Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Creativity in schools: what countries do (or could do)

by Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin
Senior Analyst and Project Leader, Directorate for Education

Are we really serious when we say that schools should nurture creativity and other skills for innovation? An increasing number of countries see fostering of creativity and critical thinking as the next educational challenge: traditional good grades may no longer suffice to equip the workforce with the skills needed to fuel innovation-driven economic growth.

The recent international OECD-CCE-Singapore workshop gave 30 education decision-makers from 12 countries the opportunity to share the lessons from Asian educational initiatives aiming to foster pupils’ creativity and critical thinking. While most of these initiatives build on project-based, research-based, and other active pedagogies, some start to use design thinking methods to scaffold the learning of innovation skills.

Singapore and Korea are two good examples of countries emphasising creativity, critical thinking and character building in their curricula. Since 2009, Korea expects its schools to foster creativity as part of quality subject-based learning – but also to devote almost 10% of overall school time to projects and other transversal activities that foster creativity. As for Singapore, their “Desired Outcomes of Education” include critical and inventive thinking as well as social and emotional competences. At the end of secondary school, among other things students are expected to be “resilient in the face of adversity”, “innovative and enterprising” as well as “able to think critically and communicate persuasively”.

A visit at Haig Girls’ School in Singapore showed that this is more than just words. Creativity and innovation are at the heart of the project of this elementary school. Teachers have developed common criteria to monitor their students’ progress in “critical thinking” and in “creative and inventive thinking”. Students also assess themselves and their peers by answering questions such as “I am able to brainstorm multiple ways to reach a solution” (critical thinking) or “I am able to connect ideas in an interesting and creative manner to create a unique idea” (creative thinking).

Among its multiple projects, the school also asks pupils to engage in genuine innovation activities. After a long collective brainstorming, a small group of pupils has imagined and prototyped an inventive way of closing an umbrella—a useful invention in a country where it rains almost every other day. Why use two hands to fold your umbrella and risk one of them getting wet when you could do it with just the one hand holding the handle? To keep you dry and speed up the closing process, the girls have replaced the press-stud on the small band that is generally rolled around the fabric to fasten the umbrella tight with a magnet. The magnet is heavy enough to make the band twist around the pole before adhering to the magnetic frame and keeping the fabric tight. Ingenious, no?

Including creativity and other skills for innovation in national curricula is a helpful starting point for them to be taken seriously in school. The next step is to also formally assess these skills. Singapore and Korea have thus changed their national exams and assessments to incentivise teachers and students to pay due attention to them in their teaching and learning.

Prototype tool for assessing pupils’ creativity in schools
Could we develop simple formative assessment tools to help teachers and students to pay more attention to habits of minds conducive to creativity in the school context? A recent OECD working paper,  “Progression in student creativity in school”, reveals how assessment helps specify and clarify what creativity really means, especially as there are many different views about what it is. A prototype tool for assessing pupils’ creativity in school maps the dispositions of creative habits of minds along 5 dimensions: inquisitive; persistent; imaginative; collaborative; disciplined (each dimension including 3 sub-dispositions). The findings of two field trials in English schools show that the assessment tool led teachers to be more precise and confident in developing their pupils’ creativity, and learners to be better able to understand what creativity entails and to record evidence of their progress. Such tools are an important step to raise daily awareness of skills in thinking and creativity and see them materialise in school learning.

While the journey ahead is still long, it is encouraging to see countries taking action and starting to share the tools and lessons that will eventually make all students and teachers reach the promised land.

For further information on CERI Innovation Strategy for Education and Training, please visit our webpage:
The following working papers should be of interest:
Progression in student creativity in school: first steps towards new forms of formative assessment by Bill Lucas, Guy Claxton and Ellen Spencer
Assessment and Innovation in Education by Janet Looney
Bringing about curriculum Innovation by Kiira Kärkkäinen
View our video of Howard Gardner discussing creativity and 21st Century education as well as his interview.
Summary reports and presentations on education for innovation can also be found in our conference webpage.
Diagram: Lucas, Claxton and Spencer (2013)
Photo credit: Shutterstock / Girl with umbrella

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What you get out of schooling is often what you put in

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education 
Does having a positive attitude towards school make it more likely that a student will get good marks? Or does getting good marks make it more likely that a student will have a positive attitude towards school? The latest edition of PISA in Focus reports that the answer to both of those questions is yes: positive feelings about school are often linked in a virtuous circle with high performance. According to results from PISA 2009, across OECD countries, nearly nine out of ten students think that school has taught them things that could be useful in a job, and around three-quarters of students think that school has prepared them for adult life and has helped to give them confidence to make decisions. In most countries, students who think school is useful are more likely to have high PISA test scores in reading; and students who have high scores in reading tend to report that they think school is useful. In 48 countries and economies, those students who performed well in reading tended to report more positive attitudes towards school than those who had lower scores.

In all participating countries and economies, students’ positive attitudes towards schooling are related to positive attitudes towards their teachers and to their perceptions that the classroom environment is conducive to learning. In fact, these associations are mutually reinforcing: Students who have good relations with their teachers and who study in classes that are conducive to learning tend to think that school is useful – and their positive attitudes make the climate for learning at school even better.

Perhaps surprisingly, PISA also found that a student’s background or the type of school he or she attends is only weakly related to his or her attitudes towards schooling. In 21 participating countries and economies, socio-economically advantaged students tended to report more positive attitudes towards school, but the opposite was noted in nine countries and economies. And students attending private schools don’t necessarily have better attitudes towards school than public-school students: students in private schools tended to report more positive attitudes towards school than students in public schools in only nine of 49 countries and economies with comparable data.

In many countries, the one student characteristic that is associated with positive attitudes towards school is gender. In 28 of 65 participating countries and economies, girls tended to report more favourable attitudes towards school than boys (when the questions involved classroom atmosphere and various student and school characteristics were considered together). Only in Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom did boys tend to report more positive attitudes towards school than girls.

While it’s a little difficult to pin down exactly what influences students’ attitudes towards school, results from PISA clearly show a link between positive attitudes towards school and good performance in reading, and between positive attitudes and an atmosphere in the classroom that is conducive to learning. This implies that, to a greater or lesser extent, students’ own attitudes towards school can shape the quality of their learning experiences.

For more information on PISA:
PISA in Focus No. 22:How do immigrant students fare in disadvantaged schools? 
Photo credit:  Student showing thumbs up / Shutterstock

Monday, January 21, 2013

What are the social benefits of education?

Elisabeth Villoutreix
Communications Officer, Directorate for Education

The link between education and social benefits has long been recognised, as far back as Ancient Greece when Aristotle and Plato pointed out that education is central to the well-being of society. More recently, in the past few decades, research has supported this conventional wisdom, revealing that education not only enables individuals to perform better in the labour market, but also helps to improve their overall health, promote active citizenship and contain violence.

So how can education predict social outcomes such as life expectancy, civic engagement and general life satisfaction?

The latest issue of Education Indicators in Focus seeks to answer this question by comparing the social benefits of education in selected OECD countries.

Data show that life expectancy is strongly associated with education. On average, among 15 OECD countries with available data, a 30-year-old tertiary-educated man can expect to live eight years longer than a 30-year-old man who has not completed upper secondary education.

Data also show that adults who have attained higher levels of education are generally more likely than those with lower levels of educational attainment to report stronger civic engagement, in terms of voting, volunteering, political interest, and interpersonal trust.

Apart from raising  income levels, education has the potential to help individuals develop skills, improve  social status and gain access to networks that could lead to enhanced social outcomes.  By fully recognising the power of education, policy makers could better address diverse societal challenges.

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 Note: e figures describe the differences in the expected years of life remaining at age 30 across education levels.
1. Year of reference 2009.
2. Year of reference 2005.
3. Year of reference 2006.
4. Year of reference 2008.
5. Year of reference 2007-10.
6. e OECD average is the average for those countries shown in the chart.
Countries are ranked in descending order of the difference in life expectancy among men at age 30.
Chart source: Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators, Indicator A11 ( 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Dynamic educational data award

by Cassandra Davis and Lynda Hawe
Communications Coordinators, Directorate for Education

Spreading and sharing information is crucial. Doing so in an engaging and simple way is extremely powerful. Technological advances combined with creative new data visualisation tools allow complex data to be understood by everyone, even on a quick glance.  What a great skill it is to be able to identify trends and patterns in the data and then present them in a manner that is both accurate and an exciting watch!

Last September, at the launch of annual OECD Education at a Glance, we opened a competition challenge in collaboration with This required graphic designers to wrap their brains around a complex data set, in order to construct a clear and compelling visualisation, on the economic costs and returns on education.

The winners were Krisztina Szucs and Mate Cziner from Hungary. They were chosen for successfully breaking down the complex interplay between costs and returns into a form that is easy to evaluate. Their interactive chart does an amazing job in condensing highly complex data on the costs and benefits of education around the world. It clearly highlights important facts showing students, parents and policy makers where the real costs and benefits lie for them in relation to education in a very dynamic visualisation.  It takes a detailed look at public versus private costs, per men and women for three simultaneously selected countries, while reflecting the benefit comparison between upper-secondary and tertiary education.

As the old proverb goes “a picture paints a thousand words”, and this still very much holds true today. Szucs and Cziner are congratulated for their striking visual design, we invite you to explore it.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Building the knowledge economy

by Justine Doody
Freelance Journalist and Editor, SGI News
Across the world, countries and citizens are taking steps to build and participate in the growing knowledge economy. As low skilled jobs disappear, replaced with smart systems or outsourced to less developed economies, governments are realising that the best way to ensure economic growth and higher employment is to invest in human capital. This means creating education opportunities for as many people as possible.

The OECD has found that throughout the global economic downturn, education level has been a predictor of job security. Between 2008 and 2010, unemployment in OECD countries rose from 8.8 per cent to 12.5 per cent for people with no upper secondary education, and from 4.9 per cent to 7.8 per cent for people with an upper secondary education. For those with tertiary education, unemployment increased from 3.3 per cent to only 4.7 per cent. Even in a time of economic crisis, OECD countries still needed highly skilled employees.

The Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) 2011 study of the Bertelsmann Foundation measured education in OECD countries. The top performing countries were Finland, Canada and New Zealand, while among the lowest were Mexico, Turkey and Slovakia. In Finland, SGI found, between 60 and 70 per cent of each annual cohort enter third level education. Canada has the highest proportion in the OECD of population aged 20 to 64 that has completed post-secondary education. Reforms in New Zealand have led to a sharp increase in tertiary education participation, among majority and minority groups. OECD figures from 2012 also show that New Zealand invests the highest percentage of public expenditure of all OECD countries in tertiary education.

In Mexico, according to SGI, things are improving, but slowly. University education is increasing, but it is still open to only a few; OECD data shows that just 17 per cent of 25 to 64 year olds have achieved a tertiary education. Turkey has serious problems in terms of access to and quality of education, and only 29 per cent of 25 to 64 year olds have a secondary education. Slovakia sees regional differences in access to third level, and has the lowest enrolment rate in third level in the OECD.

Education, health, social inclusion: it’s all connected

Not surprisingly, the top countries in education scored highly in most of the indicators measured by SGI, while the bottom countries scored low on many indicators. One of the indicators with a close correlation to education performance was social inclusion. Finland, Canada and New Zealand ranked highly on this indicator, while Mexico, Turkey and Slovakia were among the countries with the worst levels of poverty, inequality and social exclusion.

Completing more years of education has been linked to economic success, better health outcomes and greater social inclusion. Within the European Union, research shows that 24 per cent of families with a low-educated head are in poverty, compared to 13 per cent of families whose head has a secondary education, and 6 per cent of families whose head has completed third level education.

However, across the OECD, young people from families with limited education are far more likely to leave the education system before attaining a third level qualification. So, low rates of social inclusion and poor education participation feed off each other. Failing to educate people equitably and effectively exacerbates inequality, while failing to improve social inclusion means less advantaged people are less likely to obtain higher levels of education.

Early childhood education is important

Higher education is key to achieving higher income and economic security. But to ensure access to higher education, it is essential to intervene early in the student’s academic career. Children from disadvantaged social groups tend to perform better in schools that include students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. But too often, different social groups are separated, or are not provided with the same opportunities.

In Slovakia, for instance, SGI data shows that the Roma population has particularly low rates of participation in formal education. In Mexico, a private system that exists alongside the public system makes sure that those with higher incomes have access to better quality education. And in Turkey, a lack of social security benefits for parents means that girls from low-income families tend to leave education around the fifth grade. Even in the better performing countries, disparities persist. New Zealand’s Maori and Pacific Islander populations still face difficulties in accessing education, as do Canada’s Aboriginal groups.

Best in class: Finland

Finland has successfully implemented one route to ensuring students stay in education, helping to keep up its rates of students entering third level. It offers special interventions for students who are having difficulties: about 40 per cent of students in Finnish secondary education are given some form of extra attention. Each school has a “special teacher”, who can identify struggling students and provide educational support. As a result, just 1 per cent of Finnish 15-year-olds do not have basic reading skills, as compared to an OECD average of 7 per cent.

Finland is helped in its efforts to ensure equitable education by its homogenous society and healthy economy. Even so, countries with more diverse socioeconomic compositions could still benefit from following its example of early and intensive intervention. As countries work to create competitive advantage by building skilled workforces, making early investments in students could be an excellent investment in countries’ future potential for economic success.
Photo credit: Body of Knowledge sculpture, Frankfurt /Shutterstock