Showing posts with label education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label education. Show all posts

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Think Green: education and environmental awareness

by Tracey Burns and Roxanne Kovacs
Directorate for Education and Skills

The environment is a hot topic in the press and classrooms across the world and much has been said about the need for action to protect our planet. If current trends in climate change continue, temperatures could increase between 3 and 6 degrees Celsius by 2050. Such large temperature increases would lead to water shortages for billions of people, reduce agricultural yields, increase malnutrition related deaths by millions and lead to the extinction of a large part of animal species.

Education plays a crucial role in raising awareness of environmental challenges and shaping the attitudes and behaviours that can make a difference. A recently released Trends Shaping Education Spotlight looks at the role of education in both preparing and providing our citizens with the skills needed for a sustainable and productive future.

A first step in addressing the issue is raising awareness. Many classrooms already discuss important issues like recycling or sustainable consumption. However we need to do much more – results from the last PISA test that looked specifically at environmental science show that on average across the OECD, only 19% of students performed at the highest level of proficiency. Students at this proficiency level were aware of environmental issues and understood their complexity, which suggests that they have an adequate understanding of the challenges that climate change presents.

Some countries do better than others: in Canada, Finland and Japan for example, more than 30% of students performed at the highest level of proficiency. However more must be done to improve the level of the poorest performers. On average across the OECD, 16% of students performed at the lowest proficiency level and in countries like Italy, Mexico and Turkey more than 20% of students perform at the lowest proficiency level. These students were unable to answer questions about basic environmental phenomena. They were also much more likely to be overly optimistic about environmental issues and much less aware of the dramatic consequences of inaction.

So, what can be done? The performance of students in environmental science is closely related to performance in traditional science courses (such as physics, biology and chemistry). Better science education in general can thus be combined with specialised courses in order to increase student proficiency in environmental science. The next cycle of PISA (in 2015) will again focus on science issues and will be an opportunity to verify which countries have taken the lead on the topic and which are falling behind.

The need for green skills extends beyond basic education. Vocational education programmes are important in preparing students to be flexible and adaptable to changing standards and requirements. In fact, countries already struggle to provide workers with the right skillset. For example, German and Spanish authorities have signalled a lack in skilled photovoltaic workers to install and maintain solar electrical systems. Such skill shortages are a major impediment to the growth in these green industries. They also make the move to a green economy slower and more expensive than it could be.

For basic education as well as vocational education and training, policy measures such as work-based learning and the provision of better career guidance can be powerful tools to strengthen the link between skills development and the green-growth agenda of countries.

Universities also play an important role. In 2011, 220,000 students received university degrees in “green” subjects (for example, environmental protection and physical sciences (climactic research, meteorology)) across the OECD. This constitutes a 62% increase in “green graduates” since 1998, which is comparable to growth rates in fields like mathematics and statistics.

Even though it is important that individuals have the right technical skills and scientific knowledge to go green, this alone will not be enough. In order to act effectively, individuals need to be willing to trade off immediate gains (taking the car instead of less convenient public transport, for example, or turning the air conditioning up to maximum on hot days) for long-term sustainability. Making these choices requires critical thinkers who can connect their daily decisions to long-term consequences, not just for themselves, but for society as a whole. Our schools and universities must play their part in preparing us for this challenge.

Trends Shaping Education 2013
Green at Fifteen? How 15-year-olds perform in environmental science and geoscience in PISA
PISA 2009 Results: What Students Know and Can Do: Student Performance in Reading, Mathematics and Science (Volume I)
OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050
Greener Skills and Jobs, OECD Green Growth Studies
Center for Education Research and Innovation (CERI)
Photo credit: Recycling Girl / @Shutterstock


Tuesday, July 01, 2014

What did we learn from TALIS?

by Kristen Weatherby
Senior Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Last week we shared with the world the latest results from the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) , at an Informal Meeting of Ministers of Education (17th OECD/Japan Seminar) held in Tokyo on 25-26 June. 

TALIS touched upon a wide range of teacher-centred topics, from professional development to collaboration and teaching practices. TALIS has revealed many areas about teacher policies and behaviour that should be encouraged to continue development of the profession as a whole. However, it has also highlighted areas in some countries that could benefit from reform. The results of TALIS were widely received across countries as valuable information from which school leaders, teachers and policy makers can benefit.

For example, at the launch event in Mexico last week, the OECD presented the finding that 1 in 4 Mexican teachers do not feel prepared for their work. Furthermore, the TALIS results indicate that Mexico has the lowest percentage of teachers who have completed initial teacher education (only 62% versus 90% on average across countries). Additionally, 7% of Mexican teachers do not feel qualified to perform their work. The Mexican Secretary of Basic Education, Alba Martinez Olive, conceded that the TALIS results were not surprising given the complex realities that Mexican teachers face.

At the U.S. launch of TALIS, it was very encouraging to learn that so many teachers love their jobs (nearly 90%) but less heartening to find that only around 40% of US teachers believe the best-performing teachers in their schools receive the most recognition. However, there was much discussion about the support that is provided to teachers, in terms of quality, professional development and feedback on their teaching. Participants in the U.S. launch discussed the importance of increasing in-depth collaboration between teachers and how school leaders and districts need to provide space and guidance for teachers to do this.

The Education Fast Forward debate (EFF 10) on the TALIS results further emphasised the significance of teacher collaboration, and the topic resonated amongst followers on Twitter. Participants also discussed the important role of interpersonal relationships between teachers in negating some of the otherwise detrimental effects that a challenging classroom climate might have on a teachers’ job satisfaction and feelings of self-efficacy.   

Meanwhile, in Spain, TALIS was launched at a National Seminar for teachers. Participants discussed the findings that feedback and appraisal mechanisms for teachers are rare in Spain. One-third of teachers (32%) report never having received feedback in their current school and less than half (43%) of teachers in Spain report receiving feedback following a classroom observation.

This is only a small sample of the wealth of national and international findings that are available from the TALIS data. More importantly, it’s not only the data, but what we do with the data that is important. In addition to the international report, country-specific findings and the TALIS dataset, you can also download the TALIS Teachers’ Guide on our website. This small report offers insights to teachers and school leaders as to how they can make changes to improve teaching and learning in their schools, based on key findings in TALIS. 


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What can we learn from our teachers?

by Kristen Weatherby
Senior Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

The latest results from the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) are made public today at various events in countries around the world. TALIS 2013 surveyed 107,000 lower secondary school teachers in 34 countries.  Everyone from education ministers – who are gathered at an event in Tokyo – to teachers – like those at a TALIS conference in Madrid – want to learn from the data collected in the survey in order to improve the teaching and learning in their schools.

So what are teachers telling us? First of all, teachers love being teachers. On average across TALIS-participating countries, 9 in 10 teachers report being satisfied with their jobs, and nearly 8 in 10 (78%) report that they would still choose to become a teacher if they had to make the choice again.

Given this finding, it is perhaps surprising that, on average, more than two out of three teachers across TALIS countries do not feel that their profession is valued by society. This percentage varies by country: in some countries, particularly those with high-performing education systems (Finland, Korea, Singapore), notably larger proportions of teachers report feeling that their profession is indeed valued by society.

Why do most teachers feel that teaching isn’t valued? And why does it matter? In some countries, it could be that the teachers’ perceptions are correct, and that societies may not value teaching as much as other professions. But it could also have something to do with how teaching has evolved – or not – as a profession. If you take a look at TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning, you will learn a great deal about what teachers say about their background, education, support, development and teaching practices. Together with data from school principals, these data paint a picture of the teaching profession around the world today.

When you look at the statistics on teacher appraisal and feedback, for example, it’s not difficult to see why some teachers may not feel valued. The teachers surveyed agree that appraisals are helpful, with more than 6 in 10 teachers reporting that appraisal leads to positive changes in their teaching practices. Yet nearly half of teachers feel that the appraisals in their school are performed simply to fulfil administrative requirements. Only about one in three teachers feels that the feedback received will lead to any kind of career advancement, which might include higher pay or additional responsibilities. Indeed, nearly 80% of teachers report that annual increments in their salaries are awarded regardless of the outcome of formal teacher appraisals.

If we want teaching to improve so that school systems can produce the skilled citizens that our societies need, then we not only need to change the practices of existing teachers, we also need to ensure that teaching attracts high-quality candidates. Providing teachers with a career path that includes recognition for good performance and support to improve is certainly one way to start. TALIS data also indicate that teachers who are given the opportunity to participate in decision making at school not only are more likely to report that teaching is valued as a profession, they also report higher job satisfaction and more confidence in their own abilities as teachers. Thus it seems about time to treat teachers as the professionals they are.

2013 TALIS Results
Free Teachers’ Guide to TALIS
Education Fast Forward (EFF10) Global live debate - 25 June 2014
Alliance for Excellent Education webinar - 27 June 2014
Photo credit: © Fotolia

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The urban paradox

by Tracey Burns
Analyst and Project Leader, Directorate for Education and Skills

Our world is becoming more and more urban. Today, more than half of the world’s population live in cities, and this proportion will continue to grow. On average across the OECD, over 85% of the population will be living in cities by 2050.

The growth of cities is driven by hopes and dreams for a better life: large urban environments provide more educational and career opportunities, better access to high quality health and emergency services, and as well as a number of other positives. Yet urban areas are confronted with a paradox: they concentrate wealth and employment opportunities, but they can also host high levels of poverty and labour-market exclusion.  In addition, the agglomeration of workers and firms is often accompanied by negatives such as more tenuous social networks and disconnection from family and community, which can engender social alienation and violence.

Schools increasingly provide a sense of belonging and play the role of the immediate community and neighbourhood in urban areas. A just released Trends Shaping Education Spotlight looks at the role of education in our increasingly urban societies.

First, the good news: the urban advantage in education is real. Students who study in urban areas scored on average 20 points higher in PISA 2012 than students in small towns and rural schools even after controlling for socio-economic status (which is generally higher in cities). This urban advantage is on average equal to half a year of schooling and is particularly large in countries like Hungary, Mexico and Slovenia which have high gaps in performance between urban and rural schools.

Why is this? The wealth of cultural opportunities and science institutions in urban environments expose young people to a diverse set of educational and career opportunities that are largely unavailable in rural setting. Such experiences can inspire, motivate, and challenge children and young people to achieve more. In addition, schools in urban centres are generally larger and more autonomous and might therefore be better able to allocate resources and retain qualified administrative and teaching staff.

However not everyone can benefit from these opportunities. Families with lower socio-economic status, immigrant families, and single-parent families are all less likely, on average, to be able to benefit from the urban advantage. It is thus important to address urban inequities that can undermine children’s access to quality education, such as unequal allocation of educational resources, lack of access to cultural institutions, residential segregation in major cities, higher concentration of single-parent families, and more disparate income levels. Only then can all students benefit from the opportunities unique to an urban environment.

The urban paradox is real, then. Along with increased opportunity come larger threats. In densely populated regions, poor social cohesion and rising inequality can lead to conflict and tension. Attempts to improve the security and safety of urban environments often rely on schools as a way to reach out to young people at risk. In addition to ensuring academic excellence, schools will continue to be called upon to strengthen bonds within the urban community by helping young people develop skills in non-academic areas such as tolerance, conflict resolution, and civic participation.

Similarly, schools have begun to take a more active role in promoting mental and physical health, and teachers are increasingly relied upon to detect students who are showing signs of withdrawal and alienation and to effectively model positive social behaviours.

However, there is a real question about the responsibility of schools in addressing all these important issues. Youth at risk are more likely to drop out of school before completing their studies, and can therefore not be reached by standard school-based programmes. Furthermore, teachers are already charged with an important educational mission that does not necessarily overlap with a demand for crime prevention and mental health approaches.

Who is responsible for what, and how can this all be balanced in our changing (and increasingly urban) world? This is not a new question, but it is becoming ever more important as we continue to become more urban and more diverse. As schools become microcosms of our progressively more diverse society, they have the opportunity to prepare children for our increasingly heterogeneous, more global and less locally connected world. Are our education systems ready for this challenge?

Trends Shaping Education 2013
PISA 2012 Results: Excellence Through Equity: Giving Every Student the Chance to Succeed (Volume II)
OECD working paper: Urban Trends and Policies in OECD Countries
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
Photo credit: Young boy in urban background / @Shutterstock

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The socio-economic divide in pre-primary education

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

The metaphor “levelling the playing field” crops up a lot in discussions about pre-primary education.

As well it should: attendance in those programmes has been shown to improve education outcomes later on. But as this month’s PISA in Focus shows, not even a steamroller can level the playing field of formal education if disadvantaged students are sidelined from the beginning.

PISA consistently finds that 15-year-old students who had attended pre-primary education tend to perform better than those who had not attended pre-primary education, even after accounting for the students’ socio-economic status. 51 points – the equivalent of substantially more than a year of formal schooling.

In 2012, the vast majority of 15-year-old students in most PISA-participating countries and economies reported that they had attended pre-primary education; and PISA data confirm that enrolment in those programmes has grown over the past decade. In 2003, 69% of 15-year-olds across the OECD countries that have comparable data between 2003 and 2012 reported that they had attended pre-primary school for more than one year; in 2012, 75% of students reported so.

But PISA also finds that while 15-year-old students in 2012 were more likely than 15-year-olds in 2003 to have attended at least one year of pre-primary education, pre-primary enrolment is higher among advantaged students than disadvantaged students, and higher among students attending advantaged schools than those attending disadvantaged schools. In 2012, an average of 67% of disadvantaged students had attended pre-primary education for more than one year, while 82% of students in advantaged schools had done so.

This difference in enrolment between advantaged and disadvantaged students is seen in almost all PISA-participating countries and economies. It is largest – 48 percentage points – in Poland, and between 25 and 30 percentage points in Portugal, the Slovak Republic and Uruguay. This means that the students who could benefit the most from these programmes – those from disadvantaged backgrounds – are less likely to participate in them. This socio-economic divide widened in the Slovak Republic between 2003 and 2012 as it did, to a lesser extent, in Finland, Greece, Latvia, Luxembourg, Poland and the Russian Federation; it narrowed, however, in Germany, Korea, Macao-China, Portugal and Uruguay. 

That pre-primary enrolment rates are growing faster among advantaged students than among disadvantaged students signals that countries have to work harder to ensure that all families, particularly disadvantaged families, have access to high-quality pre-primary education, and to information about such programmes, near where they live. An investment in early education, both for parents and for governments, pays dividends later on in life. Which brings to mind another apt expression: “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

PISA 2012 Findings
PISA in Focus No. 40 : Does pre-primary education reach those who need it most?
Photo credit: Kids Hands / @Shutterstock

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Educating for the 21st century

Andreas Schleicher, Acting Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General, shared his thoughts as part of the Global Education and Skills Forum on Bigthink on how education can help students meet the challenges of today.

The world is rapidly becoming a different place, with globalisation and modernisation imposing huge challenges to individuals and societies. Schools need to prepare students to live and work in a world in which most people will need to collaborate with people of diverse cultural origins, and appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values; a world in which people need to decide how to trust and collaborate across such differences, often bridging space and time through technology; and a world in which their lives will be affected by issues that transcend national boundaries. Twenty-first century schools help students to develop autonomy and identity that is cognisant of the reality of national and global pluralism, equipping them to join others in life, work and citizenship.
These days, we no longer know exactly how things will unfold, often we are surprised and need to learn from the extraordinary, and sometimes we make mistakes along the way. And it will often be the mistakes and failures, when properly understood, that create the context for learning and growth. A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would last for a lifetime of their students. Today, schools need to prepare students for more rapid economic and social change than ever before, for jobs that have not yet been created, to use technologies that have not yet been invented, and to solve social problems that we don’t yet know will arise. 21st century skills help people, organisations and systems persist, perhaps even thrive, amid unforeseeable disruptions. And at the aggregate level, they provide communities, institutions and infrastructure with the needed flexibility, intelligence and responsiveness to economic and social change.
How do we foster motivated, engaged learners who are prepared to conquer the unforeseen challenges of tomorrow, not to speak of those of today? The dilemma for educators is that routine cognitive skills, the skills that are easiest to teach and easiest to test, are also the skills that are easiest to digitise, automate and outsource. There is no question that state-of-the-art knowledge and skills in a discipline will always remain important. Innovative or creative people generally have specialised skills in a field of knowledge or a practice. And as much as ‘learning to learn’ skills are important, we always learn by learning something. However, educational success is no longer about reproducing content knowledge, but about extrapolating from what we know and applying that knowledge in novel situations. Put simply, the world no longer rewards people for what they know – Google knows everything – but for what they can do with what they know. Because that is the main differentiator today, global education today needs to be much more about ways of thinking, involving creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making; about ways of working, including communication and collaboration; about tools for working, including the capacity to recognise and exploit the potential of new technologies; and, last but not least, about the social and emotional skills that help us live and work together.
Conventionally our approach to problems was breaking them down into manageable bits and pieces, and then to teach students the techniques to solve them. But today we create value by synthesising the disparate bits. This is about curiosity, open-mindedness, making connections between ideas that previously seemed unrelated, which requires being familiar with and receptive to knowledge in other fields than our own. If we spend our whole life in a silo of a single discipline, we will not gain the imaginative skills to connect the dots where the next invention will come from.

The world is also no longer divided into specialists and generalists. Specialists generally have deep skills and narrow scope, giving them expertise that is recognized by peers but not valued outside their domain. Generalists have broad scope but shallow skills. What counts today are the versatilists who are able to apply depth of skill to a progressively widening scope of situations and experiences, gaining new competencies, building relationships, and assuming new roles. They are capable not only of constantly adapting but also of constantly learning and growing, of positioning themselves and repositioning themselves in a fast changing world.
Equally important, the more content knowledge we can search and access, the more important becomes the capacity to make sense out of this content, the capacity of individuals to question or seek to improve the accepted knowledge and practices of their time. In the past, you could tell students to look into an encyclopaedia when they needed some information, and you could tell them that they could generally rely on what they found to be true. Today, literacy is about managing non-linear information structures, building your own mental representation of information as you find your own way through hypertext on the internet, about dealing with ambiguity, interpreting and resolving conflicting pieces of information that we find somewhere on the web.
Perhaps most importantly, in today’s schools, students typically learn individually and at the end of the school year, we certify their individual achievements. But the more interdependent the world becomes, the more we need great collaborators and orchestrators. Innovation today is rarely the product of individuals working in isolation but an outcome of how we mobilise, share and link knowledge. In the flat world, everything that is our proprietary knowledge today will be a commodity available to everyone else tomorrow. Because technology has enabled us to act on our imaginations in ways that we could never before, value is less and less created vertically through command and control - because everyone can do that anywhere in the world - but increasingly so horizontally by whom we connect and work with. Success will be with those who master the new forms of collaboration.
Expressed differently, schools need to drive a shift from a world where knowledge that is stacked up somewhere depreciating rapidly in value towards a world in which the enriching power of communication and collaborative flows is increasing. And they will need to help the next generation to better reconcile resilience – managing in an imbalanced world – with greater sustainability – putting the world back into balance.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Charting the way towards excellence and equity in education

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

Something remarkable is taking place in New Zealand right now: ministers and teacher union leaders from the best-performing and most rapidly improving education systems are making a unique global effort to raise the status of the teaching profession. The agenda of this year’s International Summit on the Teaching Profession focuses on three policy goals: excellence, equity and inclusion. Vital questions are being addressed, such as how can equity be achieved in increasingly devolved education systems, and how can high-quality teachers and leaders be attracted to schools with the greatest needs?

Why are these questions so important? To teachers, parents and young people, these questions may appear remote from the realities of school life; but the Summit’s unique mix of delegates enables both policy and practice to come under the spotlight. Largely as a result of PISA’s policy messages, many school systems have moved away from top-down administrative control towards giving schools greater autonomy. However, if autonomy is to benefit schools, teacher self-efficacy and the quality of learning, education systems should enable schools to enhance their capacity and encourage a culture of collaboration.

Knowledge about effective education practices tends to stay in the places where it is created, and rarely spreads without effective strategies and powerful incentives to share it. We need to think harder about how to spread good practice and innovation.

This year’s Summit host, the New Zealand Government, has one of the most devolved school systems in the world. Its schools are used to autonomy, but they also benefit from national interventions that focus on enhancing teaching and learning and sharing good practice, and that fully involve their teachers and their unions.

There is a message here. If the benefits of devolving responsibility to schools are to be realised, then the education system itself has to be coherent and effective enough to support schools. The evidence from PISA is that collaborative school management and co-operation among schools are factors in improving student achievement, as is a systemic approach to accountability. That requires a coherent, system-wide approach to the selection and education of teachers and to their pay structure. It also requires close attention to helping teachers who face difficulties in improving the quality of their teaching. And it requires an environment in which there are intelligent pathways for teachers to grow in their careers and in which they can work together to develop new knowledge and practice.

Indeed, everything that previous Summits tell us is that teachers’ engagement in reform is crucial, and that strong, proactive teacher unions have a vital role in developing education policy as well as in supporting teachers professionally.

Essential as the development of teachers is, equity and inclusion are also promoted by other measures being in place. Evidence shows that early tracking, or grouping students by ability, amplifies the impact of students’ socio economic status and limits the achievement of disadvantaged pupils. As a result, countries and regions, such as Poland and a number of Lander in Germany, have recently adopted more comprehensive school systems.

Evidence also shows that school choice has to be managed if the children of parents from disadvantaged backgrounds are not to be disadvantaged, themselves, when it comes to school admissions. In a system with greater school autonomy, it is crucial that equitable admissions criteria apply to all schools.

Nowhere is a coherent, system-wide approach more necessary than for schools with the greatest needs. Again we need to think harder about how to attract dedicated and committed teachers to work in the most challenging classrooms and the most effective principals into the toughest schools.

How education systems respond to disadvantage is a test of their overall effectiveness. Such schools need a range of strategies. They include: providing adequate learning resources; creating a teacher workforce that is responsive to students’ backgrounds; preparing teachers for working in disadvantaged schools; offering mentoring and coaching for such teachers on an ongoing basis; improving working conditions; introducing financial incentives as part of teachers’ career structures; providing regular professional development that addresses diversity issues; and guaranteeing effective employment conditions.

Above all, we need to do better in thinking about how to promote a common vision of schooling and a united school system. These are big issues for teacher unions and governments alike and we have only skimmed the surface. Watch the Summit's Youtube channel for video footage of the event.

International Summit on the Teaching Profession 2014
OECD Summit Background Paper: Equity, Excellence and Inclusiveness in Education, by Andreas Schleicher
OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey
PISA 2012 Results: Excellence Through Equity: Giving Every Student the Chance to Succeed (Volume II)
Follow the summit on twitter @OECD_Edu  #ISTP2014
Photography courtesy of: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sweet smarts: fighting the child obesity epidemic

by Tracey Burns
Analyst and Project Leader, Directorate for Education and Skills

The Academy Awards have come and gone, treating us to glimpses of the rich and famous – and very thin. Amid the buzz and glamour of this spectacle it can be hard to remember that the stars represent only a tiny portion (literally and figuratively) of our populations.

In fact, the growing rate of obesity is one of the most significant health trends in OECD countries and increasingly, in Brazil, Russia, India and China, the “BRIC” countries.  A just released Trends Shaping Education Spotlight highlights this issue from an educational point of view, with a special focus on children.

Obesity now affects more children than ever before, with one in five children between the ages 5 and 19 estimated to be overweight. The figures are higher for Greece, Italy, New Zealand and the United States, where almost one in three children is overweight. Especially disturbing is the leap in child obesity rates in China, Korea and Turkey, which jumped from 10% or less to 16% or more in only three years.

For those who think that it’s just a phase that children will naturally grow out of, we have bad news. A recent American study demonstrated that overweight 5-year-olds were four times more likely as normal-weight children to become obese by the time they were 14. Although the jury is still out on why this is so, it does suggest that efforts to prevent obesity must start much earlier than they currently do and focus more on the children at greatest risk.

What are some of the ways education can play a role in reversing this unhealthy trend? In general, education and better schooling is a positive - research has demonstrated that additional years of education are linked to a lower chance of being obese. More specifically, education can help:

  • instil healthy lifestyle patterns at an early age and empower children and their families to make better choices for a healthy future;
  • teach children important skills such as delayed gratification, moderation and critical thinking;
  • improve psychosocial factors such as grit, self-esteem, resilience and empowerment.

Health education can teach children the consequences of risky behaviours (such as poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle) as well as improve their ability to gather and interpret health-related information. Education can also help children identify and deal with eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia.

But of course this is a complicated problem, and there are no magic solutions. Reducing junk food in school cafeterias is a start, but challenging negative assumptions and stereotypes that can shape teacher and student expectations is crucial. If we cannot reverse this trend, even simple details like the size of desks, chairs, and yes, washrooms, will need to be rethought.

Many countries have been working hard in their schools to combat obesity, with little improvement to show for their efforts. It must be remembered that education does not exist in isolation. Children are in school for less than half their waking hours, and families, peers, and the community all have important impacts on their choices. Success in combatting this unhealthy trend on a societal level means involving all stakeholders: government, schools, parents, students, civil society and the private sector.

There is one other area where we can do more. Recent research has demonstrated that early intervention matters: overweight 5-year-olds were four times as likely as normal-weight children to become obese by the time they were 14.

Rising enrolments in early childhood education provide an opportunity for such early intervention. High quality early childhood education and care is linked to a host of positive outcomes, including improved child well-being and learning, the reduction of poverty, and increased inter-generational social mobility. It may also be able to help instil healthy eating and physical activity behaviours.

We have a challenge before us. Increasing obesity is not unavoidable. We must do all that we can to keep fighting the trend, and education is one of our best weapons. The health – and weight – of our nations depend on it.

Trends Shaping Education Spotlight No. 2: Body and Society
Center for Education Research and Innovation (CERI)
Trends Shaping Education 2013
Obesity and the Economics of Prevention: Fit not Fat
Photo Credit: Attractive Woman Makes A Choice Between Healthy and Unhealthy Foods / @shutterstock 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Inclusive educational innovations in India

by Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin and Alfonso Echazarra
CERI Innovation Strategy, Directorate for Education and Skills

India has been hailed for being a laboratory of frugal and inclusive innovations. The Tata Nano, the cheapest car in the world, the Aravind Eye Care Hospitals, which fight “avoidable blindness” by giving cheap or free state-of-the-art eye surgery to poor Indians, or the Bharti Airtel, which offers low-rate phone calls, thanks to an innovative business model, are often-cited examples of innovations that make valuable products and services affordable to deprived populations. Just glance at the Honey Bee Network database and you will find a plethora of interesting initiatives targeted to the Indian poor: from the Mitticool, a natural refrigerator made entirely from clay that requires no energy, to the Washing and Exercise Machine, a mechanical, semi-automated, pedal operated washing machine for clothes, the jugaad spirit is ubiquitous.

This drive for inclusive innovation is visible across all sectors in India, and education is no exception. The spotlight has often fallen on the USD 35 Aakash tablet, designed to improve the teaching process and end the digital divide, and on the Mid-Day Meal programme, a government programme that provides free hot lunches for children attending school. But there are also plenty of other initiatives trying to improve the educational outcomes of the economically deprived. These initiatives are particularly welcome in a country where, in spite of remarkable progress in education, one third of the adult population remains illiterate (EFA report 2012) and improving learning outcomes remains a huge challenge, as evidenced by Pratham’s Aser report, itself another example of frugal innovation.

The Education Innovation Fund for India (EIFI), the first competitive fund for educational innovation across India and a collaboration between Hewlett Packard and the India Council for Integral Education (Sri Aurobindo Society), funds and supports about 20 initiatives addressing such challenges. As part of new work on inclusive innovation in education started by the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI), EIFI grantees have piloted our new survey and shared with us how they help poor students access better quality education. Here are a few examples of innovations they are implementing.

One reason why low income students frequently have low learning outcomes is that they are offered an education that is irrelevant to their interests and daily life. Oasis, a social innovation organisation, notes that rural children are often trained for urban professions, while schools offering good programmes in rural development are located in urban areas. As a result, neither rural nor urban kids tend to use their knowledge, notwithstanding the fact that they are very likely to have dropped out long before they complete their education. The establishment of Gramodaya schools in rural areas is meant to address this mismatch. The schools will offer rural development education to rural students so that they can implement the practical knowledge and sustainable techniques that they will learn through peer-to-peer and community-based learning.

Another reason for low learning outcomes is that well-meaning teachers are often poorly equipped to provide good teaching, in terms of both pedagogical knowledge and resources. In deprived areas, pedagogical innovations will not be adopted unless they cost virtually nothing and are accompanied by some form of pedagogical aid for teachers. But several frugal innovations show that the cost of learning resources can be made almost irrelevant (though this does not imply there is no other challenge for their adoption).

Making better use of a school building may just require some good use of paint, as Building as Learning Aid (BaLA) by Vinyãs has shown. BaLA develops standards to turn school buildings into learning resources. Diagrams painted on the floors underneath doorways, for example, support children’s learning of angles. BaLA also maps its learning resources on the Indian curriculum, showing school principals and teachers how these new resources can be used in teaching and learning. The project now operates in 18 Indian states, affecting over 10,000 government schools and their communities.

Another programme, Learning is Fun and Experiential (LIFE) Lab provides low-cost, hands-on learning models to foster experiential science learning in underprivileged schools, hoping to boost students’ interest, confidence and creativity. The balloon car, used to teach Newton’s laws of motion, only requires a balloon, a straw, an ice cream stick and four bottle caps – not to mention, of course, a healthy dose of curiosity and craftsmanship. Science teachers across India can access the “LIFE Lab” as an open source platform of hundreds of resources by attending support sessions in its community centres. Life-lab is currently working with eight schools, two community centres and 3,000 children.

India is a laboratory of frugal and inclusive innovations. But how can these promising ideas and stories empower more teachers and students in their learning and be scaled up? Making these innovations visible and shared across school and teacher networks is the aim of two EIFI grantees, both making a simple use of technology to that effect.

By identifying Gujarati schools and teachers doing much better than expected, the Educational Innovation Bank at IIM Ahmedabad is building a repository of teaching innovations meant to empower and inspire other teachers looking for practical ideas to teach more effectively in India’s under-resourced schools. With a network of 4,000 innovative teachers, the web-based database already reaches out to 100,000 more.

Design for Change (DfC) proposes another way of making inspiring success stories visible. It shows that learners can be agents of change and be made more responsible for their learning and for changing their community. DfC supports teachers and learners in virtually all Indian states with a simple method based on design thinking. Drawing on the projects submitted to its school challenge, it displays its preferred ideas in a video database containing numerous inspiring “stories of change”. Design for Change now has sister organisations in 34 countries.

All of these examples show that making quality education accessible to poor students does not necessarily require many additional resources: it can just take a better use of existing resources, cheap additional ones, or the adoption of existing good ideas – generally with some form of teacher support. While frugal innovations alone may not be enough, Indian innovators show us that the jugaad spirit can improve the education of disadvantaged children at little cost.

CERI Innovation Strategy for Education and Training: Inclusive Innovation
CERI Innovation Strategy for Education and Training
OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
OECD report on Innovation and Inclusive Growth

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hiroshima – from symbol of human destruction to leader in educational reform

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

I spent two days in Hiroshima, discussing education reform and global policy trends with prefectural leaders and the academic community. This city, target of a simply unimaginable attack on human mankind 59 years ago, is now the birthplace of some of the World’s most innovative education policies and practices.

No building, no tree and no other remainder of human activity in this city is older than 59 years. As school principal Kadoshima drives by an office tower on our way to his school, he explains this had been the place where his grandmother and two uncles had been burned alive like most other residents of the area, leaving nothing but a shadow on the floor. But I am also told how many of the survivors left wandering between life and death for the ensuing months and years have envied their fate. His father and his uncle were the only ones who remained from the family, as they had happened to spend the 6th of August in 1945 with classmates in the country side.

As we arrive at Hiroshima Nagisa High School, we meet a group of cheerful children on the school’s playing field. But what looks like casual play is actually part of a carefully planned and sequenced curriculum designed to help students develop their five senses; to find themselves and join others in life, work and citizenship; and to develop autonomy and identity that is social and cognisant of pluralism.

Classroom after classroom I observe deep and intense learning with a curriculum characterised by rigor, focus and coherence, and with lots of lively interaction both among students and with their teachers. Mathematics and the arts are not seen here as competing for scarce student learning time, but as reinforcing each other. Much of the school’s effort is devoted to making learning central and encouraging student engagement, to foster lifelong skills-oriented learning instead of exams-focused drill, to ensure that learning is social and collaborative, and to promote connections across subjects and activities in the school. I find Rudyard Brettargh from Australia and Olen Peterson from the United States co-teaching an English class, and that again is not by accident, but the idea is to show students that there is not just a single, but multiple ways to speak a language.

Many of the school’s pedagogical approaches are designed to construct experiences in learning, over exclusively intellectual engagement. In one classroom I meet a group of students cooking Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima’s most popular local dish, but they are not all doing the same, each student is creating and preparing their own variant of the dish. Students experience that they won’t know exactly how things will unfold, that they will be surprised, and that they will make mistakes and learn from them along the way.

During these days, a group of students from the United States is visiting Nagisa High School and they have immediately immersed into all aspects of the school life. Likewise, Nagisa High School students frequently venture outside. Principal Kadoshima shows us pictures from the many field trips his student have taken to other countries and cultures, or simply to the world of work and other social contexts in Japan. The meaning of all this to prepare global citizens for a world in which most people will need to collaborate with people with diverse views, experiences and cultural origins; and a world in which people’s lives will be affected by events that transcend national boundaries, and the authority of national jurisdictions to address them. During these trips, students learn to engage with dilemmas and controversy that result from globalization which have no singular solution, but where awareness of different perspectives on these dilemmas is essential to finding the common ground necessary to solve them. They learn to understand the global economic, social and political environmental forces that shape our lives; and to develop the skills, attitudes and values which enable people to work together to bring about change and to take control of their own lives.

Not least, the school is stretching students not just intellectually but also physically. One picture shows an exhausted group of students lying on a bridge at dawn, after walking 44 kilometres through the night. The aim is to strengthen resilience, the capacity to cope in an imbalanced world, recognising that the world exists in constant disequilibrium - trying, failing, adapting, learning and evolving in endless cycles. And Nagisa High School shows that learning is at the centre of resilience. This is all about helping vulnerable people, organizations and systems persist, perhaps even thrive, amid unforeseeable disruptions. At the individual level, this can shape the reach of social networks, the quality of close relationships, access to resources, but also beliefs and habits of mind, including the disposition to assess, take and manage risks. At the aggregate level, it can support Japanese communities and institutions with greater flexibility, intelligence and responsiveness to the rapid economic and social changes which Japan is facing.

Hiroshima Nagisa High School
Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education Video
Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education - Lessons from PISA for Japan
PISA 2012 Country-Specific overview on Japan
Photo Credit: Hiroshima Nagisa High School

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Kazakhstan: the dream of better education

By Mihaylo Milovanovitch
Rapporteur and Team Leader for the OECD Review of Secondary Education in Kazakhstan

Everybody dreams of good things sometimes, of things one wants to do, be, or have. Countries can dream too: of economic prosperity, of peace, of a visa-free travel regime or of a quick way out of a recession…

Kazakhstan dreams of better education. The State Programme for Education Development 2011-2020 notes that by 2020 the country will be highly educated, with a smart economy and highly qualified labour force. The young state has many other dreams, but they all depend on this one dream coming true.

The leadership of the country seems determined and its vision for the future of national education is more than just a wish. It is a comprehensive strategy for a full overhaul of the education sector and its transformation into a carrier of hope for economic, political and socio-cultural prosperity. The price tag of this commendable undertaking is commensurately high. Between 2005 and 2012 spending on education has increased six-fold, by some USD 3.2 billion (PPP).

The Government of Kazakhstan invited the OECD to document to what level the authorities are “walking the talk” with respect to their ambitious plans and assess whether education reforms are on the right track. The first of several OECD education policy reviews undertaken in response (Reviews of National Policies for Education: Secondary Education in Kazakhstan) was released this January. The review takes a close look at the strengths and weaknesses of secondary education bearing in mind the profound changes ahead and discusses equity, assessment and quality of learning outcomes, policies for teachers and principals, education financing, and vocational education and training.

If education reforms were a train, operating it would require an engine to push (or pull) the carriages, tracks that point in the right direction, patience in the steep sections where the train slows down, firmness where it speeds up too much and, yes, high initial investment.

The OECD review took more than 12 months of careful work and a fruitful, in-depth dialogue with the country. It concludes that Kazakhstan is achieving remarkable progress in putting together a new, state-of-the-art reform “engine” and setting it on the right reform “track”. The evidence suggests, however, that the engine is much faster and stronger than the (outdated) “carriages” it is meant to pull.

Between 2010 and 2012 the centrally-administered State Programme for Education Development claimed up to 29% of the overall education budget and 40% of the increase in education spending. Despite (or maybe because of) the strong bias in favour of new ideas and pilots, vast parts of the regular school network remain underfunded, underdeveloped and untouched by the new ideas being launched. The OECD report expresses concerns about the feasibility of introducing reforms in schools and VET colleges that are under-resourced and outdated in terms of teaching and assessment practices, and where education professionals lack the support they need in their work. Another concern is that old and new policy priorities alike show great emphasis on rewarding excellence in students, teachers and schools, but fail to focus on reducing inequities in the system, for example by providing incentives and state-of-the-art training to teachers (and principals) struggling to help underperforming students. This group accounts for well over 40% of the student population in all the subject domains assessed by PISA in 2012 (mathematics, reading and science).

Some dreams are just compensation for a disappointing present. Other dreams come true. The OECD report contains a series of recommendations that are meant to help transform a good reform start in Kazakhstan into a successful onward journey. The timing seems right as the authorities adjust their plans amidst a growing awareness that the train of education reforms can only go as fast and far as its slowest, most fragile “carriages” allow.

Reviews of National Policies for Education: Secondary Education in Kazakhstan
The State Programme for Education Development 2011-2020
PISA 2012 Results
Photo Credit: A Vintage Steam Engine Pulling Traditional Carriages / @ Shutterstock

Monday, December 16, 2013

A new direction for education reform in China

by Yan Wang, Ph.D
National Institute for Education Sciences, Beijing

China has worked hard to expand access and improve the quality of education by trying many alternative approaches to educate more people, both by drawing on the experiences of other countries or retrieving historical practices. The progress to date has been tremendous, with nine-year basic education universalised, mass higher education attained, and youth and adult illiteracy eradicated. The recent 3rd plenary session of the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee announced a number of strategies to address social and economic challenges faced by China. These strategies will, among other things, frame the future direction of Chinese education. The purpose of the new reforms is not only to pursue further development, but also address the problems arising from the rapid changes made over the last two decades.

Historically, 3rd plenary sessions have been milestones of major political, economic and social reforms since China embarked on the reforms that opened up the economy in 1978. The aim then was to inject vigor into a system that had almost come to a halt after the devastating Cultural Revolution.  But the reform strategies adopted by the 2013 plenary are quite different from the 1978 reforms, as they mark two developmental stages with different challenges. The new policies have called for rebuilding the education system and encouraging bold experimentation in education to boost economic growth in three main areas:

Equity: As in other sectors, the rapid development of education over the past three decades has led in many cases to severe inequities both within provinces and across provinces. The equity reform involves several strategies for dealing with this problem, among which are the following: 1) support hard-to-reach or disadvantaged students with more financial support, 2)  standardise public schools (including abolishing so-called key schools or key classes by removing their resource privileges) and 3) facilitate mobility of teachers and principals among different types of schools as well as sharing of resources among different areas and schools by means of information technology.

Gaokao (college entrance examination): which has long been regarded as a bottleneck of education reforms aimed at quality in China. When Gaokao was resumed 30 years ago, it was designed as a unified examination to screen and select the most talented students for admission into higher education.  Because it was the same examination for all, and was objectively scored, it was seen as fair and equitable by everyone. But the exams, though rigorous and fair, do not measure the kinds of skills required by a modern economy. The reforms essentially comprise three elements: 1) replace once-and-for-all the college entrance examination system with a more comprehensive learning assessment that incorporates: a) a colleague entrance examination with fewer subjects and more choice of examinations at different times of the year, b) competency-based student learning performance assessment and c) tests organised by the universities and colleges.  (one hopes that this could be done in the near future); 2) separate university admissions from college entrance examinations, to give more autonomy to universities and colleges to identify students of different capabilities and 3) create more learning pathways among regular tertiary institutions, vocational institutions and adult tertiary schools.

Reduce the bureaucratic control of education by government: The reform will disentangle the responsibilities of administration, sponsorship (school management) and evaluation. It is intended to delegate more power to provincial government, give more autonomy to educational institutions and give more control over education evaluation and monitoring to professional organisations. Another strategy that merits a mention is to promote public-private partnerships such as those that would encourage involvement of the private sector in education sponsorship.

While earlier education reforms have put the focus on the development of schools and teachers, these reforms focus on traditional cultural values, like ethics and personal health and fitness, on the one hand, and the need to produce students who are more creative and innovative on the other.  This does not appear to be in any way a rejection of the past priorities, but rather a recognition that they are well on the say to being achieved and it is time to move on to new frontiers.

Shanghai (China) – PISA
Strong performers and Succesful Reformer: Shanghai
Related blog posts by Andreas Schleicher:
Are the Chinese cheating in PISA or are we cheating ourselves?
Learning in rural China: The challenges for teachers
Learning in rural China: The challenges for students

Photo credit: Chinese students @ Shutterstock

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Learning in rural China: The challenges for students

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

The first thing I notice is that, in this neighbourhood of simple houses and farmlands, it is the school, not a shopping centre, that is the cleanest and most impressive building in the area. The Qiao Tou Lian He primary school can afford only 29 staff to look after the 714 children who attend. Most of the children stay for the full school-week as they have to walk for several hours to reach their homes. So the school has become their family, albeit one where the children have to assume an incredible amount of individual and social responsibility, with very limited support from adults.

Roughly 3,000 kilometres southwest of Shanghai, a city that harbours the world’s leading education system, the Qiao Tou Lian He primary school is one of the fruits of China’s efforts to educate its citizens who live in sparsely populated rural areas like this. While the economic and social development of these areas has been remarkable by any standard, China’s coastal areas are racing ahead at an even faster pace, thus widening disparities. That, in turn, fuels an endless stream of people moving to the cities: students looking for a better education, parents looking for work, and teachers who excel in their jobs and are looking for more fulfilling careers. Shanghai, alone, registers 1,000 additional cars each day by those who have made it upwards in the social ladder.

Short of options to bring high quality education to the children up in the mountains, China has begun to consolidate rural schools to form viable hubs which bring together the infrastructure and critical mass of teachers that are needed to build strong instructional systems. That’s never easy. Over generations, schools have become the heart of communities; when the children leave, communities see their future endangered. But there have also been serious implementation problems in China, most notably involving transportation, that have bogged down progress and, in some areas, brought the consolidation process to a halt. But Qiao Tou Lian He school is an example that is well on its way to turn the challenges into opportunities. It offers the children from four former remote schools educational opportunities - and a future - that neither they themselves nor their parents could have ever imagined in their villages.

The children at Qiao Tou Lian He school live in a dormitory composed of tiny rooms that each holds 12 beds and 18 children (you can do the math). But room after room is in impeccable order, with the belongings of each child tidily arranged. A cheerful squad of 5th and 6th graders walks from room to room, with notebooks in their hands in which they record notes about hygiene and discipline; and they help the smaller children as best as they can. Only one already over-burdened teacher is appointed to respond to the needs of these hundreds of small children on any given day.

Every education system seeks to make children resilient so that their can find their way in a world in constant disequilibrium — trying, failing, adapting, learning and evolving. Resilience assumes that we don’t know exactly how things will unfold; that we’ll be surprised; that we are open to learning from the extraordinary; that we’ll make mistakes along the way, but that we persist and invest ourselves. Few children will be better prepared for this than the students of Qiao Tou Lian He school, even if the price for this is so high. Those who return to their communities after their education will be able to help those communities adapt to China’s rapid economic and social changes. In the meantime, though, when the students go home, they often have no one to talk to: their parents may be working far away; but even if they are at home, they may not understand the world that is opening up to these children.

Min, a 5th grader, explains that his greatest joy is to read books in a bookstore—even though the bookstore is not around the corner, but a good two-hour walk from his home. In many countries, we see learning outcomes severely impeded if a quarter or more of the students come from disadvantaged backgrounds. At this rural school, every child does. So how do the teachers at Qiao Tou Lian He school cope, let alone teach? I’ll discuss the challenges – and successes – for teachers in rural China in my next blog.

Video series: Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education - Shanghai, China
Related blog posts by Andreas Schleicher
China – what will remain when the dust around economic expansion has settled?
Implementing educational reform in China
Chinese lessons
Photo credit: @ Schleicher OECD

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Smart policies matter in education

by Dirk Van Damme
Head of the Innovation and Measuring Progress division, Directorate for Education and Skills

Education policies are meant for the future, they target society-wide outcomes in the next generation. But constructing these policies demands foresight and planning, while simultaneously dealing with difficult trade-offs in the present. Take Korea, a remarkable success story of fast increasing educational attainment which made the country one of the highest educated nations in the world: 64% of its 25-34 year-old population has a tertiary qualification. And the PISA and Survey of Adult Skills data show that this incredible educational revolution did not cause any decline in the quality of learning. Clearly, Korea is successful in preparing its young workforce for a highly-skilled technological economy. How did they do that? A new issue of Education Indicators in Focus sheds some light on the policy trade-offs that countries face when they want to raise the tertiary attainment rate in the young generation.

Korea has invested heavily in education in the second half of the 20th Century. All levels of education combined they spent 6.1% of GDP on education already in the year 2000, climbing to 7.6% in 2010, well above the OECD average of 6.3%. On tertiary education, they spent 2.6% in 2010, a full percentage above the OECD average of 1.6%. But, due to the many students that were served, the per student expenditure was quite moderate, as can be seen in the graph above, just under USD 10 000. The graph shows that there are many countries spending a lot more, but failing to produce a high number of graduates in the young population. Korea demonstrates huge value for money from investments in tertiary education.

Money clearly matters, but there are wide differences between countries in the efficiency on how it is spent. Raising budgets for tertiary education is a hard thing to do, especially in times of economic crisis, fiscal consolidation and austerity. The considerable increases in educational expenditure seen in the past ten years will not be repeated again. And shifting the cost for tertiary education to students and families is a popular alternative, but faces resistance and drawbacks. No doubt, the imperative for efficiency resounds.

Is having more students a good strategy? The number of students as a percentage of the 20-29 year-old population is a good indicator. It combines the effect of participation rates and the time spent in education to earn a degree. Korea only has an average number of students in the 20-29 age cohort. So, probably they are very successful in their studies and they complete them in a short time. Canada, another country with a highly-skilled young population, has even less, with 25% students among the 20-29 year-olds. In contrast, Germany, a country with relatively few tertiary graduates (less than 30% in the 25-34 year-old age group) has close to 32% of students among the 20-29 year-olds. Spending a lot of time in universities is not a good way to produce more graduates.

Investing in the future comes at a high a price, and not only in monetary terms. Is the labour market following? For the time being, Korea seems unable to absorb the entirety of its well-qualified youngsters in skilled professions. With 75%, graduate employment among their 25-34 year-olds with a tertiary qualification in Korea are among the lowest in OECD countries (average 82%). It could be questioned as to whether  the inclusion of employment in Korea was  sufficiently integrated into the educational policy mix. Whereas, the small country of Belgium appears to have been able to combine the policy trade-offs better: spending is average, student participation is slightly above the average, however, it has a high tertiary attainment and high graduate employment rate.  Sometimes, ‘middle-of-the-road’ policies combined with a smart policy mix offer the best prospects.

For more information
On this topic, visit: 
Education Indicators in Focus: 
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators:
Chart source: OECD Education at a Glance 2013:  Indicators A1 and B1 (

Friday, October 18, 2013

Education and skills using today's technologies

When it comes to information technology in schools, the valuable experience and views of Nele Leosk, Program Director on ICT in Education, eGovernance Academy, Estonia, are encouraging to hear. She met with Lynda Hawe, Communications Officer for the Directorate for Education and Skills answered a few question about her observations on the use of technology in schools, the benefits for learning, achievement and skills, during a coffee break at the OECD Forum in Paris.

Share with us an example of a successful ICT in Education program that you implemented?
Over the past 15 years Estonia prioritised the development of information society and e-governance and initiated a tiger-leap program. The program focused on teacher training and infrastructure.  In addition, teacher administrators received advanced training on new technologies, so a shift in their mind-set got underway. Technology was not taught separately. Students were taught how to develop and progress in their related subjects by using technology as a complementary support to their learning. Overall, this had a wide impact on Estonian society. The knock on effect of using ICT filtered into homes and attitudes. The program continues - even if currently it has grown from its initial focus.

New technologies can offer many opportunities for education, skills and learning. But do you feel that there is some resistance to the changes technologies bring? 
There is always a natural resistance to what is new, as usually people want to keep the status-quo. Nevertheless, when there are benefits and opportunities linked to change then it will happen. In Estonia, policy makers were strongly behind the strategy to develop and invest in information technology. Now citizens demand it as a prerequisite. But it is a misconception to think that technology alone can enable an improvement in the quality of education received. Overall, it is more a question of teachers’ influence and reactions to the use of technology that is needed to implement change.  Technology is a way to make the teaching process more interactive and fun for students, so that they become more skilled at using it.

Some steps before implementing new technologies: First, have a strategic approach to the teaching necessities of the students, reflecting upon the required teaching frameworks. Secondly, built, buy and install the technologies around the teaching strategy. Lastly, evaluate the results: how have students’ skills been enhanced, what achievements have been made in their learning?

What types of ICT skills do you consider that we should be now teaching in schools, in order to prepare students with the skills they will need for future work environments?
Our main aim, when we started in Estonia, was that students should be able to use technology for their benefit and for their future careers.  Now since 2012, we have re-introduced teaching programme-coding skills.  The skill of information knowledge management is essential: learning how to search the web accurately, evaluating the quality of web-research findings, knowing which sources are relevant and irrelevant. This skill ought to be taught systematically - as it offers vast benefits to all students.

Ethics on the internets should also be taught. Students do not always realise the threats and dangers of the internet, so teaching the skills of how to protect themselves and their privacy online deems necessary. While the students today consider that sharing intimate details online as not being a problem, however, they should realise that in certain situations it can have negative fall-back effects. The dangers of cyber-bullying should also be cautioned.  Consequently, teaching them that the basic principles of good behaviour should follow what is acceptable both offline and online.

In 2012 the Paris Open Educational Resources (OER) Declaration was signed by many countries. Do you think that it will have an impact on the future of ICT Education?
The sharing of teaching materials online is an upright initiate. The OER declaration is a positive step in the right direction. Technological advances facilitate the production, distribution and use of OER and novel and more flexible licensing schemes, such as Creative Commons, give authors and institutions opportunities. Ideally all students should have free access to both the print and e-books on their learning curriculum. Policy makers have an important role to play in promoting progress in this area.  Previously in Estonia, some teachers had difficulties finding appropriate materials so the online attitude of sharing teaching materials is a praiseworthy approach. Teacher generated materials is also a good way for teachers to improve their own skills.

Kids these days use social media constantly, how to you think it affects their learning skills and educational outcomes?
Social media sometimes has a negative effect on students’ concentration. So the banning of mobile devises in certain classroom situations seems reasonable. Online video games can be creative, entertaining and help develop good ICT skills, yet the risks and dangers of playing violent games should be voiced, as they can have destructive influences on young minds. For that reason, preventive and awareness knowledge about social, ethical and healthy online usage should be shared with both students, teachers and parents, as well as establishing solid best practices.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Balancing Trust and Accountability

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

Strengthening accountability is one of the key ways to improve the quality of an education system. Yet reform processes that emphasize strong evaluation and assessment regimes can be misunderstood as controlling or demonstrating a lack of trust: in teachers, in students, and in the system. What is the best way to maintain and build trust while improving accountability?

A recently released Governing Complex Education Systems (GCES) case study looks at this issue. Entitled Balancing Trust and Accountability? The Assessment for Learning Programme in Norway, the report explores the implementation strategies used to enhance formative assessment in Norwegian schools. The reform aimed at helping school leaders and teachers integrate formative assessment into their day-to- day teaching practice and schools.

In Norway there is a strong sense of trust in the system. However, when the system relies wholly on trust and has few incentives (or sanctions) for the actors, long-term implementation of policy initiatives can become problematic in the face of resistance.

In the last several years Norway has been one of many OECD countries working to build a culture of assessment across the entire system. In order to achieve this, governments have to strike the right balance between providing clear directions and goals on the one hand, and allowing for freedom of innovation and creativity in practice on the other. This is true for teachers and other stakeholders as well: trust in local authorities, for example, is also required for the effective functioning of the system.

Effective formative assessment, like teaching, is based on a combination of factors and there is no single recipe for success. However in order to learn new practices, teachers are just like the rest of us – they need guidance and support. In this case, the Norwegian authorities have provided workshops, online tools, and peer learning networks to help facilitate the process. But it is not easy – despite the support put in place, the majority of the teachers interviewed for the case study struggled with understanding what would be considered “correct” practice.

So what can be done? Prepare the ground. Don’t underestimate the importance of clear goals and communication. And recognize the power of networks. In this case study, the research team found that successful implementation of the programme was enhanced by:
  • strong leadership skills and thorough knowledge of the content of the programme on the part of the municipalities;
  • clear communication between governance levels and a high degree of trust between stakeholders;
  •  a solid understanding of the programme goals, including integrating these goals within the broader aims of educational policy and school practice; 
  • the establishment of learning networks between schools to aid the exchange of knowledge and opportunities for peer learning. 
One final note: This case study addresses the process of reform and the dynamics of change in a large-scale implementation of policy. In this context, the importance of strategic planning and alignment of goals between governance levels cannot be understated. There is a danger of too much, too soon – smaller municipalities in particular struggle with a continual stream of policy changes and prioritising activities. Meaningful change takes time, and embedding new behaviours into practice requires thoughtful and deliberate planning and feedback.

Education systems have never been easy to manage. Today it is abundantly clear that processes of reform cannot be understood as top-down unilateral delivery chains and treated as systems that engineer processes. Rather, they require reappraisal, fine-tuning, responsiveness and sometimes new structures of collaboration, participation and networking. And above all, trust must be nurtured, for it is hard to gain and easy to lose. As the old adage says, trust “arrives on foot and leaves on horseback”.

OECD'S Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
Governing Complex Education Systems (GCES)
OECD Review of Evaluation and Assessment for Improving School Outcomes
OECD Working Paper: Stakeholders and Multiple School Accountability
Photo credit:Symbol Scales is made of stones of various shapes/@ Shutterstock