Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What future for the family?

by Barrie Stevens
Head, International Futures Programme

The family landscape in OECD countries has changed enormously over the last few decades. The extended family has all but disappeared in many places, and the traditional family – the married couple with children – is much less widespread than it used to be.  Of course, this has a lot to do with other things that have been happening in society – divorce rates have been rising, as has the number of cohabiting couples and couples “living together apart”, and single parenthood and same-sex partnerships have increased too.  Many more women have taken up work, adolescents spend longer in education, and elderly family members live longer and, frequently, alone.

So, are we witnessing the fragmentation of the family?  Well, not quite, because at the same time, we are seeing family relations start to reconfigure on new foundations. We see networks of loosely connected family members from different marriages, partnerships and generations emerging, with fresh attitudes and approaches to cohesion and solidarity. We see technological progress (mobile phones, Facebook, Skype…) bringing new opportunities for easy, frequent communication among family members, and medical progress improving the health and reducing the dependence of the elderly on other family members.

Whatever we may think of these new trends in family structures and relations, many of them could be here to stay.  The national statistical offices of a dozen or so OECD countries have recently conducted or commissioned, quite independently of one another, long-term projections of household and family composition. Detailed comparisons among the different forecasts are not very useful, because the start dates, time horizons and methods used vary from study to study. What is striking however, is that the underlying trends revealed by the estimates show strong similarities.  For example: All the studies, without exception, expect significant increases by 2025/30 both in the number and in the proportion of one-person households.  Similarly, almost all of them expect a substantial rise both in the number of single-parent households and in the share of single-parent households as a percentage of all households with children.  And almost all expect significant increases in the number of couples without children.

Just to be clear.  These are projections and not predictions of the future. They serve to illustrate the growth and change in families or households that would occur if certain assumptions about marriage, divorce, fertility, work, values, migration, etc. were to prevail over the projection period.  These are impossible to predict.  However, it has to be said that social structures are not given to rapid transformation. In the absence of extreme events, key trends such as the expansion of higher education, the growing participation of women in the labour market and the rising numbers of dependent elderly all seem set to become a permanent feature of the next couple of decades.

 This suggests that quite strong likelihoods attach to the projections, and calls for strengthening the links among family-relevant aspects of different policy domains, such as care for children and the elderly, labour market, education, technology and housing.

If the above projections are indeed a reasonable reflection of the future, then we need to start thinking about some of the possible consequences.  The OECD’s The Future of Families to 2030 report, which will be published in January 2012, offers a foretaste.  For example:  the growing numbers of single-person households will put increased pressure on housing and in many cases complicate the task of preserving family cohesion; the expected increase in single-parent families, the numbers of cohabiting couples and reconstituted families could lead to more such families facing a higher risk of poverty; and the increase in childless couple households, divorce rates, remarriages and stepfamilies may weaken family ties and undermine capacity for informal family care.

What are the long-term  consequences for education? If, as many experts suspect, the home is set to grow in importance as a locus of learning, where does that leave families that are less able to support their children with the requisite time, technology and resources?

The next 20 years look pretty challenging – for families and for policy makers alike.

Links:
For more on the OECD International Futures Programme: www.oecd.org/futures
The Future of Families to 2030, a synthesis report
OECD,  Doing Better for Families, 2011
OECD, Higher Education to 2030, Vol. 1, Demography
OECD, Trends Shaping Education, 2010
Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators
OECD work on Education and Social Progress

Some National links to household statistics:



Thursday, December 15, 2011

Helping immigrant students to succeed

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Indicators and Analysis Division, Directorate for Education

Whether in flight from conflict, with the hope of building a better life, or to seize a social or economic opportunity, people have been crossing borders for as long as there have been borders to cross. Modern means of transportation and communication, the globalisation of the labour market, and the ageing of populations in OECD countries will drive migration well into the next decades. Education is key to helping immigrants and their families integrate into their adopted countries. How are education systems adapting?

Results from PISA 2009 show that although native students generally outperform students with immigrant backgrounds, some countries have been able to narrow the performance gap between the two groups considerably—even as the proportion of immigrant students has grown.

The latest issue of PISA in Focus notes that the percentage of 15-year-old students with an immigrant background grew by two percentage points, on average, between 2000 and 2009 among OECD countries  with comparable data. Immigrant students now constitute more than 5% of the 15-year-old student populations in 13 OECD and partner countries and economies. In Ireland, New Zealand, Spain, the United States, and the partner countries Liechtenstein and the Russian Federation, the percentage of students with an immigrant background increased by five percentage points or more over the past decade, and these students now represent from 8% to 30% of these countries’ student populations.

During the same time period, a few countries narrowed the performance gap between native and immigrant students. In Belgium and Switzerland, for example, the performance gap shrank by nearly 40 score points, even though native students still outperform students with an immigrant background by 68 score points in Belgium and by 48 score points in Switzerland. And Switzerland was able to reduce the performance gap despite the fact that the percentage of students with an immigrant background rose during the period. Germany, New Zealand and the partner country Liechtenstein also show a narrowing of the performance gap between these two groups of students.

What these trends tell us is that there are ways that governments and schools can help students from immigrant backgrounds to overcome some of the disadvantages associated with that background. Often, students with an immigrant background are socio-economically disadvantaged. On average across OECD countries, the performance gap is reduced from 43 to 27 score points when comparing students of similar socio-economic status, regardless of whether they are from immigrant backgrounds or are native to the country in which they were tested.

But the fact that a 27-point performance gap–equivalent to well over half a school year–persists, even after accounting for socio-economic status, implies that other factors also have an impact on student performance. These may be related to whether the students were born in the country in which they were tested or elsewhere, or whether, when they’re at home, they speak the same language as that used in the PISA test. Yet given that the performance gap varies so widely across countries, even taking into account these other characteristics, and given that in some countries the performance gap has changed markedly over time, it is clear that public policy can make a difference to these students’ progress in school.

For more information:
on PISA: www.pisa.oecd.org
Full set of PISA in Focus: www.oecd.org/pisa/infocus
PISA 2009 Results: Overcoming Social Background
PISA 2009 Results: Learning Trends

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Education does not equal skills

by Julie Harris
Consultant, OECD Department of Education

Mapping skills at the European Youth Forum
I went back 25 years in time yesterday, as I sat with participants at the European Youth Forum, all young, vibrant, educated and driven. I felt as if I were at university with my daughter and 100 of her friends. We discussed the future, skills, and in particular, the skills mismatch, described by Andreas Schleicher as “a lot of unemployed graduates plus a lot of employers looking for skilled workers”.

At the eve of my own career 25 years ago, my current profession did not exist. The Internet did not exist. There were fewer graduates and fewer employers looking for skilled employees. Did we worry about getting jobs? Probably, but back then a degree was the passkey.

Today, as my daughter graduates from college in 2013, the debate for her as well as for the 120 participants we worked with today, centred around jobs, skills and education. Just what is the link? Does a degree guarantee a job? Less and less so. Does work experience play a role? Yes, but the youth in my breakout group felt that unpaid internships amounted to exploitation and rarely provided the learning originally intended. What about the “soft” skills that so many students report are not developed in traditional school settings: clear communication skills, emotional intelligence, problem-solving, collaboration, curiosity, critical thinking and technological skills? How do individuals best acquire these skills – which mean more to long-term professional success than purely occupational skills do – and what do we need to do as a society to develop, value and encourage such skill development?

As Andreas Schleicher pointed out in his introduction to yesterday’s session, we need to build strong generic skills (skills that cross contexts, such as reading, writing, problem-solving, communication and collaboration), better utilise talent pools and skill for future jobs.

So how do we go about that?

Some of the ideas participants in the session came up with were:
  1. Link studies to labour market demand. Should governments regulate entry into study programmes, for example when there is a skills surplus and a jobs deficit?
  2. Improve career counselling to students and involve parents. Help students and parents know what the jobs of the future will be, where some of the shortages may lie and what skills will best help them succeed.
  3. Provide internships/work experience opportunities on a parallel track along with university studies (as in the United States and France).
  4. Put more professional, practical skills training into university education. 
  5. Encourage entrepreneurship and innovation among youth: communicate that small-business owners are important actors in society and that there is room for thinking outside the box, across disciplines and beyond borders.
  6. Build skills locally (rather than outsourcing to cheaper providers).
  7. Keep in mind that skills mismatch can begin at school – tracking can lead to rigidity and close down broader skills development. 
In sum, and as one participant put it, skills is a complex issue. It is more than the ability to “do something” and bigger, much bigger than education alone. Education, both formal and informal, at school and in the workplace, gleaned young and old, is a vital piece of the skills puzzle, but education alone does not skills make.

Learn more:
European Youth Forum: Youth Employment: A Call for Change
OECD Skills Strategy
Participate in the 2012 OECD Global Youth Video Competition

Monday, December 12, 2011

Transforming education the no-choice way in Japan

by Deborah Roseveare
Head of the Education and Training Policy Division, OECD Directorate for Education

Most of the time, transforming education involves a strategy that is proposed, debated, planned and rolled out.

For pieces of hope in a land of despair
On a road near Kamaishi Higashi Junior High, we bumped into a group of students. 
They say they're on their way to see their school.  "We're going in to find what was ours" they say.
But for the children, teachers, families and communities of the Tohoku region of Japan hit by the earthquake and tsunami, education was transformed in the space of an afternoon -- with no warning, no planning, no time to develop a strategy and no choice.

Yet despite being uprooted from their homes, grieving for lost loved ones and unclear about their futures, for the children of Tohoku, the last few months have transformed what they learn, how they learn and why they learn.

They’re learning to live, to value what they previously took for granted, to collaborate and support each other, to express their emotions and to say what they think. They’re learning to improvise, to innovate, to solve problems, to think critically, to take initiative. And they’ve demonstrated courage, resilience and adaptability.

Students are also learning new skills. For example, the Recovery Assistance Media Team provided cameras to children to collect images of disaster areas seen through their eyes and involve them in learning to document and record events. Another group of university students in Sendai organised the first TEDx event ever in Tohoku, with the aim of sharing proposals for the future of the Tohoku region and Japan.

Student volunteers at Fukushima University set up learning support and play support services to children in emergency shelters and later in temporary housing. These student volunteers learnt how to plan and organise support and how to reflect carefully as weeks went by to ensure that they continued to respond effectively as children’s needs evolved.

Students are also learning to use art and theatre to share their experience with others, like the high students who prepared and performed the tremendously moving “A Message from Fukushima”. This theatre play – a component drama – is now available with English subtitles on YouTube and is well worth watching.

The students of Tohoku know that their world has irrevocably changed. But their experience also demonstrates the value of new, action-oriented ways of learning. The transformation in their learning shows the way for redesigning education across the whole Tohoku region so that it meet the needs, hopes and aspirations of students, families and communities across the Tohoku region and build a better and brighter future.

Please take a further look at these initiatives through the links below:
Recovery Assistance Media Team
TEDx Tohoku event
Student volunteers at Fukushima University
“A Message from Fukushima”

See also: OECD Economic Survey of Japan 2011

Photo credit: Kamaichi East Jr. High



Friday, December 09, 2011

‘An obligation to systematise success’

Randi Weingarten, attorney, educator and president of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers spoke with Marilyn Achiron during an afternoon at OECD headquarters. This is a continuation of the conversation that was posted on 30 November 2011.

Marilyn Achiron:  How would you define effective education?
Randi Weingarten: Most of our educational systems have been created to an industrial model. They were built to ensure that kids could competently deal with the routine tasks that were necessary in factories. Some kids would succeed in a different way; but in the main, we were educating kids to be employed in factories; and educating a lot of people to be housewives. The world has totally and completely changed. What has to happen now is that education has to be about knowledge acquisition and knowledge application. And that has to be for virtually all kids, not simply some kids.

MA: How do you prepare children for a life we can’t even imagine yet?
RW: In my lifetime, we’ve gone from technology being a shiny object–a TV–to being an indispensable part of one’s everyday life. Technology is changing as rapidly as you change the channels on the TV set. The challenge and opportunity in education is to understand what’s needed and try to make that happen on a systemic level, yet constantly be open to innovative ideas for improvement. But the one thing we haven’t ever done: we’ve not changed that basic system of education, from the industrial factory model to a knowledge-based model. When I talk about a knowledge-based model what I’m talking about is helping kids apply knowledge, think critically, imagine, be creative, be confident about being lifelong learners. It’s not simply about memorising facts and being able to recite that which one has memorised; it’s about knowing how to learn and knowing how to continue to learn; knowing how to apply that knowledge, and knowing how to communicate it. That’s the deep work, the rigorous work that we need to do in public education, for not just some kids, but for all kids.

Once you see what kids need, it becomes much easier to create the professional learning environment that teachers need. You start with standards: what do kids need to know and be able to do in order to succeed. When teachers start seeing that, then we start working with and amongst teachers in order to make that a reality.

One of the most frustrating conversations I’ve had is around the issue of merit pay. When someone says, ‘I want to give that teacher who has succeeded a lot more money, and fire the ones that haven’t’, I say, ‘Well, what will that accomplish? What happens to all the other kids? Don’t we have an obligation to systematise success?’ To see what is successful and figure out what are the characteristics that enable us to systematise it, so that we sustain success, we continuously improve, and we scale it up: that’s what the international comparisons have helped us see.

When you see what, say Finland or Ontario, Canada, have done over the course of 10-20 years, and you see the change in their systems…they’re not simply rhetorically focusing on education, but they’ve taken steps to enable a significant number of kids in their jurisdictions to succeed. That’s breathtaking. And that’s what the OECD should be credited with: creating a path to do that for all kids.

Links:
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education (A video series profiling policies and practices of education systems that demonstrate high or improving performance in the PISA tests)
Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC)
American Federation of Teachers

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

When the school inspectors call less often, will Flemish schools take up the self-evaluation challenge?

by Claire Shewbridge,
Policy Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education

As in many European systems, Flemish schools are very used to school inspectors knocking on their doors. Schools have to let them in, as such external evaluation is a requirement. The inspectors make a “recommendation” to the Flemish authorities on whether or not the school should continue to be able to award official certificates and to benefit from public funding.

This led to another change in inspection style in 2009. Inspectors now focus their attention on those schools that need this most and on areas that are most relevant within a particular school. This is known as the “differentiated approach”. Each Flemish school will be inspected at least once every ten years, but some may be inspected more often depending on how inspectors judge their quality. For example, some schools may receive a “restricted positive recommendation”, meaning that they can continue to award official certificates and receive public funding, under the condition that they address certain quality concerns identified by the inspectors. Such schools are given an agreed amount of time to improve and inspectors come back to check on their progress and re-evaluate the case. So, if all is well at the school, the inspectors will be knocking at the door less often!

At the same time, the Flemish authorities decreed that schools are legally responsible for providing quality education. Although the decree does not specify that schools must conduct self-evaluation, the hope is that the schools will take up the self-evaluation challenge in assuring their quality.

As part of the OECD Review on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes, the Flemish Ministry of Education and Training asked the OECD to come knock on a few doors. A new OECD report shows the results of this exercise. We were delighted to be joined in our expedition by Marian Hulshof from the research arm of the Dutch Inspectorate and Louise Stoll, a school improvement specialist. During an enriching eight days in Brussels, Antwerp, Vilvoorde and Sint-Niklaas, school leaders, teachers, students, parents, educational networks and their pedagogical support teams, public officials and hot chocolate caf├ęs, all opened their doors to us. We enjoyed frank and open discussions as we investigated:
  • In between inspections, how do inspectors know that all is well at a particular school?
  • How do inspectors judge school performance on each area of the inspection framework?
  • Are all schools ready to take up the evaluation challenge?
  • Are the right tools available to schools to conduct high quality self-evaluations?
  • Do school leaders and teachers know how to interpret self-evaluation results and what to do about them?
  • How do schools know whether they are improving?
  • Are there opportunities for schools to learn from other schools?
Our favourite question, put to all was: “What is a good quality school?”. There has been a reluctance within the Flemish Community to define “quality”. As it stands, an important proxy for school quality is the inspectors’ judgement on whether or not schools ensure students demonstrate an agreed minimum level of knowledge and skills at the end of primary school and at different stages of secondary education (the Flemish attainment targets).

As in any evaluation exercise, the discussions challenged some of our assumptions and we hope that we also challenged others’ assumptions.

Inspection results and evidence from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment indicate that in general the Flemish Community of Belgium can be proud of the quality of education provided by its schools. But there are some worrying inequities and the Flemish authorities, via the Policy on Equal Educational Opportunities, have called on the Flemish Community to take up the challenge to reduce the strong influence of socio-economic factors on student learning and outcomes. This has also been a vehicle for stimulating collaboration among schools and some self-evaluation activities.

In going forward, schools have been given the star role in assuring their quality. The OECD review team discovered pockets of excellent examples of self-evaluation activities for improvement, both within schools and a few pioneers of critical friendship among schools. However, many schools have yet to take up this challenge fully and require further stimulation and support. In striving for continuous improvement throughout the Flemish Community, school self-evaluation activities will be fundamental to creating the professional learning community, where collaborative enquiry and use of data for whole-school improvement is the norm. The Inspectorate can help here with clearer communication of its inspection framework and sharing existing information on a regular basis with schools. School Evaluation in the Flemish Community of Belgium (OECD, 2011) provides many other ideas for the authorities, schools and other stakeholders in how to build on existing school evaluation activities. Schools are at the heart of this process, and the quality of teaching and learning should be at the heart of all school evaluation activities. The OECD review team identified the following priorities in making school evaluation fit for continuous improvement:
  • Clarify the goals of school evaluation and how different types of evaluation fit together
  • Continue to invest in school leader and teacher capacity to conduct evaluation and use its results for improvement
  • Increase the objectivity of evaluation procedures and ensure they promote improvement and excellence
  • Increase the use of information (collected by schools and the Flemish authorities) for both internal and external school evaluation
With collective commitment to working on the above priorities, we have no doubt that our Flemish friends will be well on their way to becoming the “Flemish Professional Learning Community” of Belgium.
 
Download
OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education: School Evaluation in the Flemish Community of Belgium
For more details on the OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education, go to the website:  www.oecd.org/edu/evaluationpolicy
Related blogs
Photo: OECD Flanders Review team
from left to right Louise Stoll; Deborah Nusche; Claire Shewbridge; Marian Hulshof
Photo credit: Louise Stoll
  

Monday, December 05, 2011

All immigration is local: How Regional Factors Shape Global Migration

by Monica Brezzi
Head of Regional Statistics Unit, OECD Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development

Debates over international migration tend to be driven by national politics and often incomplete information. But to better understand both the real drivers and effects of migration, it is critical to analyse them by region.  The total number of migrants – as well as the profiles of the foreign-born population – differs widely from region to region. For example, more than 13% of people in London and Brussels and nearly 10% in Murcia are foreign-born arrived there less than 5 years earlier, while in the other regions of these countries recent migrants represent between 3% and 6% of total population.

By now, we know that immigration is a sensitive issue. The economic crisis has destroyed millions of jobs in OECD countries, making their governments especially attuned to the impact of immigration on local wages and employment. But better information at the regional level on the skill composition of migrants could better inform policy reforms. Data show that foreign-born workers have significantly increased the level of education of the labour force in many regions of Ireland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic and the United Kingdom.

A recent OECD report Regional Outlook argues that regions resilience to shocks and capacity to deliver services mostly relate to the quality of human capital. Attracting and retaining high-skilled migrants can then be a key asset for regions. In some regions in Mexico, the United States, Spain and Germany, the share of highly-skilled migrants on the total foreign-born population can be almost three times higher than in other regions. Some of these migrants are top talents in their field, contributing greatly to innovation and scientific productivity of local firms and universities. Do regions that already host highly educated migrants maintain a competitive advantage in attracting global talent over time? The Regional Outlook reports that there is a substantial inertia in the location choices of the highly skilled. Thus regions which already have a competitive advantage in attracting skilled migrants will benefit relatively more from the increasing international flows of talents. A better coordination of migration policies and regional policies could generate incentives for skilled migrants to locate in regions needing to attract talents to boost competitiveness. Canada and Australia have established quota systems taking into account local differences in the demand for highly skilled or professionally qualified workforce. Other countries are experimenting similar initiatives.

Regional and municipal governments take on significant responsibilities in the management of migration and in successfully integrating migrants. They provide training programs, deliver anti-discrimination and cultural diversity projects helping migrants use effectively their skills and provide language services for children and youth through the education system. Better integrated migrants mean also a significantly lower burden in terms of provision of social services and costs for the local population. Not all the regional governments are equipped for the challenge, and the difficulties can only become greater with the increasing migration pressure and the current budget cuts. Coordination among different levels of government is more than ever needed to reap the benefits migration can bring. All immigration is local and policymakers will be aided by a closer view of their immigrant population.

Links