Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The language of dissent

Language matters to Lea Rosenberg.
The former English teacher and high school principal who is now Deputy Director General of International Relations and UNESCO at Israel’s Ministry of Education recently made an impassioned appeal to fellow education policy makers that they, essentially, watch their language when talking about education. Using the terminology of other disciplines to discuss education policy, Rosenberg argues, does a disservice to education. Rosenberg was speaking at a high-level meeting of representatives of education ministries held at the OECD’s Paris headquarters in mid-October.
Marilyn Achiron, Editor at the OECD’s Directorate for Education, spoke with her after the meeting.

Lea Rosenberg: Throughout the years, when different paradigms from different worlds were introduced into the world of education, people were fascinated by the opportunities that these paradigms gave to education. They enabled larger and deeper views into what education is all about. At the same time, the status of education, compared to other professions, is usually low. So take these two things together and you arrive at where we are now.

We have talked about education through the sociological paradigm, where students are not people, but parts of populations. Of course, teachers should take note of the populations to which students belong and understand them, but that should not be the leading language of education. It is a “foreign language”. Understanding how students and teachers function is fine, but when we used the paradigm of psychology to discuss education – another “foreign language” – teachers started understanding students better, but they lost the notion of demanding something from students. If you don’t demand something from students, you cripple them; you treat them as though they are incapable.

Now we are using management language – talking of “inputs” and “outputs” – and we’re disappointed that the results are not what we expect. Principals and teachers should know and understand this language, but it is not education’s work. The same is true with the language of economics. We depend on economics: it is crucial, elementary to our existence. But this is not the language that should lead the world of education. For example, the word “accountability”: it deals with accounts. I would prefer that our teachers are “responsible” and not only “accountable”. Responsibility covers the range of human emotions, behaviours and activities – elements, such as caring, that are not covered by “accountability”. Students might do well in mathematics, but their morals and values might be terrible.

That is what we should be concerned about: What kind of person comes out of our education systems? The language of education focuses on being responsible for students as whole beings. Of course achievement is important, but students are human beings. The language of education is one of helping students overcome difficulties, taking differences into account, steering students through their mistakes so that they learn something and can then move on. Terminology affects the way we see the world. It affects the way we see students and the way we act towards them. This is especially true in education, where language is the only tool we have.

Languages in a Global World: Learning for Better Cultural Understanding
Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders for the 21st Century - Lessons from around the world
Photo credit: Dictionary entry for "education"/Shutterstock

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Skills on Show

by Joanne Caddy
Senior Analyst, Skills Beyond Schools Division, Directorate for Education
Upon entering the vast hall, I was first struck by the quiet concentration etched on the contestants’ faces amidst the hustle and bustle. Here gathered Britain’s best young professionals – each one determined to prove their skill as tile-layers, electricians, plumbers, make-up artists, web designers, IT technicians, mobile robotics designers and landscape gardeners. Each one going for gold at the UK Skills Show, held annually as part of WorldSkills International  to celebrate skilled young people and recognise the ‘skills stars’ of today and tomorrow.

Earlier that day, in a far smaller room, another group of people had been equally intent in exploring the other side of the skills equation.

In his opening address to the UKCES-OECD international workshop on “Employer Ownership: Strengthening Partnerships to Enhance Skills Investment”, the UK Minister for Skills, Matthew Hancock MP underscored the urgent need to upgrade Britain’s skills against the backdrop of the global race to develop and deploy the talent needed in an innovation-driven economy. In launching the second round of the Employer Ownership of Skills Pilot, he called upon businesses to form partnerships and put forward ambitious and transformative proposals which use public funds to leverage private investment and deliver training more attuned to the needs of both businesses and people. For Minister Hancock this investment of £250 million is worth every penny, because “skills bring a better job for the individual and a job done better for the employer – but also for society.” Having kicked off the workshop, he then headed off to tour the Skills Show himself and try his hand at one of the many “Have a Go” sessions.

Meanwhile, back at the workshop a great line-up of speakers shared their tips on how to build solid skills partnernships in practice. Jaguar Land Rover took about two years to build a network of universities to deliver targeted courses for their staff as part of their Technical Accreditation Scheme – an effort which was described as: “even harder than building great cars”. Credit Suisse now offers 750 apprentices in banking and IT systems, adopting a “just-in-time” learning concept where: “you learn what you need in practice, and then you practice what you learned at your workplace.” In The Netherlands, the newly established Foundation for Cooperation between Vocational Education, Training and the Labour Market (SBB) brings together employers, government and vocational education and training (VET) institutions to jointly develop VET qualifications, work placements and career guidance.

The OECD Skills Strategy provided a useful framework for the lively small group discussions which followed. They delivered concrete priorities for action, such as: changing the funding system to drive behaviour; strong leadership among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to ensure their skill needs are met; and building a sustainable skills system through strong partnerships between business, government and other stakeholders. As our team leading the OECD Skills Beyond Schools country reviews could confirm, few, if any, of the issues raised during the workshop are unique to the UK, but are to be found in many other OECD countries.

Strengthening national skills systems may take sustained efforts, but much is at stake. Judging by the young contestants at work in that huge hall last week, our future is in very skilled hands indeed.

OECD Skills Strategy
OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)
OECD Skills Beyond Schools
Slideshare presentations on skills
Photo credit: Make-up artist/Shutterstock

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Breaking down the barriers to immigrant students’ success at school

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education 

Education is one of the best ways of integrating immigrant children and their families into their new home countries. But most immigrant students have to overcome multiple barriers in order to succeed at school. The latest edition of PISA in Focus shows that of all the obstacles to success these students must surmount, the concentration of socio-economic disadvantage at school is among the most strongly related to poor performance.

Disadvantage and immigrant status are closely linked. Most immigrants leave their home countries in search of better economic prospects. Once immigrants arrive in a host country, they often settle in communities where there are other immigrants who share their culture, their language and often their socio-economic status. Their children often attend the same schools – and those schools frequently have large proportions of immigrant students. As a result, immigrant students tend to be concentrated in certain schools. In most cases, these schools are generally more socio-economically deprived than other schools.

PISA finds that countries vary markedly in how immigrant students are accommodated in schools. In New Zealand, for example, 50% of immigrant students – well below the OECD average of 68% – attend a school that has a large proportion of immigrant students. In addition, the concentration of immigrant students in socio-economically disadvantaged schools is also relatively low in New Zealand: only one in four immigrant students – compared with the OECD average of 36% – attends a school that has a large proportion of students whose mothers have low levels of education. (Having a low-educated mother, that is, a mother who has not attained an upper secondary education, is a measure of socio-economic disadvantage among immigrant populations.) In Germany, the concentration of immigrant students in schools is around the OECD average, while the concentration of immigrant students in disadvantaged schools is higher than the OECD average. In the United Kingdom, high concentrations of immigrant students in schools are coupled with high concentrations of immigrant students in the most disadvantaged schools.

When analysing student performance through this prism, poor student performance, particularly among immigrant students, is most strongly related to the proportion of students in a school whose mothers have low levels of education. This finding indicates that immigrant students – indeed all students – face a major obstacle to success at school when they are concentrated in schools attended by students who face similar socio-economic disadvantage.

In contrast, the results suggest that it is not the proportion of immigrant students or the proportion of those who speak a different language that is most strongly associated with poor performance. In other words, being in a school with students from different countries or who speak multiple languages does not hinder learning as much as being in a school that has a high concentration of disadvantaged students does. In fact, there are many high-achieving schools that have large proportions of immigrant students. Many schools in the Canadian province of Alberta, for example, have just this kind of profile. Often, that high performance is the result of specific national or regional education policies designed to accommodate – and make the most of – heterogeneous student populations.

What these results tell us is that reducing the concentration of disadvantage in individual schools is a good first step towards helping immigrant students integrate successfully into school and, ultimately, society.

For more information on PISA: www.oecd.org/pisa/
PISA in Focus No. 22:How do immigrant students fare in disadvantaged schools? 
Photo credit:  Colour figures / Shutterstock

Friday, November 09, 2012

Private vs. public expenditure

by Dirk Van Damme
Division Head, Innovation and Measuring Progress (IMEP) and Head of Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)

Tertiary education institutions such as colleges and universities raise an increasing share of their funding from private sources. As the latest issue of the OECD’s Education Indicators in Focus details, the major part comes from households via tuition fees and other forms of household expenditure, but institutions also raise more contributions from private companies. Private expenditure now accounts for 30% of expenditure in tertiary education. As the latest issue of the OECD brief series Education Indicators in Focus details, the increase in private expenditure between 2000 and 2009 in OECD countries is remarkable. On average across OECD countries it more than doubled, but countries like Austria, Portugal and the Slovak Republic had growth indexes exceeding 500 points. In 2000, the United Kingdom already drew 32.3% of its expenditure on tertiary education from private sources and further increased it to 70.4% in 2009. The United States, usually seen as a country with the highest level of private expenditure, has seen a decrease from 68.9% in 2000 to 61.9% in 2009.

A simplistic interpretation might suggest that countries have substituted public funding with private resources. On the contrary the evidence shows that the increase in private expenditure did not occur at the expense of public funding. In addition, public funding for tertiary education increased in the same period from an index of 100 in 2000 to an index of 138 points in 2009 across the OECD. Countries such as the Czech Republic, Korea and Poland have seen increases for public funding to more than 180 index points.

The growth rates of public and private expenditure to tertiary education institutions are quite different across countries. Some countries combine high growth rates for both public and private expenditure, such as Austria, the Czech Republic, Mexico and the Slovak Republic. In other countries public and private expenditure have dissimilar growth patterns: Denmark, Portugal and the United Kingdom combined a higher than average growth index for private expenditure with a lower than average growth index for public expenditure for tertiary education.

With different growth rates, both public and private expenditure on tertiary education institutions increased between 2000 and 2009. However, the variation between countries in the relative proportion of private expenditure remains very high, from the Nordic countries with 10% or less private expenditure, to the United States and the United Kingdom with around 60% and 70%, respectively. Private resources have added to public expenditure, and at the country level, a higher level of private expenditure in tertiary education is not associated with lower chances for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access tertiary education.

For more information
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus: www.oecd.org/education/indicators 
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators: www.oecd.org/edu/eag2012 
On the OECD’s Indicators of Education Systems (INES) programme, visit:
INES Programme overview brochure
Chart source: Education at a Glance 2012: Indicator B3 (www.oecd/edu/eag2012)