on skills and skills policies around the world, visit:
See also the country pages on skills for Norway, Austria and Korea

Related blog posts on skills:
Skill up or lose out, by Andreas Schleicher
Let’s talk about skills, by Joanne Caddy

Image Source: OECD