Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dollars and sense? Financial literacy among 15-year-olds

by Andreas Schleicher 
Director of the Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD
Pierre Poret
Director of the Directorate for Financial and Enterprise Affairs, OECD

Two in three 15-year-old students earn money from work activity, and more than one in two hold a bank account. And yet, among students in OECD countries who took the 2015 PISA test in financial literacy, fewer than one in three of them reached Level 4 on the assessment – the level that signals the kinds of knowledge and skills that are essential for managing a bank account or a financial task of similar complexity. And the demands on their financial skills rise as students get older: 79% of Australian students took out a public loan in 2013; in the Netherlands, students graduate with an average debt of USD18 000.

Being able to interpret financial documents and make financial decisions that take into account longer-term consequences, such as understanding the overall cost implications of a loan, are precisely the kinds of things that students are expected to do in the PISA test. More generally, the PISA assessment seeks to assess students’ knowledge and understanding of financial concepts and risks, and the skills, motivation and confidence to apply such knowledge and understanding in order to make sound decisions across a range of financial contexts.

Among the countries with data for 2012 and 2015, only students in Italy and Russia made any headway in their performance in financial literacy. This is worrying because it’s an uphill struggle. Everywhere, people face more challenging financial choices. The spread of digital financial services opens up new opportunities for people once excluded from the financial system; but the digitised system also exposes consumers to new security threats and risks of fraud that are compounded when low financial literacy is combined with poor digital skills and ignorance of cyber security.

There are also greater financial risks. More individualised pensions, and more uncertain economic and job prospects due to digitalisation, technological change and globalisation are just some of these. Last but not least, growing inequality means that those with poor skills face particular risks. We don’t expect 15-year-olds to be able to meet all of these challenges. But we should expect them to be able to define their priorities and plan what to spend money on; to remember that some purchases have ongoing costs; to be aware that they can become the victims of fraud; and to know what risk is and what insurance is meant for. Again, that is exactly what the PISA assessment of financial literacy is all about.

Parents and families play an important role. PISA results show that when students discuss money matters with their parents, they have significantly higher financial literacy skills, even after accounting for differences in socio-economic background. Young people can also learn on their own by using appropriately regulated financial products in a context where young consumers are adequately protected.

The trouble is that all this seems to work just for students from more privileged backgrounds. Advantaged students score the equivalent of more than one PISA proficiency level higher in financial literacy than their disadvantaged peers. That’s equivalent to the difference between being able only to identify a delivery cost that is stated on an invoice and interpreting the various elements of the same invoice to correct a mistake in the billing.

This shows how important it is for schools and school systems to play a role in giving all children a fair chance to succeed. Some school systems already do this very well. Students in the four Chinese provinces and municipalities that took part in the test – Beijing, Jiangsu, Guandongand Shanghai – came out well ahead of their peers in every other country. Even more impressive, the socially and economically most disadvantaged quarter of students in these provinces did as well as the second wealthiest quarter of students in the United States, and better than the wealthiest quarter of students in Brazil, Chile and Peru.

That raises the question of whether a great school system will automatically help its students to acquire strong financial skills. The answer is not straightforward. On the one hand, having a solid foundation in mathematics and reading is crucial for navigating the financial landscape, from computing percentages to reading a bank statement. On the other hand, the PISA financial literacy assessment reveals that 38% of the variation in financial literacy is not explained by mathematics and reading skills. Many features of financial literacy are unique to the subject. These include being aware that some deals really are too good to be true, understanding the role of income tax, being vigilant for fraudulent e-mails, and knowing one's rights and responsibilities in the financial marketplace. It is also interesting to see that some countries do much better in financial literacy than they do in reading and mathematics. This is the case in the Flemish Community of Belgium, the Canadian provinces that took part in the test, in the four provinces in China and in Russia, where students do better in financial literacy than predicted by mathematics or reading.

Educators should not see this as a zero-sum game, where more financial education will take something away from the rigour, focus and coherence that is needed to give students strong foundations in mathematics or reading. Instead, they should look for complementarities, where financial education becomes a context that helps make learning in traditional school disciplines more relevant and interesting. We already find good examples of this in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Lithuania, Peru, the Slovak Republic and the United States.

Evidence that there is a positive relationship between performance in financial literacy and holding a bank account or receiving gifts of money, all other things being equal, suggests that some kind of experience with money or financial products can provide students with an opportunity to reinforce financial literacy, or that students who are more financially literate are more motivated to use financial products, and perhaps more confident in doing so. Young people can also learn through after-school initiatives. In some countries, governments and not-for-profits are offering young people videos, competitions, interactive tools and serious games via digital and/or traditional platforms.

But the more financial education initiatives are developed, both in and outside of school, the more important it is for governments and other stakeholders to evaluate and prioritise such initiatives and to scale and spread good practice. PISA tells countries how well they are succeeding; the OECD International Network on Financial Education will continue to build and share relevant international expertise and help countries provide the right combination of financial literacy and consumer protection.


Links
PISA 2015 Results (Volume IV): Financial Literacy
PISA in Focus No. 72: What do 15-year-olds really know about money?
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Register for a public webinar on Wednesday, 24 May, 1:00pm Europe Summer Time (Paris, GMT +02:00) with Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Education and Skills Directorate.

Follow the conversation on twitter: #OECDPISA

Join our OECD Teacher Community on Edmodo

Photo credit @shutterstock

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Knowing and actively debating why, the heart of every policy

by Rien Rouw
Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

What makes some of the largest companies in the world successful? According to consultant Simon Sinek in a very popular TedTalk it is because they start with the ‘why’. While many companies are good in telling what they do and how they do it, outstanding firms succeed in organising and communicating from their raison d’être. Because that is what the why is about: the reason for existence of organisations, their purposes, beliefs and aspirations. Communicating from the why goes something like this: “we want to support you to take control of your life (why), therefore all our devices are user friendly (how), such as this beautiful computer (what)”. The why is crucial Sinek argues, because it inspires and engages both employees and customers.

Does this simple concept only apply to the world of business, or would it also hold true for public services, more specifically for education? There is certainly evidence from several educational reforms we studied in the context of the Governing Complex Education Systems project, that engaging with the rationale and the underlying concepts, i.e. the why, made a difference in the uptake of the reforms by schools.

Our case studies showed the importance that school leadership and school culture promote sufficient focus on the why. In Flanders for example, while implementing revised system level attainment goals, some schools renewed their education accordingly, going through an intensive multiannual and collaborative professional development trajectory of training the trainers and peer coaching in new methods. More individually, school leaders encouraging teachers to take part in the developing of education goals at a system level proved to be beneficial for owning the rationale of the goals and putting them into practice in line with it.

In Norway, where school leaders promoted the why, this led to more successful implementation of the formative assessment programme in school that aimed at changing professional attitudes towards research and knowledge. The researchers noted the importance that school leaders “based their implementation strategies on a clear understanding of the programme goals and (…) could integrate these goals within the broader aims of educational policy and school practice”.

In contrast, our case studies showed that not engaging with the rationale could lead to the partial uptake of a reform by school leaders and teachers, to a superficial realisation of new concepts or even to the opposite implementation of a new scheme. For example, researchers in Norway also noted that various schools tended to implement the formative assessment programme as if they were following a recipe – with many teachers unquestioningly applying the tools provided by the Ministry in their classrooms - instead of taking professional ownership of the concept. In Poland, while the introduction of a new supervision and school inspection regime in 2009 was meant to promote a collaborative culture, in some localities it led to distrust and local power games.

If embedding the why in local practices is so important, what can governments do to strengthen this? The first avenue is professional development both of school leaders and teachers. Professional development activities should be designed as truly two-way processes, with participants actively engaging with the why and confronting it with their own motivations and aspirations and relating the why to the specific knowledge and concrete tools that are being provided.

It is even more important for a government to recognise that the why is a crucial motivating force that needs to be kept vital throughout the policy process through an open and ongoing dialogue. This is not as obvious as it seems. Quite often the purposes behind a policy initiative drop off the radar as soon as it reaches the phase of policy design and implementation. At that stage, negotiations on responsibilities, tasks, funding and accountability are dominant. Up the policy road evaluations tend to be rather instrumental in many cases, focusing on goals, processes and mechanisms and leaving the underlying purposes out. However, to be vital the why needs to be dynamic, i.e. open for negotiation and adaptation along the way. To be motivating for all stakeholders the why needs to be multidimensional. It must be written in a language that speaks to teachers and school leaders and relates to their aspirations.

‘Start with why’, the phrase coined by Sinek, is easily misinterpreted. As if starting means only beginning and then leaving it behind. On the contrary, ‘starting’ means putting the why in the heart of every policy and keeping it alive across all stages of the policy life cycle.

Links
Strategic Education Governance project
The Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Who benefits when international students pay higher tuition fees?

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


In 2014, over 3 million students in OECD countries – more than double the amount in 2000 – were studying outside their country of citizenship. International students go to study in countries with reputations for academic excellence; but they are frequently also seen as seeking economic and social opportunities in the host country.

As many countries seek to restrict immigration, international students are becoming a targeted population. One of the policies that aim to reduce the number of incoming international students is charging higher tuition fees for international students compared to national students (“national” meaning outside the European Economic Area [EEA] in the case of European countries). Countries also hold the view that national resources and taxpayers’ money should not be spent to subsidise international students, so they increasingly aim to charge the full tuition cost to international students. Some of the countries that have put themselves firmly in the market for international students in recent years also see fee-paying international students as an important source of revenue for their higher education sector.

The current Education Indicators in Focus brief, based on the most recent data on international student mobility and tuition fees published in Education at a Glance 2016, looks into the reforms differentiating tuition fees between national and international students. The majority of OECD countries still do not differentiate fees between the two categories, but a growing number of countries do. As the chart above shows, in some countries the differences are significant. In Australia, Austria, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, foreign students pay double or more the tuition fees charged to national students, on average, while Sweden and Denmark charge no fees to national students but ask international students to pay more or less the full cost of tuition.

It is well known that exporting education services has become an important economic activity in some countries, including Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Fee-paying international students generate a considerable revenue stream to higher education institutions; they also consume other goods and services and thus contribute to the host country’s economy. But to what extent do universities in these countries benefit from this source of income? There are no data available to make reliable estimates for a large group of countries; but for Australia and New Zealand, countries that vigorously market their higher education services, the income from fee-paying international students equals over one-quarter of the total expenditure on higher education. By contrast, in the United States, income from these students represents only 2.4% of total expenditure on higher education; in Canada, it represents only 8.2%. But it is interesting to see that in Denmark – a country that traditionally considers free higher education to be a right, but introduced tuition fees for non-EEA students in 2005 – the income generated by international students now equals 13.3% of total expenditure on higher education.

Universities are genuinely concerned about their place in the global scientific research and education system. They thus see the internationalisation of their institutions as part of a wider strategy. But at the same time, it is clear that in several countries fee-paying students generate welcome additional revenue at a time when public funding is insufficient to cover costs. As is evident from the political debate in several countries, this creates tensions between universities’ policies to defend their commercial interests on the one hand and governments’ restrictive immigration policies on the other.

These developments fundamentally alter the position and perception of international students. From being a desirable addition to the student population, a source of global relevance and diversity, they are now regarded as either cash-cows or scroungers of national resources, taking away benefits and opportunities from locals. It remains to be seen how these students will react to these developments. The current Education Indicators in Focus brief provides some evidence, based on observations in Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden, that introducing fees for international students did result in a drop in their numbers in subsequent years. International students are looking for the best education at a reasonable cost, balancing perceived academic excellence and reputation against cost and hospitality.

As long as higher education systems in emerging economies are not able to match growing demand with sufficient high-quality local supply, students will continue to cross borders to seek education opportunities. For destination countries with excellent higher education systems, international students offer a lot of benefits – but only if they are regarded as welcome additions to the student population, and not as cash cows or opportunistic free-riders.

Links
Education Indicators in Focus No. 51: Tuition fees reforms and international mobility
Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators
Podcast: International Tuition Fee Policies: An Interview with Gabriele Marconi
Follow the conversation on twitter: #OECDEAG

Join us on Edmodo

Chart source: OECD (2016), Education at a Glance Database, http://stats.oecd.org/.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Do new teachers feel prepared for teaching?

by Yoon Young Lee
Consultant, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
Feelings of preparedness of new vs experienced teachers
Percentage of new and experienced teachers reporting preparedness in content, pedagogy, and classroom practice of the subject(s) they teach
“Don’t smile in March.”

As a new, enthusiastic and slightly nervous secondary school teacher in the Republic of Korea, I was perplexed to receive this advice from other, more experienced teachers. I took it to mean that as a new teacher, I should be strict and impersonal with my students, showing them that “I mean business”, particularly during the first month. I was even more surprised to find that variations of this adage – for example, “Don’t smile until Christmas” - exist in other countries.

The fact that  this advice was given, even given half in jest, shows how challenging teaching can be for first-time teachers.

One of the greatest challenge for new teachers, does not come from not knowing what to teach, but from not knowing how to teach what they know and how to manage a classroom in all its strange and exciting complexity. Some days, students are not willing to participate in discussion. Other days, new teachers struggle to manage unruly classroom behaviour. Even if teachers apply state-of-the-art teaching methods, students are not always as interested as new teachers expect them to be. These are common challenges for new inexperienced teachers.

The latest Teaching in Focus brief, “Do new teachers feel prepared for teaching?”, analyses the perceived preparedness of new teachers by domain using data from the TALIS 2013 dataset. Figure 1 shows the preparedness of new teachers – defined here as those with a maximum of three years’ experience – in the following three domains: content of the subject field(s), pedagogy of the subject field(s), and classroom practice in the subject field(s) they teach.

The results of the analysis reveal that new teachers are generally less likely to feel prepared in the pedagogy and practice of their subject field(s) than in content knowledge.

More than 90% of new teachers reported that they feel either “well” or “very well” prepared in the content of their subject field(s), with more than 51% of new teachers specifically responding “very well”. Compare this to the level of preparedness claimed for pedagogy and classroom practice of the subject field(s) and only slightly over 80% of new teachers claim to feel either “well” or “very well” prepared, with only 32 (for pedagogy) and 34 % (for classroom practice) of teachers saying that they feel “very well” prepared in these two domains.

As expected, the preparedness of new teachers is lower than that of their experienced peers. When comparing the proportion of new versus experienced teachers who feel “very well” prepared, the difference is even more pronounced in the domains of pedagogy and classroom practice of the subject field(s).

Results of the analysis suggest that teacher education institutions in many countries and economies may have been overemphasising content knowledge, to the detriment of other types of teacher knowledge. Through quality pre-service education and continuous professional learning, teachers can be well prepared in the pedagogy and practice of their subject area, as well as in the content. Then maybe one day, more new teachers may be able to smile, regardless of the season.

This research feeds into the OECD Initial Teacher Preparation study that examines initial teacher preparation systems in eight countries: Australia, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Wales (United Kingdom).

Links: 
Teaching in Focus No. 17: “Do new teachers feel prepared for teaching?”
OECD Initial Teacher Preparation study
TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning
For more on the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS): http://www.oecd.org/edu/school/talis.htm

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Chart source: OECD (2013), Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS): 2013 complete database, http://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?datasetcode=talis_2013%20


Thursday, May 04, 2017

How to surf the new wave of globalisation

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Globalisation is connecting people, cities, countries and continents, bringing together a majority of the world’s population in ways that vastly increase our individual and collective potential, and creating an integrated market in products and services. One in three jobs in the business sector now depends on demand in other countries. In fact, a single product is often produced by workers in different parts of the world along the so-called Global Value Chain. Global value chains give small companies and countries unprecedented opportunities to reach global markets and create new jobs.

But the same forces have made the world more volatile, more complex and more uncertain. The rolling processes of outsourcing and the hollowing out of jobs, particularly for routine tasks, have radically altered the nature of work. For those with the advantage of the right knowledge and skills, this is liberating and exciting. In India and South East Asia, for example, online providers have picked up the outsourced functions of corporate and public enterprises, while in America and Europe, 20-something entrepreneurs are using disruptive Internet models to invent new services. However, for those who are insufficiently prepared, it can mean unemployment or the scourge of vulnerable and insecure work: zero-hour contracts without benefits, insurance, pension or prospects.

So there is a potential weak link in global value chains: the workers who don’t have the right cognitive, social or emotional skills to contribute to – and benefit from – it. The 2017 OECD Skills Outlook shows there are over 200 million workers in OECD countries who don’t even have the most basic foundation skills: for example, they don’t read as well as a 10-year-old child is expected to read. This matters a lot. In all countries more educated workers enjoy higher job quality. But while better integration with global value chains has resulted in significant increases in productivity, it has also widened the gap in job quality between those with better and worse skills.

To ensure that no one is left behind, countries need to equip all workers with a mix of skills and qualifications that are relevant and understood around the world. These skills are needed to realise the productivity gains offered by global value chains and ensure that these gains transfer to a broad range of firms, including small ones, and thereby benefit the whole economy. They can protect workers against the potential negative impacts of global value chains, including job losses and lower job quality. And they are crucial for countries that want to specialise in the most technologically advanced manufacturing industries and in complex business services.

Reaching the technology frontiers and specialising in technologically sophisticated industries is what many countries aspire to these days, because it is those industries that largely drive innovation, higher productivity and job creation. The Skills Outlook analyses how successful these efforts are, and what individuals, companies and nations can do to advance their position in global value chains. Countries like Estonia, Japan, Korea and New Zealand already have the talent pool to capitalise on a wide spectrum of specialisation opportunities across the different technologically advanced sectors. Austria, the Netherlands, Norway, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia are currently better positioned to thrive in advanced service sectors, while the skills of Canadians, Chileans and Finns are better aligned with high-end manufacturing. Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States still have a comparative advantage in complex business services, but they need to watch out because their talent pool is no longer well-aligned with further specialisation in either advanced services or manufacturing. In fact, in Australia, Canada, Norway and the United Kingdom the talent pool no longer provides the skills several high-tech industries demand; as a result, the comparative advantage in these industries has actually deteriorated.

So education and skills policies come into play, but migration, labour market and tax policies also need to be revisited so that they too are aligned with countries’ ambitions to advance along global value chains. It is important to bear in mind that countries’ comparative advantages always emerge from the interaction between skills and industry requirements – which underlines the importance of connecting the world of learning with the world of work. That can include vocational education and training with a strong work-based learning component, local initiatives to link education institutions to the private sector, and specific policies to foster collaboration between the universities and research institutions and the private sector. Management policies, too, can be a source of comparative advantage in global value chains, and entrepreneurship education can foster awareness and knowledge of best practices for employers and workers. It is also important to design employment-protection legislation that provides both flexibility to firms and security to workers.

And don’t expect workers to accept losing their jobs through outsourcing or automation if they don’t feel prepared to get or create new ones. Countries need to seek a better balance between short-term training and labour market programmes for displaced workers, and long-term policies that facilitate lifelong development of the knowledge and skills for tomorrow’s world. Removing barriers to further skills development means working on several fronts: whether it is improving the tax system to provide stronger learning incentives, easing access to formal education for adults, or working with trade partners to enhance flexibility in the sharing of time between work and training.

Countries also need to work together to define workers’ skills so that employers around the world understand what diplomas and degrees really mean, and become better at recognising skills acquired informally or abroad. Recognising skills acquired abroad makes it easier for foreign students and workers to contribute to research, innovation and workplace performance; recognising skills acquired informally helps workers exposed to the risks of offshoring to gain further qualifications and adapt their careers to changing needs. This is also about ensuring greater consistency between the degrees awarded and the skills actually acquired. As the report shows, the issue isn’t just that, in many countries, there is a significant dispersion of skills among workers with similar degrees; the data also show that Japanese high school graduates have stronger literacy and numeracy skills than Italian or Spanish university graduates.

Last but not least, global value chains make it much harder for countries to recoup their investment in education. This suggests that countries need to collaborate more in the design of education programmes and perhaps seek financing arrangements that reflect the distribution and benefits of costs across countries.

None of this is easy, none of it will be done overnight. But with forward-looking policies and a shared understanding of what workers’ qualifications signify, countries can both improve their international competitiveness and help more of their citizens benefit from this wave of globalisation. And the alternative is clear – just visit Albania or any other of the countries that have excluded themselves for half a century from international collaboration and global value chains.

Links
OECD Skills Outlook 2017: Skills and Global Value Chains 
OECD National Skills Strategy
Find out more about OECD work on skills: http://www.oecd.org/skills/
Follow on Twitter: #OECDSkills 

Join us on Edmodo

Photo source: @istock

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Assessing school assessment in Romania

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills


We published our review of school assessment and evaluation in Romania today, and the report received a lot of attention. We had done our last assessment of education in Romania in 2000, and it was a very different country back then. It was only in 2011 that Romania put in place an inclusive vision for education, a vision of 21st-century learning and 21st-century assessment. Since then, the country has made remarkable progress in backing that vision up with institutional capacity. Perhaps most important, Romania has been one of Europe’s success stories in terms of delivering improved results. Over the past decade, only Portugal has seen faster improvement in our PISA science assessment than Romania.

But it’s important to look forward, since Romania’s schools today will be Romania’s society tomorrow. And today, 40% of Romanian 15-year-olds still lack the foundation skills they need for lifelong learning and productive employment. Many of the schools and educators involved are not yet in sync with the 21st-century vision of Romania’s new curriculum – nor is the assessment system. High-stakes examinations still determine the future of students’ based on a narrow set of academic knowledge at age 14. This is outdated and unfair.

Never underestimate the influence of examinations on what is taught and learnt. So broadening what is assessed will help ensure that the new curriculum reaches the classrooms. And strengthening other forms of assessment can put examinations in balance. Good education is about developing human talent, not about sorting it. In the late 1990s Poland redesigned its school structure so that students follow the same curriculum until age 15. The reform has helped to significantly reduce performance differences between schools and improve performance among the lowest-achieving students. Perhaps most important, taking away the option to pass struggling students down to programmes with lower performance expectations has delivered the message to Polish teachers and schools that they need to better support student learning. Our data show that those who benefited from the extra year of general education in Poland increased their average PISA score in 2006 by the equivalent of almost three years of schooling.

The quality of education can never exceed the quality of teaching. The way in which teachers engage with students in their classrooms and provide feedback on what they can do to improve is more powerful than anything else in helping students to learn. That starts with the development of professional standards for teachers. If you can’t define a good teacher, it’s hard to get one. And if you give them the support and the space, teachers will be incredibly good at framing their professional practice just like other professions do. I was so impressed by how teachers in the Netherlands developed the Dutch system of professional standards for teachers. No government could have come up with a more demanding and practical vision for great teaching.

One of the most important lessons we can learn from great education systems is how they create a teaching profession that owns its professional practice. Every day I meet people who say we cannot give teachers and school leaders greater autonomy because they lack the capacity to fill that autonomy with meaning. There is some truth in that. But the response to perpetuate the industrial work organisation in schools with prescriptive instructional systems will continue to disengage teachers from their craft. Those who heat up pre-cooked hamburgers from McDonald’s rarely become a master chef. By contrast, when teachers feel a sense of ownership over their classrooms, when students feel a sense of ownership over their learning, that is when productive learning takes place.

The answer is to strengthen trust, transparency, professional autonomy and the collaborative culture of the profession all at the same time. And that is exactly what good evaluation and assessments are about. Professional autonomy can be nourished. Last year, I was the head of the committee that awards the British pupil premium. That’s an amount of money that schools receive for each disadvantaged student to better support them. But rather than telling schools what to do with this money, teachers and schools have to come up with their own plan based on government assessment data, justify how it will improve learning outcomes with evidence and research, and account for the results to the public. And they come up with incredibly imaginative answers.

So in our review we highlight how building teacher capacity, and in particular strengthening teachers’ assessment literacy, must be front and centre of any reform to raise learning outcomes. Assessment is always at its best when it facilitates open dialogue, reflection and feedback, where weaknesses can be acknowledged and mistakes recognised as an opportunity for growth and building trust. This will also require investing in more and better initial teacher education, continuing professional development and simple, practical tools that will help teachers understand the new curriculum’s learning expectations and bring them to life in Romania’s schools.

Examples of what key competencies, like critical thinking and creative problem solving, look like in practice can have a transformative impact on pedagogical practice. Guidance on helping students to understand their own learning strategies can help teachers engage students who are at risk of dropping out, and instil in every child the belief that they can succeed. New Zealand has developed a range of online tools that demonstrate key competencies using student work, and that break the competencies down into essential knowledge, skills and attitudes so that teachers know how to support their students through each learning stage.

Teachers also need the right incentives and professional support to become effective in their job. Teachers in Romania are regularly assessed, but too often appraisal is only summative. It will be important to develop appraisals that are more focused on formative practices, such as professional dialogue and feedback, and grounded in classroom observation and evidence of performance. The theoretical written exams Romania’s teachers take often do not capture what matters most for excellent teaching, such as the relationship teachers establish with their students, their attitudes, and their mastery of pedagogical strategies so that they can plan and sequence teaching to reflect their students’ needs. Ireland’s reform increased the prominence of classroom-based and formative assessments. An important part of that success has been Subject Learning and Assessment Review meetings, where teachers share and discuss examples of their students’ work so that they develop a common understanding of the quality of student learning.

The combination of professional autonomy with a collaborative culture is the key to good teaching, and assessment and evaluation are at its heart. I am always struck by the power of “collaborative consumption”, where online markets are created in which people share their cars and even their apartments with total strangers. Collaborative consumption has made people micro-entrepreneurs – and its driving engine is building trust between strangers. The reason this works is because behind these systems are powerful reputational metrics that build trust. We know a lot more about the driver of an Uber car than about the bus driver or the teacher of our children. When I visited Shanghai in 2013, I saw teachers using a digital platform to share lesson plans. That in itself was not very unusual. What made it special was that the more that other teachers downloaded lessons, or criticised or improved lessons, the greater the reputation of the teacher who had shared them. At the end of the school year, the principal would not just ask how well the teacher had taught his or her students, but what contribution they had made to improve the wider education system.

Shanghai’s approach to curated crowd-sourcing of education practice is not just a great example of identifying and sharing best practice among teachers, it is also much more powerful than performance-related pay based on test scores as an approach to appraisal and professional growth and development. In this way, Shanghai created a giant open-source community of teachers and unlocked the creative skills and initiative of its teachers simply by tapping into the desire of people to contribute, collaborate and be recognised for it.

Still, whenever systems drop a great teacher into a poorly functioning school, the school wins every time. That is why we also took a close look at the evaluation of schools in Romania. Here our advice is to shift the focus from compliance and control, to building school leadership for improvement. Again, this should start with a common and robust framework for school evaluation. In Scotland, school evaluation is focused on three simple questions: How good is our leadership and approach to improvement? How good is the quality of care and education we offer? and How good are we at ensuring the best possible outcomes for all our learners? Scotland’s differentiated model of school evaluation identifies those schools with the greatest need for support. Staff from the ministry and the local authority then work together to determine how the school can best be helped to build capacity for improvement.

In sum, strengthening evaluation and assessment so that it sets high standards for all, and supports all students, teachers and schools to achieve those high standards will create not just a good, but an excellent education system.

Links
OECD Review on Evaluation and Assessment in Education: Romania 
Press Release: Strengthening evaluation and assessment in Romania is key to educational reform
OECD Reviews on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes

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Photo source: Scoala - Romanian driving school car sign @shutterstock

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Working together to build the culture of learning in the Netherlands

by Andreas Schleicher 
Director for Education and Skills, OECD

The Dutch are known for making a virtue of necessity. Now is a time when their reputation will be put to the test.

The Netherlands’ economy and society are being transformed by technological change, increased economic integration, population ageing, increased migration and other pressures. A highly skilled population with the opportunities, incentives and motivation to develop and use their skills fully and effectively will be essential for confronting the challenges and seizing the opportunities of the future. The Dutch skills system is strong compared to others internationally, but still the Dutch understand that for a small country with an open economy to remain competitive, it will need to reinforce the foundation of skills on which Dutch success has been built.

The OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Report: Netherlands, published today, identifies nine key skills challenges for the Netherlands and three priority areas for action.

So what are the priority areas for action?
  1. Fostering more equitable skills outcomes: The Dutch skills system works well to ensure that most people develop strong skills. Still, a large number of adults have very low levels of skills that mean they have trouble extracting information from longer and more complex texts or performing numerical tasks involving several steps. Too often these people are not actively engaged in learning to improve their skills. Older workers with still many years of working life ahead of them and migrants account for a sizable share of the low-skilled population. With the costs of marginalisation so high, and with an ageing population, the Netherlands cannot afford to waste its precious talent. 
  2. Creating skills-intensive workplaces: Despite having comparatively highly skilled population, the Netherlands could use these skills more intensively at work. Small and medium-sized firms, especially, could do more to get the most out of the skills of their workers. The increased adoption of high performance workplace practices, in particular, has potential to foster greater skills use at work, resulting in higher productivity, wages and greater job satisfaction.
  3. Promoting a learning culture: Despite many years of talk in the Netherlands about the importance of developing a learning culture and the introduction of a series of policy measures aimed at making it a reality, the country is still far from realising this aim, as evidenced by the low “readiness to learn” of Dutch adults when compared with their peers in other OECD countries. Many stakeholders confirm this assessment, finding that the Netherlands has much more to do in order to transform itself into a learning economy.
The OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Report: Netherlands reflects the many valuable contributions received from four ministries, the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands and hundreds of stakeholders who shared their perspectives on what are the key skills challenges facing the country and their causes, and proposed some good practices for addressing these challenges.

In a series of workshops, the Dutch lived up to their reputation for frankness and self-reflection, with many claiming that too many people in the Netherlands were neither developing the “right” skills to succeed, nor taking sufficient responsibility for maintaining and further developing their skills in adulthood. Firms also came in for some criticism for not investing sufficiently in the skills of their workers. Stakeholders also lamented that fact the Netherlands was failing to live up to its ambitions for creating a learning society.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the Netherlands is one of collective action. Taking action in these priority areas will require that governments, individuals, employers, trade unions, education and training providers and others take joint responsibility and action. 

Along with presenting a number of specific recommendations for addressing the countries skills challenges, the OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Report: Netherlands proposes the creation of skills strategy founded on a commitment to a “national skills pact” that goes beyond a virtuous “statement of intent”. One that would, at a minimum, be guided by a shared vision, specify the concrete actions that each partner needs to take, and establishes performance measures and clear public reporting requirements for all partners.

In the past, it took a whole of society effort to build the dikes and canals that protected the Netherlands from flooding and allowed it to reclaim land for habitation and cultivation. Today, the Dutch once again need to call upon their talent for collective action, this time to shore up the skills foundation upon which they will secure their future for generations to come.

Links
For more on skills and skills policies around the world, visit: http://www.oecd.org/skills/
Follow the conversation on twitter: #OECDSkills

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Photo source: Biking @shutterstock 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Learning in school as a social activity

by Mario Piacentini
Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
What do 15-year-old students really need from school and what can school give them for their personal growth? The third volume of PISA 2015 results on students' well-being shows how important it is that education helps them develop not only knowledge and cognitive skills, but also the social and emotional competencies and resilience to thrive in the face of present and future challenges. Schools can attend to these needs, and making schools happy and caring communities is a feasible and worthwhile pursuit.

Happy schools are places where children feel challenged but competent, where they work hard but enjoy it, where social relationships are rewarding and respectful, and where academic achievement is the product but not the sole objective. Creating happy schools is the joint responsibility of teachers, parents and students.

All of us have memories of at least one teacher who made a difference in our life. My first teacher in elementary school not only taught me everything I wished to know about ancient Egypt; he also helped me to overcome some of my shyness and find my own way to express myself, in personal relationships as in writing. Emanuele, my teacher, used to hide short personal messages in our notebooks, and from these messages we all knew that he cared about us. My other good teachers had very different personalities and taught in very different ways, but all had one thing in common: they established good personal connections with students. If not every single student felt inspired in the same way, the class, as a community, was on the teachers’ side and willing to learn from them. And perhaps this is the main reason why these teachers looked so passionate and seemed so confident about their work.

The data from the latest PISA report confirm something that might sound obvious but whose implications are often underestimated: teachers educate for life, and their work is more effective if they can establish rewarding relationships with students. For example, PISA data show that students' anxiety related to school assignments and tests is a big issue in all countries, and that this anxiety is negatively associated with students' achievement and their perceptions of the quality of their life. On average across OECD countries, around 64% of girls and 47% of boys reported that they feel very anxious even if they are well prepared for a test.

Students who perceive that their teacher provides individual help when they are struggling were less likely to report feeling tense or anxious. By contrast, students were about 60% more likely to report that they feel very tense when studying if they perceive that their teacher thinks they are less smart than they really are. These data do not imply that teachers are not doing their job well. Rather, they confirm that teaching for the development of the "whole child" is a very difficult job. It requires that the school's objectives and how to achieve them are clearly understood and bought-into by everyone – the whole school staff, parents and students. It also demands that education policy acknowledges and supports the efforts of school communities to build positive learning environments.

Positive relationships with parents are another form of social support that enables adolescents to cope with stressful life situations and thrive. PISA 2015 data show that the majority of students in all countries feel that they can rely on their parents if they have difficulties at school. But those students who do not perceive this type of support from their parents, or do not spend time just talking with their parents, are more likely to feel isolated and disengaged from school.

Parents can find in teachers important partners for their children's education. Close communication between teachers and parents is essential for conveying consistent messages and supporting children and adolescents in all contexts. For this collaboration to happen, it is important that schools find ways to encourage all parents to participate in school life, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Teachers, school leaders and parents who work together can also reduce the incidence and consequences of the most dangerous threat to students' happiness: bullying. PISA 2015 shows that, in many countries, verbal and psychological bullying occurs frequently, with possibly devastating consequences on the present and future lives of too many children. On average across OECD countries, around 11% of students reported that they are frequently (at least a few times per month) made fun of, 8% reported that they are frequently the object of nasty rumours in school, and 7% reported that they are frequently left out of things. On average across OECD countries, around 4% of students reported that they are hit or pushed at least a few times per month, although this percentage varies from around 1% to 9.5% across countries.

PISA does not provide simple answers to what schools, teachers and parents should do to end bullying and improve the quality of life at school. Nor does it establish a ranking of countries regarding students' well-being. This new report gives a snapshot of the life 15-year-old students around the world are living. The large differences in how students – even within the same country – describe their life send the message that well-being is not just about personality and culture, it is also about life experiences at school that teachers and students can improve, together. Learning is a social activity; let's make it work.

Links

Friday, April 14, 2017

Country Roads: Education and Rural Life

by Marc Fuster
Consultant, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills


“Country roads, take me home” sang John Denver a while ago and, in fact, improvements in transportation and communication technologies have brought our cities and towns closer together. Some rural regions benefit today from their proximity to social and economic urban centres to attract people and enhance their economic competitiveness. Nevertheless, the attractiveness of rural regions, particularly those more remote, has been dropping off in many OECD countries. The trend is more severe among the young: Rural populations are ageing faster and in some cases declining.

The loss of critical mass makes service delivery more difficult and puts economic and social sustainability at risk. Education plays an important role in this equation as knowledge and skills are critical drivers of individual development, community cohesion and economic competitiveness. Yet several challenges for individuals in rural communities remain, such as lower levels of educational achievement and attainment.

The urban-rural divide begins in the early stages of education. Access to pre-primary programmes is more limited in rural areas, according to latest PISA data. As students advance in their education, the provision or quality of material resources, the percentage of computers connected to the internet, and the supply of extracurricular activities are all on average lower for pupils in smaller towns. This can have an impact on performance – and indeed, in PISA 2015, urban pupils outperformed rural ones in science by the equivalent of one year of schooling on average.

Indeed, rural schools are quite different from urban ones. Rural schools are usually smaller and have lower student-teacher ratios than urban schools. They are also more likely to have a less socio-economically advantaged student body, experience staff shortages and have a lower proportion of qualified teachers. These differences can have both negative and positive implications.    
     
On the one hand, smaller rural schools often combine students of different ages to make more efficient use of resources. This can also facilitate a climate of stronger co-operation and sense of belonging to the school. According to PISA 2015, teachers in rural schools support students in their learning more frequently than teachers in urban schools.

On the other hand, although school size does not necessarily determine the level of education provided, larger schools might be in a better position to offer more curricular and extra-curricular options to meet a diverse range of interests and needs, as they benefit from economies of scale (size-related cost advantages). They might also be more able to support teachers to work effectively.

Children’s schooling experiences largely depend on the quality of teaching. Nevertheless, teachers may feel insufficiently equipped or be reluctant to move to rural areas. Professionals need good knowledge and skills to teach multi-grade groups and a clear picture of what rurality means and rural communities can offer. Pre-service preparation with regards to rural teaching and living (rural practicums, for example), continuous in-service support, and adequate incentives to take up with work posts in smaller towns can raise both teachers' satisfaction and effectiveness.

Making appropriate use of new technologies is of crucial importance too, especially in more remote regions. Multiple forms of distance support can help in meeting the diverse needs and interests of students, widening student learning opportunities and providing more tailored support. ICT may also keep teachers closer to their peers, administrations and teacher education institutions to strengthen their professional position, and even allow schools to benefit from shared instructional materials and human capital in times of school closures due to financial constraints.

A new Trends Shaping Education Spotlight provides a closer look to these challenges and opportunities for education in rural regions. Rapidly growing urbanisation is undoubtedly one of the main characteristics of our time but, as Asterix would say, some small villages still indomitably hold out against it. Access to quality education is a key for them to thrive.

Links
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)

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Photo source: Child goes on a country road. Sunlight. @shutterstock

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Developing an agenda for research and education in Wales

by Hannah von Ahlefeld
Project Lead, TALIS Initial Teacher Preparation study, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills


It’s an exciting time in Wales for education. In the wake of a number of high-profile reports by the OECD and leading international experts urging change in teacher education, Wales is implementing a wave of reforms designed to improve delivery of teacher education. There is a new curriculum; new teacher and leadership standards for teachers; and new accreditation standards for providers of initial teacher education.

Research can be used as an important pillar and driver of these reform efforts. The need to build research capacity was underscored in Professor John Furlong’s review of initial teacher education in Wales, Teaching Tomorrow Teachers. He highlighted the importance of research as a means of developing student teachers as critical consumers of or participants in research; recognising the role of research or critical reflection in teachers’ professional learning; and encouraging “universities to help their staff develop as research active university lecturers.” (p. 13).

In countries like Finland, the Netherlands and Singapore, teachers are both consumers and producers of research. In these countries, evidence-based practice is embedded from initial teacher education through to induction and beyond, supporting the professional growth and development – and professionalisation – of teachers. But achieving this is no easy task. It requires a shared understanding of the importance of research by all stakeholders; effective partnerships between higher education institutions (HEI) and schools to ensure programmatic coherence and alignment between theory and practice; and coherent, strategic approach to delivery and evaluation of teacher education.

From 15-17 March 2017, more than 40 delegates from the Welsh Government, schools, higher education institutions, research, regional education consortia, Education Workforce Council and others met with eight experts from Australia, Flanders (Belgium), Norway, Netherlands, Singapore and the United States to brainstorm how to build up research capacity in schools, teacher education programmes and education faculties across Wales. Workshop participants worked together to define six key challenges facing Wales with regard to developing a research agenda:
  1. Need for a national strategic research plan for education in Wales that impacts learning
  2. Need to build up research capacity in education faculties
  3. Need to incorporate more and  deeper content knowledge  and expertise into teacher training and research in order to create depth in learning
  4. Need to curate, create and share research through HWB, HEIs, lead schools and pioneer schools – and provide teachers with the knowledge and skills to engage in research
  5. Need to better integrate theory and practice by developing a 1) national strategy for engaging all stakeholders in developing a common language on research and practice and 2) maximising the potential of the research agenda included in the professional standards across the sector
  6. Need for a national approach to professional learning to include an explicit commitment to (evidence-based) co-teaching.
As Wales continues on its reform journey, one thing is for certain. A shared vision and readiness for change, drawing on talent within Wales and internationally, can only lead to success.

For more information on the OECD Initial Teacher Preparation study, in which Wales is participating, along with Australia, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia and the United States, contact: Hannah.vonAhlefeld@oecd.org

Links
OECD Initial Teacher Preparation study
The Welsh Education Reform Journey: A Rapid Policy Assessment
Improving Schools in Wales: An OECD Perspective

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Photo source: @shutterstock  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Does the world need people who understand problems, or who can solve them?

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


The label “21st -century skills” is being increasingly used, and sometimes misused, to indicate that the rapidly changing economic, social and cultural environment of the current century demands a revision of what we think are crucial subjects for the next generations to learn. Examples include creativity, innovation, critical thinking, curiosity, collaboration, cross-cultural understanding or global competence. Some people wonder whether these skills are truly new, or whether education has always been about fostering these capabilities. But stakeholders – not least employers and the business sector – continue to complain that they don’t find candidates leaving the education systems who have the skills they think matter for the jobs they have to offer. And they claim that this is the case because current education systems do not sufficiently prioritise the development of such skills.

Many countries have recently embarked on a fundamental revision of their national curricula or curricula frameworks that offer guidance to schools and teachers. As is evident from the OECD project, The Future of Education and Skills: Education 2030, the need to rethink the skills toolkit in light of what tomorrow’s economies and societies will need is what keeps education policy makers and practitioners awake at night.

In these debates, the skill referred to as “problem solving” takes a prominent place. It is probably one of the most frequently referenced 21st-century skills. When the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) started to explore the possibility to assess domains other than reading, mathematics and science, it almost naturally moved to the area of problem solving. The assessment included a problem-solving test in 2012, followed by one on collaborative problem solving in 2015. One of the remarkable results in 2012 was that the results of the assessments of reading, mathematics and science were not very well aligned with the results of the assessment of problem-solving, despite the fact that the PISA assessment frameworks themselves – in contrast to that for TIMMS, for example – already focus on solving real-world problems, rather than applying textbook knowledge. Problem solving thus seems to be a distinct competence.

A recently published OECD publication, The Nature of Problem Solving: Using Research to Inspire 21st Century Learning, explores the concept of problem solving in great depth. The book does not offer an extensive assessment framework as such; rather, it discusses the conceptual and empirical research that various members of the Problem-Solving Expert Group for PISA 2012 used to build the assessment. The title of the volume explicitly refers to the publication, The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice. The book also fits into work on ongoing exploration of 21st-century skills.

While the book does not fully define the competency of problem solving, some common characteristics emerge. Problem-solving clearly builds on strong cognitive capabilities, but mobilises them in different ways. In solving problems that are usually complex, humans have to apply knowledge – often incomplete knowledge – in contexts where the conditions are often uncertain in order to offer a practical solution to a real-world challenge. Problem-solving is often referred to as a cross-curricular competence in the sense that solving problems in the real world obliges people to draw on knowledge from different fields and disciplines. Because real-world problems in volatile contexts are different from one another, problem-solving skills are unlike routine skills and procedural methods.

In the current debate on 21st-century skills, sometimes naïve views on innovating curriculum frameworks are being contested by policy makers and activists who defend a purely knowledge-oriented view of education and oppose recent shifts towards competency-based approaches in education. But in the case of problem solving, the knowledge-versus-skills dualism is not very helpful. The book clearly demonstrates that excellent problem-solving skills very much depend on deep levels of knowledge and outstanding analytical capabilities. But while cognitive and analytical capabilities help in interpreting and understanding problems, effective problem solving requires an additional element of decision making, implementation and communication. The combination of these capabilities is what makes problem-solving skills unique.

Research and reflection on problem solving and the deep analysis of the PISA results on both students’ individual and collaborative problem-solving skills are indispensable for innovating teaching and learning, and for making education more relevant and future oriented. The VUCA world – a world characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – will demand only more problem-solving skills. It is not difficult to predict that tomorrow’s world will need more problem solvers.

Links
The Nature of Problem Solving: Using Research to Inspire 21st Century Learning
The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
The Future of Education and Skills: Education 2030
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

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Photo source: The Nature of Problem Solving: Using Research to Inspire 21st Century Learning, OECD

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Building tax systems to foster better skills

by Pascal Saint-Amans
Director, Centre for Tax Policy and Administration
Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Investing in skills is crucial for fostering inclusive economic growth and creating strong societies. In an increasingly connected world, skills are particularly important for citizens to get the most out of new forms of capital, such as big data and robotics. More and more, policy makers are recognising that rapid change in technologies and work practices mean that people will have to continually upgrade their skills throughout their lives.

This new reality raises many questions for governments, firms and individuals, including: who is to pay for all these skills investments? In many OECD countries, student debt is rising, and in many others, public debts are persistently high. How can policy makers decide on the right financing mix for students and governments?

This is where taxes have an important role to play. In a nutshell, delivering educational services will depend on taxes, and good tax income will depend on good educational services.  A new OECD Tax Policy Study, Taxation and Skills,  released today, highlights the role of the tax system in ensuring that the right financial incentives are provided for investments in skills. This means making sure that governments, individuals and firms all share the costs and the benefits of better skills.

In addition to raising the revenue to finance government spending on skills, every OECD country uses the tax system to provide support for skills investments. Provisions such as tax credits, tax deductions and reduced tax rates on student income help governments support skills investments both early on and later in life. Sharing the costs in this way can make investing in skills more affordable, although these tax provisions need to be well-designed.

Besides helping share costs, the tax system divides the returns to skills between governments and students. When investments in skills yield returns, it means that individuals get higher wages, and governments get more tax revenue.

The results published today show that these returns to skills are substantial. In almost every country examined, both students and governments earn a sound return on skills investments. In some countries, however, policies could be improved to better share the returns to skills between individuals, firms and governments. Rising earnings premiums paid to skilled workers across OECD countries means that the returns to skills may grow into the future. This means better wages for individuals, more profits for firms and more sustainable public finances for governments, a win all around.

In spite of these high returns, many workers do not have the right financial incentives to make the necessary investments in their skills to succeed throughout their lives. Unlike physical assets, like property and equipment, human capital cannot be used as collateral for borrowing to finance investments. This impedes access to credit for individuals’ skills investments. Firms may also underinvest in skills because they worry that newly skilled workers may be poached by competitors. Often, individuals and firms do not have access to the right information to make informed choices about how they can invest in their skills.

Designing tax and spending policies to encourage skills investments is crucial. Useful policy approaches can include refundable tax credits for lifelong learning, income-contingent loans for tertiary education, or extra tax deductions for firms that invest in their workers’ skills.

OECD governments are increasingly looking at how policies can be designed to raise productivity, innovation and growth. We hear a lot about how tax systems can encourage investments in physical capital and innovative technologies through R&D tax credits and other measures. The report released today shows the importance of tax policies that are equally geared towards incentivising investments in human capital.

Links
OECD Tax Policy Studies: Taxation and Skills
The productivity and equality nexus
Policy Brief on the Future of Work: Skills for a Digital World
OECD work on Skills
Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators

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Photo credit: shutterstock

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Preparing teachers for change – in and outside of the profession

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills



Every year in March, education ministers and union leaders of the highest-performing and most rapidly improving education systems (according to PISA) meet to seek ways to improve the status of the teaching profession. Many countries could use such guidance. While in Finland teaching has become the most prestigious profession – those who don’t compete successfully for a place in teacher education can still become lawyers and doctors – in other countries, the situation is very different. In the Slovak Republic, France and Sweden, for example, just 5 in 100 teachers agree that teaching is a valued profession in society; in Croatia and Spain, fewer than 10 in 100 teachers agree.

Ministers and union leaders concur that success hinges on ownership by the profession. Real change won’t happen without teachers being active agents for change. When governments don’t succeed in engaging teachers in the design of reforms, teachers can’t and won’t help much in implementing those reforms. That has to do with public confidence in professionals and the profession; with decisions made according to the body of knowledge of the profession; and with acceptance of responsibility and accountability in the name of the profession.

This year’s summit, held in Edinburgh, Scotland, focused on how education can become more responsive to changes in social demands and, at the same time, resilient to political change. One thing is clear: the weaker the profession, the more vulnerable education will be to political decisions, and the less trust education practitioners will have in the notion that the problems they face can actually be solved by evidence and science.

But ministers shared good examples of how governments can help make great ideas real, how to strengthen professional autonomy and a collaborative culture where great ideas are shared, refined and borrowed, and where access to funding and non-financial support lifts those ideas into action.

Estonia reminded participants of the importance of celebrating successes and finding better ways to recognise, reward and give exposure to success to convey the expectations for the system. Governments can build incentives to strengthen the visibility of and demand for what works. Indeed, many ministers spoke about the importance of evidence-based policy in education, and that it is best served when the profession plays a part in developing policy. Indeed, we heard from union leaders in Sweden that teachers want – and need – to be part of designing research and conducting it. As its name implies, evidence-based policy starts with evidence.

Singapore shared its experience in establishing a middle layer through the profession that is not government but governance. It recounted how allowing a free exchange of ideas among the teaching profession, policy makers and researchers can build the trust that then works as a glue for professional partnerships. Trust is needed in all directions: between policy and practice, between practice and research, and between research and policy.

The Netherlands tries out policy initiatives through a new Teacher Innovation Fund, where teachers apply for funding for innovation. Results are not assessed by the government but by peers, who decide which projects get funded and which don’t.

These are all valuable lessons. But the summit concluded with several unresolved issues too.

As New Zealand put it, to secure excellent outcomes for all children, we need a much more granular approach: an approach that identifies which kids and where, which resources for what, and how to give these children the education that all good systems should be delivering. While it is easy to accept that principle for children, we also need to extend it to the teaching profession itself. We need to think much more creatively about how we can capitalise on the diverse interests, skills and aspirations of individual teachers and see that they work where they can make the greatest contribution with more differentiated careers.

Inevitably, that will be difficult. But we can’t have teachers pursue a social and personal mission if our approach to delivery remains industrial. Singapore showed us that professional differentiation isn’t necessarily about pay, but can also be about the opportunity for professional development.

The summit also discussed how to reconcile the growing public push for greater flexibility and choice in education with the imperative of inclusiveness and public responsibility that governments have for all their citizens. Excellence and equity are inseparable; yet excellence does not automatically follow from equity, nor the other way around.

Countries will also need to find better ways to reconcile the imperative of innovation with the need for stability, coherence and equity. Everyone needs to develop realistic expectations about the pace and nature of reform – even if that is difficult in the heat of debate. Scotland reminded us that time and patience are needed to understand the impact of reform measures, to build trust and develop the capacity needed to move on to the next stage of policy development.

Many countries are also trying to address severe recruitment challenges. They will succeed only if they can make teaching both financially and intellectually more attractive and if they can address issues around workload and teacher well-being. Union leaders from Sweden, England and New Zealand told us how teachers need time above everything else: more time to prepare, more time to collaborate with colleagues and do the things they want to do to improve the lives of the children. But I don’t think we can continue to afford equating the need for more time with the need for more people. No other profession can afford that either. Given the constraints on public budgets, we need to find more innovative ways to use the people, spaces, time and technology we already have to respond to new challenges.

Links
The 2017 International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP 2017)
ISTP Summit Background report: Empowering and Enabling Teachers to Improve Equity and Outcomes for All by Montserrat Gomiendo, Deputy Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
29-31 March in Edinburgh, Scotland
Archived webinar - Empowering and Enabling Teachers to Improve Equity and Outcomes for All (with Andreas Schleicher, Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills, OECD)
Follow on Twitter #ISTP2017

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Photo source: Welcome posters by St Albert's Primary School and Ayton Primary School students, Scottish Government