Thursday, February 28, 2013

2much 2handle? Schools, social networks, and cyber bullying

by Tracey Burns
Analyst and Project Leader,  Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education and Skills

“I’m really worried but I don’t know how to react” my friend told me over coffee the other day. Her daughter, 11, had told her that she was being bullied online, but would not say by whom.

“What can I do? And how do I know if it’s serious or not?”

A just released OECD publication looks at how rapid technological development has changed the way we interact with each other and our communities. Despite the enormous potential of the Internet to reshape our world, there is a downside to infinite connectivity. Internet fraud, privacy concerns and identity theft are all part of the online world. For parents and children, worries about cyber bullying and protecting children from explicit content and online predators are crucial.

Cyber bullying occurs when a child, preteen or teen is threatened, harassed, or embarrassed by another young person using the Internet. A number of high–profile tragedies, for example teens who committed suicide as a result of cyber bullying, have brought this topic to the top of policy, education, and parental agendas. However the extent of cyber bullying is hard to estimate, varying from more than 10% of surveyed internet users aged 9 16 years in Australia, Estonia, Denmark, Sweden and the Russian Federation to between 2- 3%, in Italy, Portugal and Turkey. While cyber bullying is worrisome, bullying offline is still reported to be more common.

Interestingly, the bully and victim roles are often interchangeable and related: those who admitted bullying others were more likely to report being bullied themselves, both online and offline. Guides to protecting Internet users make it clear that the best preventive strategies involve awareness, constant vigilance, and keeping an open dialogue about children’s concerns and online lives. For education, this poses a series of tough questions. What responsibilities do educators have in monitoring student’s time online during school hours? How can different parental standards of safety be accommodated?

The advent of cyber bullying is just one example of technological changes sweeping OECD countries. Trends Shaping Education 2013 looks at 14 of these trends and their possible impact on education, including:
  • Social networking: Founded in 2004, Facebook had over 1 billion active users by September 2012. Should schools see social network sites as an opportunity to extend the learning process/experience beyond the classroom?
  • Increasing diversity of local content: Since the mid 2000s the diversity of languages on the Internet has increased dramatically. There are now over 250 languages online, with English, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish comprising the top five. Does local diversity of Internet content lead to better or worse quality of information available for students?
  • The evolution of the Internet: In January 2009, there were 15 000 downloadable applications, or “apps” available. By September 2012, this figure had grown to over 1.5 million. Is there a market for educational apps to improve learning in the classroom and extend it beyond?
The transformation of the Internet is felt throughout the entire world, including the poorest regions. Trends Shaping Education 2013 provides a powerful snapshot of these trends and links these data to the evolution of our classrooms and schools. How can educators develop their students’ critical capacity to use and contribute to the wealth of information available at the click of a button? What kind of quality control should we expect from e-learning? How can teachers make the best use of ICTs for teaching and learning?

These are just some of the questions we must ask ourselves when planning for the medium and long term of technology in our education systems. Our world is changing. The question is: are our schools evolving too?

This is the second of a series of blogs issued for the release of Trends Shaping Education 2013. You can find the first one here:
The weight of nations: the shape of things to come?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Getting the best start

Miho Taguma
Senior Analyst, Early Childhood and Schools Division, Directorate for Education and Skills

Given the current background of fiscal constraint, is public funding of early childhood education and care programmes a sound investment?

As more and more women have been entering the labour force since the 1970s, access to pre-school services has improved across OECD countries. Although in the 1970s and 1980s, early childhood education and care policy was put into place to facilitate women’s entry into the labour force, in recent years it has become more child-centred, focusing instead on the child’s development and improving educational outcomes. As inequalities, which are often present well before children begin primary school, are likely to increase over time, early childhood policies can be a component of anti-poverty and educational equity measures as well.

As the latest issue of the OECD’s brief series Education Indicators in Focus shows, countries vary widely on all aspects of early childhood education and care, from their policies and systems to their quality. In most countries, the proportion of children enrolled in pres-school programmes has significantly grown in recent decades. Although on average across the OECD, 79% of 4-year-olds are enrolled in such programmes, it ranges from more than 95% in Belgium, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom, to between 30% and 60% in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Greece, Poland and Switzerland, and to less than 30% in Indonesia and Turkey.

But what are the benefits of early childhood programmes? PISA scores have shown how important access to these programmes can be for improving children’s outcomes in later stages of life. Data also shows that pre-school can improve children’s cognitive abilities and have a positive impact on reading performance at age 15. It also helps children, especially those from disadvantaged or immigrant backgrounds, to build a strong foundation for life skills. But what is more important, quantity or quality?

There are also vast differences among countries on all of the quality indicators: from the number of children per staff – which ranges from more than 20 pupils per teacher in China, France, Israel, Mexico and Turkey, to fewer than 10 in Chile, Iceland, New Zealand, Slovenia and Sweden – to the length of the programmes – with the majority of countries offering at least one year of  for free, including the Netherlands (for 4  and 5 year olds); England and Scotland (for 3  and 4 year olds); and France, Israel, Mexico, Portugal and Sweden (for all 3 6-year-olds).

Countries’ expenditure on ECE as a percentage of GDP also varies significantly – ranging from 0.1% or less in Australia, India, Indonesia, Ireland and South Africa to 0.8% or more in Denmark, Iceland, Israel, the Russian Federation and Spain.

The bottom line is that even in these times of fiscal consolidation and crisis, sufficient public funding should continue to be dedicated to early childhood programmes. This would help not only to improve children’s outcomes, social mobility from generation to generation and long-term efficiency gains for society, but also reduce poverty and protect the most vulnerable.

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: OECD.  Argentian and Indonesia: UNESCO Institute for Statistics (World Indicators Programme).  Table C2.1.  See Annex 3 for notes (

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The weight of nations: the shape of things to come?

by Tracey Burns
Analyst and Project Leader, Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education and Skills

At lunchtime, Marco can be found in the bathroom stall of his secondary school. He is not ill. Rather, he is eating his lunch away from the eyes of his peers, sensitive to his weight problem and hoping to avoid being teased and targeted by bullies. Like many obese children, he struggles with poor self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.

Growing affluence has had positive influences on the health of OECD citizens. Less premature death and infant mortality, and longer and healthier lives have all been associated with our increased economic well being. But, does affluence lead to indulgence? A just released OECD publication shows that obesity among adults and children threatens to grow into a severe public health crisis.

Across all countries, the average   Body Mass Index  (BMI) increased between 1980 and 2008. This trend is universal, and it is swift. In 1980, just under half of countries had an average BMI classified as “overweight”. By 2008, this figure had grown to 87% of countries, with Mexico and the United States at the top of the list. Only China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Korea still fall within the “normal” range, but their averages are also on the rise. Given the speed and uniformity of the trend, it is not an exaggeration to label it an epidemic for OECD (and increasingly BRIC) countries.

What does this mean for education? Schools can teach reading and writing, but combatting obesity requires learning about healthy behaviours and tools for managing one’s body, including non cognitive skills such as impulse control. Reducing junk food in school cafeterias is a start, but challenging negative assumptions and stereotypes that can shape teacher and student expectations is crucial. On a practical level, even simple details like the size of desks, chairs, and yes, washrooms, will need to be rethought.

Rising obesity is just one example of profound changes sweeping OECD countries, trends that are shaping the way we live and the future of education. Trends Shaping Education 2013 looks at 70 of these, including:

  • Aging populations and the need for lifelong learning to develop and reinforce skills across the lifespan;
  • An increasing divide between the rich and the middle class and the role of education in reducing (or reinforcing) inequity;
  • The growing number of single-person households and the role of schools in building a sense of community and combating alienation in urban environments;
  • A decline in voter turnout and the role of schools and universities in fostering civic literacy.

It is astonishing just how universal these trends are. In 100 pages this book provides a powerful snapshot of globalisation at work and links this data to the evolution of our classrooms and schools. It captures the transformation of our societies, and asks hard questions about how these trends will affect our education systems and what they mean for teaching and learning.

What role can education and schools play in improving civic participation and well-being in our modern societies? What does it mean for education that our societies are becoming more diverse? How might schools continue to foster a greater sense of community for their students and families in urban environments? These are just some of the questions we must ask ourselves when planning the future of our education systems. Policy makers, school leaders, teacher educators, and teachers can and should take an active role in this critical reflection, as well as parents and students. Behind every graph in Trends Shaping Education 2013 there is a Marco (or Maria, or Stan) hidden from sight in school, waiting for the weekend to come.

Trends Shaping Education 2013
Obesity and the Economics of Prevention: Fit not Fat
Education and Social progress

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Making education more equitable

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills 
Most of us think of education as the great leveller; but are our education systems really doing all they can to ensure that boys and girls from all backgrounds have an equal shot at a high-quality education? As this month’s PISA in Focus reports, some countries have been more successful than others in levelling the playing field for their students.

PISA results consistently show that socio-economic disadvantage is linked to poor student performance. On average, an advantaged student scores 88 points higher – the equivalent of more than two years of schooling – on the PISA reading test than a disadvantaged student. But results from the assessment also show that countries and economies vary in the degree to which performance is linked to socio-economic status. That fact demonstrates that the link can be weakened, usually by putting the right policies and practices in place.

Even more encouraging, education systems don’t have to choose between equity in opportunity and high performance. In the PISA 2009 survey, many of the countries and economies with the greatest equity are also top performers. Students in Canada, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong-China, Iceland, Korea, Liechtenstein and Norway score above the OECD average in reading while, at the same time, the difference in scores between advantaged and disadvantaged students is less than 70 points.

Many countries and economies have made notable progress in reducing the difference in performance between advantaged and disadvantaged students while simultaneously improving overall performance. For example, comparing results from the PISA 2000 and 2009 surveys reveals that, in Albania, Chile, Germany and Latvia the relationship between students’ socio-economic status and their reading performance weakened and students’ overall reading performance improved. In Germany, the performance gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students narrowed by more than 25 score points over the period while the average reading performance improved by 13 points. Canada, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong-China, Mexico and the United States also narrowed the performance gap between these two groups of students, but there was no concurrent improvement in overall performance between the two assessments.

Education policies than can foster improvements in equity and performance include giving more and better support to disadvantaged students who start school with deficits in their education; ensuring that all schools provide high-quality instruction; and offering additional educational opportunities to disadvantaged students, as their parents might not be able to provide them. Broader social policies that limit the differences in the life experiences between advantaged and disadvantaged students either at home – crucially, before students enter formal education – or in school can also promote both equity and high performance.

That some countries and economies have weakened the link between socio-economic status and performance in school proves that it is far from inevitable that students from disadvantaged families perform poorly in school. If disadvantage deprives a student of access to the educational opportunities advantaged students enjoy, then these opportunities should be provided by the school system. In other words, all students – regardless of their background – should have the same opportunities to succeed in school.

For more information on PISA:
PISA in Focus No. 25: Are countries moving towards more equitable education systems?
Photo credit:   Mark Herreid /

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Getting internationalisation right

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

The exceptional turnout at the 2013 OECD/Japan Seminar  in Tokyo this week, where over 300 participants from over 20 countries discussed global strategies for higher education, shows that the seminar had exactly the right agenda at exactly the right time. I asked myself how many people would have turned up had this seminar been held five years ago; or whether five years ago, Japan would have ventured to take the lead on this theme.

At long last higher education has become a global enterprise, with a rapidly growing number of students who are going global, with educational content going global, and with providers of higher education going global.

And as many speakers at the seminar pointed out, where those people go, where that content goes, and where those institutions go has huge economic and social consequences, for individuals, for institutions and for the economic and social well-being of nations.

That's why getting internationalisation right matters so much. And why, in turn, global rankings of universities have become so popular – no matter what we think about those rankings. I am afraid the only choice that the international higher education community has is to either do those rankings well, or to have the media doing them poorly.

A country like Japan stands at an historically unprecedented point, in which supply and demand for university education are, for the first time, broadly in balance, and in which consumer choice, grounded in high-quality information, could be a powerful force in steering universities towards closer engagement with the development of abilities suited to professional life. But that's only going to work if that information is available.

At the OECD, we are making significant investments in this area, with our aim of developing a direct  Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO). Surely, such assessments will tell us a lot more about the quality and competitiveness of world-class universities than past reputation or the volume of resources that are being invested can ever do.  However, while I have no doubt that the concentration of global talent and favourable governance are key to the success of world-class universities, I need to be convinced that abundance of resources is equally important. We had that same hypothesis in school education, where we used spending per student as a proxy for quality, until  PISA  showed with great clarity that the world is no longer divided between rich and well-educated systems and poor and badly educated ones. Indeed, one of the greatest results we should see from outcome-based comparisons of higher education institutions will be significant gains in effectiveness and efficiency.

But even instruments such as AHELO are just one piece of the bigger puzzle. Prof. Judith Eaton explained how global trends are changing demand for and the dynamics of quality assurance in higher education. As she noted, everywhere, there is expansion of government attention to quality: there is pressure to increase access with limited financing and international competitiveness matters more than ever. There is growing interest in market or industrial models of higher education, with the centre of attention shifting from intellectual development to economic development, even if I very much hope that universities will continue to question that trend, as it could be hollowing out the very mission of universities. There is also scepticism about the adequacy of quality assurance for public accountability, illustrated by diminished public confidence and perhaps diminished trust. As Judith put it, there was a time where the public turned to universities to make judgements on quality. Now we see the public wanting to make judgements about the quality of universities, demanding greater transparency and better data on outcomes. And there is disruptive innovation, there is no need to go to college to study any more, there is no need to go to college to get a degree, there is no need to go to college to meet with a professor, and there is no need to go to another country to pursue international studies.

Does the globalisation of higher education imply that the space for national policy intervention is getting smaller, as we have seen in the economic or financial sectors? As Prof. Simon Marginson explained, education and national research systems are still part of governments’ nation-building projects, including strategies for enhancing global competitiveness. Institutions remain partly dependent on national funding, and remain shaped by regulation and by national politics. Prof. Steve Egan pointed out that no one has yet gone for wholesale commercialisation of research universities. But globalisation changes the scope for government action, expanding it in some ways and contracting it in others.

If there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that we don't have a real alternative to internationalisation. We just can’t afford to hold on to the past, but we do need to be active in defining the future we desire.

OECD/Japan Seminar: “Global Strategies for Higher Education-Global Trends and Rethinking the Role of Government”
Approaches to Internationalisation and Their Implications for Strategic Management and Institutional Practice: A Guide for Higher Education Institutions
OECD work on Higher Education and Adult Learning
Follow Andreas Schleicher on twitter: @SchleicherEDU
Photo credit: Globe with diploma /Shutterstock