Monday, December 17, 2012

OECD Education Today… and tomorrow

by Barbara Ischinger
Director for Education

If you want to know what we’ve been doing over the past year or so, I invite you to take a look at the latest edition of Education Today 2013: The OECD Perspective. It covers the most important results and policy recommendations that have emerged from our work in early childhood education, compulsory schooling, higher education and lifelong learning. It also discusses such overarching topics as equity of opportunity, the benefits of education, and innovation.

When we think of innovation in education these days, we immediately think of technology: getting more computers into more classrooms, offering online courses to students in higher education. But as Education Today points out, while the industry for digital educational tools is growing, fewer than half of the specialised companies in that industry operate in the formal primary and secondary school sector. The report also notes that just because there are ICT devices in the classroom, it doesn’t mean that either teaching or learning strategies are changing. And while there are great expectations that online learning will attract those who have left – or have been left behind by – the education system, namely students from disadvantaged backgrounds or unmotivated students, so far there is no proof that this is happening.

New evidence (see the presentation by Patricia Kuhl here) shows that young children learn best when they make eye contact with their teachers – which means that they will never learn as much, or as well, sitting in front of a device. We’ve also found  that students’ attitudes towards using new technologies in school is far from what we might expect: they are more reluctant to use them than their image as “digital natives” suggests. And PISA  results show that the best-performing students are those who are motivated by their teachers.

What this evidence tells us is that no technology can replace the best teacher. But it also suggests that the best way to integrate new technologies into the classroom is to get the best teachers involved in developing the right pedagogical approaches to using them – and to include students in researching which strategies are the most effective. (This is how it’s done in Finland, a consistently high-performer in PISA.) New teaching approaches that incorporate these technologies should then be monitored and evaluated, and the results of those evaluations widely disseminated to avoid duplication of effort and begin promoting best practices. I plan to raise many of these issues in my keynote address to the LearnTec convention on “Future Learning” in Germany next month.

Looking further ahead, and towards potential lifelong learners, in late 2013 the OECD will oversee an Education and Skills Online Assessment that will help adults to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments. This assessment is linked to our Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), which will issue its first set of results in October 2013. The fact that the individual assessment will be conducted exclusively on line is an acknowledgement that the ability to read and navigate through digital texts is now essential if we want to participate fully in society. All the more reason – if any more were needed – to begin developing these skills today, in our youngest students, to give them one of the basic tools for learning throughout the rest of their lives.

Wishing you peace, prosperity and inspiration through learning…

For more information about OECD work on education:

Photo credit: Little golden students with laptops /Shutterstock

Monday, December 10, 2012

How does class size vary around the world?

Elisabeth Villoutreix
Communications Officer, Directorate for Education
Class size is a hotly-debated topic and continues to be at the forefront of the educational and political agenda in many countries. Smaller classes are favored by parents and teachers alike. But they come at a price, countries can spend their money only once and money spent on smaller classes can’t be spent on better teacher salaries, more instruction time, better opportunities for the professional development of teachers...

So what's the magic formula? What is the  ideal class size? Is smaller necessarily better?

The latest issue of Education Indicators in Focus shows that at the lower secondary level  among all OECD countries with comparable data, the average class size varies from 20 students or fewer in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Switzerland (public institutions) and the United Kingdom, to more than 34 students in Korea. The contrast is even more striking in other G20 countries; in China, for example, the number of students per class reaches the 50 students mark.

Class size, together with students’ instruction time, teachers’ teaching time and teachers’ salaries, is one of the key variables that policy makers use to control spending on education. Between 2000 and 2009, many countries invested additional resources to decrease class size; however, student performance has improved in only a few of them.

Apart from optimising public resources, reducing class size to increase student achievement is an approach that has been tried, debated, and analysed for several decades. Some countries like Finland favour smaller class sizes (20 students of fewer) and are among the most successful countries in the PISA study. However, other countries like Korea have much bigger classes (34 students and over) but also feature at the top of the PISA ranking. What other variables than class size may explain the success of countries like Korea?

Findings from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) suggest that systems prioritising higher teacher salaries over smaller classes tend to perform better, which confirms research showing that raising teacher quality is a more effective measure to improve student outcomes.

For more information
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus: 
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators: 
On the OECD’s Indicators of Education Systems (INES) programme, visit:
INES Programme overview brochure
Chart source: Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators, Indicator D2 (www.oecd/edu/eag2012)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

China – what will remain when the dust around economic expansion has settled?

by Andreas Schleicher
Deputy Director for Education and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary General
I recently met Vice Mayor Fu Yonglin of Chengdu, one of the key drivers behind the rapid educational transformation that his municipality has seen over the last years. I was struck by his take on how China’s power and role in the World would - when all the dust about economic expansion will have settled - not be primarily determined by what and how many goods China produces, but by what China will be able to contribute to the global knowledge pool and to global culture.

In a country where the average graduate takes home a salary of RMB 2900, roughly what a maid in the main metropolitan areas gets after three meals, money is clearly not the only motivator for the immense value which society places on education, and it seems China’s political and social leaders continue to be able to persuade their citizens to value education, their future, more than consumption today. Interesting were also the ways in which he consolidated the need to preserve and build on the past (‘nothing comes from nothing, everything has a history and evolves from there’) with the need to embrace change and prepare students for jobs that have not yet been created, to use technologies that have not yet been invented, and to solve problems that we don’t yet know will arise. He was well aware of the learning curve the Chinese have in front of themselves here, the essential need for China to play an active role in globalization processes, and the importance of capitalizing on the potential of education as the key enabler to engage with different cultures, fields of knowledge and languages. He had seen the impact which PISA has had on educational reform and internationalization in Shanghai and was keen to get his province involved. His province is making big investments in other aspects of internationalization too (if you get yourself accepted as a foreign student in Chengdu and stay for more than 5 months, the municipality will take care of your expenses).

Read the related blog by Andreas Schleicher on Implementing educational reform in China

OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
Video Series: Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education 
OECD Department for Education
Follow Andreas Schleicher on twitter: @SchleicherEDU
Photo credit: Chinese schoolboy /Shutterstock

Implementing educational reform in China

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

On the invitation of China's National Institute for Educational Sciences (NIES), I spent some days in Beijing to learn more about education policy and practice in China. As always, this was a very rewarding experience. I met with various teams of educational policy-analysts, researchers and educators in Beijing to provide advice on their work and discuss global trends in education policy and practice. They do not seem to get tired of learning from other countries and cultures as systematically as possible, with strong and consistent efforts not only to do discipline-based international benchmarking but also to incorporate the results of that benchmarking into policy and practice. The Institute is just finalising an impressive study on reform trends in the G20 members, and that work is no longer about emulating what other G20 nations are doing but about learning from them and putting together a design for China that can be superior to anything their researchers have seen anywhere.

While they look carefully at the World’s leading economies and education systems, they are all too aware of the widening income gaps and the uphill struggle they face in providing children in rural areas with a foundation for success, not to speak about the massive skill gaps in the adult population. A significant part of their policy and research agenda is geared towards education in rural transformation, quality, social inclusion and the social welfare of children. Efforts since 2001 to consolidate schools in sparsely populated areas, with the aim to create learning environments that are sustainable and of higher quality have run into real difficulties in the implementation process and the handling of the political economy, to the extent that the Ministry just announced suspending further mergers. This, however, is an area where time is working against them; the rapid demographic changes will make it harder and harder to provide an adequate schooling experience for the most disadvantaged children, not to speak of depriving students of opportunities to see a bigger part of the world - and their teachers of much-needed opportunities to improve pedagogical practice through learning from a more diverse range of colleagues and facilities that come with larger school units.

Quite in contrast to this stands the rather successful curriculum reform. This reform has not just been about updating and repackaging educational content, but aims at helping students find out who they are, where they want to go in life, and how they will get there, in a rapidly changing and increasingly uncertain world. Clearly, the new curriculum will not unfold its full impact on student learning and teacher behavior before China tackles its exam culture that remains narrowly focused on rote learning. But still, there seem signs that the reform is beginning to positively influence teacher development, institutional innovation, classroom culture, research culture and the management culture of Chinese education. It was interesting to learn about the trajectory from designing the reform at the end of the 1990s, through carefully piloting it and then progressively rolling it out (with much emphasis on training teachers and school principals), up to extending it to full implementation at the upper secondary level just this year. That’s a full 16 years to align policies and practices across the different aspects of the school system, ensure their coherence and build capacity for progressive implementation and refinement. Contrast that with most curriculum reforms in the West, where leaders feel they need to get this through in one electoral period, and where we often end up with wave after wave of curriculum reform passing above the heads of those who need to deliver them in classrooms at the frontline.

Read the second blog by Andreas Schleicher: China – what will remain when the dust around economic expansion has settled

OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
Video Series: Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education 
OECD Department for Education
Follow Andreas Schleicher on twitter: @SchleicherEDU
Photo credit: China blackboard /Shutterstock

Monday, December 03, 2012

What do students expect to do after finishing upper secondary school?

by Guillermo Montt
Analyst, Directorate for Education

The expansion of the knowledge-based economy and technological progress has created a large market of highly paid jobs for individuals who are highly skilled. Moreover, in much of the industrialised world, the demand for highly-skilled individuals is rising faster than supply, as mirrored in rising wage premia on university-level qualifications. Leveraging the talent of all individuals, whatever their social background, must therefore be an important goal for educators and policy makers alike.

The latest edition of PISA in Focus summarises findings from the PISA Report Grade Expectations: How Marks and Education Policies Shape Students’ Ambitions. PISA reveals that the range of educational expectations that students hold in different countries striking: In Korea, four out of five 15-year-olds expect to graduate from university, while in Latvia it is one out of four. Despite the major changes in skill requirements that most labour-markets experienced in the past decades, and the rapidly rising number of university graduates, the educational expectations of students in school have remained surprisingly stable.

In all countries and economies, the students who expect to complete university education perform significantly better in math and reading than students who do not expect to complete that level of education.  However, while performance on PISA tends to be associated with educational expectations, the data also show that not all 15-year-olds with advanced knowledge and skills aspire to high levels of further education and not all 15-year-olds who aspire to a university degree possess the knowledge and skills needed to pursue such pathways successfully.

The percentage of low-performing students who expect to complete a university degree is relatively high in Australia, Ireland, Korea, Mexico, Serbia, Singapore and Trinidad and Tobago. These school systems therefore need to capitalise on their students’ desire to continue their education by encouraging greater engagement with school and offering better opportunities to learn so that low-achieving, but ambitious, students can improve their performance and have a better chance of succeeding. The proportion of high-performing students who do not expect to continue on to post-secondary education is relatively large – more than 10% – in Austria, Hong Kong-China, Iceland and Italy. These school systems should aim to raise their students’ expectations by, among other measures, enhancing engagement with school and ensuring that placement in academic or vocational programmes is based on merit, not on students’ background. Mismatches between expectations and actual abilities can result not just in personal disappointments but also incur important economic and social costs.

Students who hold ambitious – yet realistic – expectations about their educational prospects are more likely to put effort into their learning and make better use of the educational opportunities available to them to achieve their goals. Therefore educational expectations, in part, become self-fulfilling prophecies. Education systems need to strike a careful balance between promoting ambitious expectations among students – because the labour-market demand for high-level skills is surging and will probably continue to grow in the future – promoting skill acquisition so that more students are able to fulfil those expectations but also not neglecting those students who expect to complete their studies upon graduation from secondary school. Although most school systems are committed to expanding access to tertiary education, around 25% of students expect to finish their formal education at the end of upper secondary school. Education systems must provide these students with the skills needed for a smooth transition into the labour market and adulthood.

Photo credit:  Graduate wordcloud / Shutterstock