Showing posts with label education at a glance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label education at a glance. Show all posts

Monday, May 05, 2014

OECD Education GPS: The world of education at your fingertips

by Jean Yip,
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Today the OECD launched the “Review education policies” strand of the Education GPS, the online source for education data, research and analysis.

The “Review education policies” tool provides you with quick and easy access to the OECD’s extensive knowledge base of education. Its innovative visual network provides a new and exciting way to explore the world of education. Clear and concise key insights and policy options are already available for a wide range of topics. Related publications and links allow you to learn more about the OECD’s work on education. Keep checking back as the available knowledge base keeps growing!

The “Analyse by country” and “Explore data” parts of the Education GPS continue to give you the latest OECD data and statistics on education. Explore key indicators from Education at a Glance 2013, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 and the OECD Skills Survey. Come back at the end of June to learn about the results from TALIS 2014!

Try it for yourself and explore the wealth of OECD’s data and analysis of education policies and practices!

Education GPS

Thursday, March 06, 2014

What’s at the root of women’s absence in STEM occupations?

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

If you sift through all the education data the OECD has produced over the past year, you’ll come up with decidedly mixed results when it comes to women’s (and girls’) progress. Education at a Glance 2013 told us that gender gaps in educational attainment are not only narrowing, but are, in some cases, reversing, and that women are now more likely than men to enter and complete a university-level programme. Results from the first Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), found that gender differences in the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) have narrowed considerably among 16-24 year-olds, and that, among younger adults, there is, on average, no gender difference in proficiency in numeracy or literacy. In fact, in those countries where there is a difference between young men’s and young women’s levels of literacy, it is young women who score higher.

So, given these data, we have reason to be optimistic.

Unfortunately, this is only part of the story; there are also some other data to consider: Education at a Glance revealed that, among tertiary-educated adults, women still earn less than men (only in Austria, Belgium, Finland, New Zealand, Slovenia and Spain do the earnings of tertiary-educated women amount to 75% or more of men’s earnings; in Brazil, Chile and Estonia, university-educated women earn 65% or less of what similarly educated men earn). What might explain these gender-related disparities in pay?

As the publication also reported, women are still less likely than men to work full time; and 15-29 year-old women are twice as likely as men the same age to be neither in the labour force nor looking for a job. Meanwhile, the Survey of Adult Skills found that in all countries that participated in the survey, similar proportions of men (36%) as women (32%) are proficient in using ICTs. But the survey also found that in 15 of 23 participating countries, men use ICT at work significantly more often than women do – and that the extent to which problem-solving skills are used at work accounts for nearly half the gender gap in wages.

One of the most troubling of findings comes from the PISA 2012 survey of 15-year-old students. Based on information gathered from students through questionnaires, PISA found that, even among the highest-achieving girls (many of whom perform just as well as boys in mathematics), girls have self-sabotaging attitudes towards mathematics: they are more likely to feel anxious towards mathematics, and have less confidence in their own mathematical skills and in their ability to solve mathematics problems than boys.

These attitudes have repercussions later on, as can be seen in other data from Education at a Glance. That publication reports that, in 2011, an average of only 14% of women entering university-level education enrolled in science-related fields (which include science and engineering) or in manufacturing and construction, compared to 39% of men who entered this level of education in these fields. If so few women aim for the so-called STEM professions (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), there will continue to be few role models in these fields for young girls to emulate, and the cycle will simply perpetuate itself.

What all these data, combined, tell us is that we have no reason to be complacent. The gender gap in students’ self-beliefs about their abilities in mathematics has remained stable in most countries since 2003. In the short term, changing these mindsets may require making mathematics more interesting to girls, identifying and eliminating gender stereotypes in textbooks, promoting female role models, and using learning materials that appeal to girls. Over the longer term, shrinking the gender gap in mathematics performance will require the concerted effort of parents, teachers and society, as a whole, to change the clichéd notions of what boys and girls excel at, what they enjoy doing, and what they believe they can achieve.

Girls and women have made genuine and enormous gains in education and in the labour force over the past half century; but as long as girls continue to tell themselves that they’re no good at math – or science or engineering or any other subject where men have traditionally dominated – even in the face of hard evidence to the contrary, then we’re still losing half of our talent to the destructive power of stereotypes.

International Women's Day
OECD Gender Data Portal
OECD Insights Blog: Gender Quiz
Are boys and girls equally prepared for life?
Photo credit: Moscow, USSR - Circa 1920s students-biologists conduct a scientific experiment / @shutterstock

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cutting education expenditure

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

Education systems, for the greatest part funded by the public purse, have a symbiotic relationship with economic tides: they blossom in booming years, they suffer in recessions. Educational needs however behave exactly in the opposite way: they expand when the economy shrinks. The recent recession, probably the biggest many of us have seen in our lifetimes, again provides ample evidence for this. And the relationship is now even more pronounced than ever before. Education and skills have moved into the centre of economic life, as economies become increasingly knowledge- and skills-based. Unemployment clearly separates the educational haves and have-nots, with the unskilled paying the price for the recession. As a result, people want to invest more in education, stay longer in schools, and postpone their entry into the labour market, because work doesn’t offer much of an alternative. Also governments promote education and training as a strategy to drive people out of unemployment.

Thus demand increases, but do schools receive the public resources to meet this demand? The latest issue of Education Indicators in Focus builds on the available evidence on public expenditure in education for the first three years of the crisis (2008, 2009 and 2010) to shed light on spending trends and the first clear signs of widespread cuts.

In the first year after the collapse of Lehmann Brothers, which instigated the financial crisis in 2008, not much happened. Probably, this is partly due to the intrinsic slowness of public budgets and of the education system in itself. But in the first year, the financial crisis was not yet a fiscal crisis in most countries. And some governments initiated huge stimulus programmes to avert the social impact of the crisis, and also education often took profit from such initiatives. In other countries the rise in educational expenditure, noticeable during the pre-crisis boom, just continued.

Things changed from 2009 onwards, when in around one third of OECD countries public expenditure on education dropped. The downturn in the real economy triggered a fiscal crisis, aggravated in countries with already huge levels of public debt. From 2010 onwards the fiscal situation further deteriorated in quite a number of countries. Governments were forced to launch austerity and fiscal consolidation policies. Between 2008 and 2010 education budgets continued to increase in constant prices in most countries, but their relative share of total public expenditure started to fall in exactly half of the countries. Education no longer was as high on the priority ranking in public spending as it was in the years 2000-2008.

Of course, education takes a large share of public expenditure: 13.1% of all public expenditure on average across OECD countries in 2005. So, to exempt education from public expenditure cuts takes a lot of political courage. And because of its size relatively even minor measures immediately result in huge nominal savings. So, it is a tempting scenario for any finance minister. Many also share the belief that there is a lot of internal elasticity or even inefficiency in the system, which can be reduced by increasing budgetary pressure.

In any case, the salaries of teachers – by far taking the largest share of public expenditure – were immediately affected: on average across OECD countries, teachers’ salaries decreased by 2% in real terms between 2009 and 2011. After years of salary gains in most countries, this might seem a rather marginal drop. But the value of it is real and, no doubt, the downward trend will continue in the following years. Seen against the higher demand, but also taking into account the political ambitions to improve the quality of education by investing in teachers, this is a significant sign.

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: Indicator B4 (

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Learning for jobs: Quality pays off

by Dirk Van Damme and Rodrigo Castaneda Valle
Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education and Skills

In 2010 the OECD published Learning for Jobs, a major review of vocational education and training (VET). The economic crisis has since continued to worsen the job prospects for young people in many OECD countries.  To counterbalance governments have increasingly been looking to strengthen vocational tracks in secondary education as a way to better prepare youth for the job market. The evidence base on VET remains weak, however Education at a Glance is providing improved data on VET systems and the latest issue of Education Indicators in Focus draws attention to some interesting findings.

The very basic policy question that governments ask is: Do more and better VET programmes help to improve employment prospects for young people? International evidence shows us that VET programmes are a costly investment. VET programmes are expected to be up-to-date with the latest technologies in the different industry sectors, and once you factor in the costs of instructors and facilities, it becomes a costly endeavour. On average, the annual expenditure per student in an upper secondary VET programme is 12% higher than in a general programme. In some countries such as Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the Czech and Slovak Republics – countries which have extensive VET provision, enrolling more than 60% of students – the difference in annual expenditure per student can exceed 20%.

It is tempting to relate the size and cost of VET programmes to employment prospects for young people. Indeed, countries like Germany and Switzerland have relatively healthy youth employment rates. Young people with a secondary VET qualification are doing much better in the labour market than their counterparts with only a general secondary qualification as their highest level of educational attainment.

But, as the graph demonstrates, a high proportion of secondary school students in VET programmes is no guarantee for high employment outcomes. It is interesting that it is the relative cost of VET programmes which differentiates countries on employment. Countries which invest more than the average succeed in offering better job prospects. Assuming that more monetary investment in VET programmes also means higher quality programmes, it becomes clear that it is not the size of VET provision that counts, but the quality. Of course, many other factors also impact youth employment, but the graph suggests that it doesn’t really help to have a large proportion of students in VET tracks – as is the case in the Czech and Slovak Republics. Rather, it is much better to have about 35% of students in vocational tracks and to fund them well, as can be seen in the case of Switzerland.

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:
For more information on OECD work on Vocational Education and Training:
Chart source: OECD Education at a Glance 2013: Indicators A1, A5 and B1 (

Friday, September 20, 2013

Meet the typical student

by Ignacio Marin and Corinne Heckmann
Innovation and Measuring Progress division, Directorate for Education and Skills

With the new academic year beginning (in the Northern hemisphere at least), more than 23 million people across the OECD and G20 countries will be heading to university for the first time this year. As the latest Education Indicators in Focus brief shows, these new students will be a more diverse group than ever before – but some things don’t change.

Who are the average new entrants?
If you look at the averages, new entry students these days will be female, 22 years old, and about to embark on over four years of study in the social sciences. But these averages conceal wide variations between nations – in some countries such as Belgium, Japan and Indonesia, students still generally enter university straight from school, whereas in places like Iceland, New Zealand and Sweden the average age is over 25, with young people tending to spend time in the workforce before going on to full time study. Completion rates vary too. On average just 70% of students will graduate with a degree, with women more likely to succeed than men, but in Japan the graduation rate is over 90% while in Sweden and Hungary it’s less than half. Not that that necessarily means their education is wasted – some students drop out because they have already found a well-paying job. In Sweden and the United States, modular systems mean students can dip in and out of university and the labour market, gradually building up the credit for a degree.

Social sciences, not sciences
Social sciences, business and the law stand out as the most popular fields of study almost everywhere, except in Finland (where engineering heads the list), and Korea and Saudi Arabia where humanities are more popular. The non-social sciences lag behind, especially among women, with 39% of male students and just 14% of female ones choosing science-related fields. In Belgium and Japan the figure was just 5% for women and even in the best performing countries (Greece, Indonesia, Italy and Mexico) just 19% of female students went for the sciences. Among the men the spread was even wider: while 58% of male students in Finland chose science-related fields – including engineering, manufacturing and construction – in Argentina it was as low as 18%.

Widening access – up to a point
Access to higher education is widening everywhere, but particularly in the fast-growing G20 economies. China has now overtaken the United States in the number of university students with India taking third place. In OECD countries 60% of young people go to university – up from 39% just 15 years earlier and students are more likely than ever to go abroad for an education. But not all the barriers to tertiary education have been swept away. Coming from an educated background still makes young people almost twice as likely to enter university than the average – and in some places more than three times as likely. Much as things have changed, there’s still more to be done to give young people an equal start.

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:

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

When life means school again

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

“Non scholae, sed vitae discimus” (after Seneca)

September’s here again. For millions of kids living in the northern hemisphere September means the end of summer vacation and the start of a new school year. For some of them it means an encounter with something they haven’t experienced before, for many others it is a return to already familiar routines. But for all of them school is going to be the place where they are going to spend the greater part of their young lives.

Children are starting school at an ever younger age,OECD’s recent Education at a Glance 2013 shows that in 2011 on average over 84% of all four year-old children were enrolled in some form of formal education, which is 5% more than in 2005. In 25 OECD countries at least half of three year-old children participated in early childhood education, and in countries such as Belgium, France, Iceland, Norway and Spain 95% or more found their way to their first educational institution.

At such very young ages the school doesn’t appropriate most of the time that one is awake, but things change at ages five or six when children move on to primary school. In 2011 intended instruction time for primary school pupils averages some 800 hours per year in OECD countries, but it exceeds 900 hours in Australia, Canada, Chile, Israel, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Portugal. Slightly more than half of the time at primary school went to instruction in reading, writing, literature, math and science. For most of the time children are grouped in classes which are on average 21.2 pupils large. The trend of school days starting earlier and ending later is reinforced by the trend of smaller classes. In 2000 an average primary school class was  1.5 pupils bigger.

When moving on to lower secondary education (around age 12) the school experience intensifies again. Total intended instruction time now reaches 924 hours per year on average. Instruction now takes place in slightly bigger classes – 23.3 students on average (coming from 24.6 in 2000) – but the ratio of students to teachers drops from 15.4 in primary education to 13.6 in lower secondary education.

At the end of lower secondary education, when in most countries the age of compulsory education is reached, students have accumulated 7 751 hours of instruction in primary and lower secondary school. But many students naturally continue their school careers and move on to upper secondary education, to tertiary education or to some form of continuing education. 2011 enrolment patterns show that a five year-old  pupil can expect to have an average school career of more than 17 years of full-time and part-time education before the age of 40, but in Nordic countries where participation levels are high, an average school career extends over 19 years. In 2011, as a percentage of their age group, students counted for 84% between ages 15 and 19, and 28% between ages 20 and 29. Whereas in 2000 these figures were 76% and 22% respectively.

OECD societies have transformed into heavily scholarised societies, where school becomes important earlier in the life course, where children spend the major part of their time at school, where their educational experience is becoming more intensive,  where more young people stay on in education well beyond the age of compulsory education, and where average educational trajectories take longer than ever in human history. This trend is partly the outcome of public policies to improve the educational opportunities of populations, partly the result of families’ aspirations for better futures for their children. Public policies and private demand go hand-in-hand in producing more educated people. But – as PISA demonstrates – the amount of time appropriated by schools bears no strong relationship to the quality of skills with which young people have to confront the real world.

Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators: The book is now available
For more information: Education at a Glance :
Photo credit: Schoolchildren at home time /@ Shutterstock

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Dynamic educational data award

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 10, 2012

How does class size vary around the world?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Women leaders can break the mould

Indira Samarasekera, President of the University of Alberta  in Canada, was one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Institutional Management in Higher Education (IMHE) Conference, held at OECD headquarters in Paris this past September. Marilyn Achiron, Editor at the OECD’s Education Directorate, spoke with her about a variety of subjects:

Marilyn Achiron: What unique talents do women have as school leaders, and how can we achieve gender equality in school leadership positions?
Indira Samarasekera: At the risk of overgeneralising, women tend to network more, and perhaps listen more, to a variety of stakeholders. Men have tended to have to follow the mould of someone before them; but women can break the mould. That’s the advantage of women leaders.
Gender equality in school leadership has often been difficult to achieve because of the challenges of women having children. The question is: How do you support that? It requires that people in the university be thoughtful and mindful. There were leaders in my university who sought me out and put me in leadership positions, heads of committees who helped to put me where I am today. They went out of their way to find people like me—I was only an assistant professor, for goodness sake. I think gender equality can be achieved without overnight social change, but you need thoughtful men and women leaders.

MA: The latest edition of Education at a Glance highlights the fact that young women are now more likely than young men to graduate from upper secondary school. What is your reaction to that finding?
IS:  I worry about it. For the longest time we worried about the fact that there weren’t enough women; now we’re worried that we’re losing young men. The potential social consequences of that are huge. In a society where innovation and higher education provide access to high-wage jobs, we have huge numbers of young men who will be left behind. We need gender parity for all those who need education. Young men develop later; as a result, they are not as prepared to compete on university entrance exams as young women are. But they catch up quickly later. We have to consider high school grades with a pinch of salt. We have to find a way, without diluting the quality of education, to transfer young men to university, maybe after two years in a community college. Community colleges can be a kind of bridge between high school and higher education. Two years can make a big difference.

MA: In your keynote address, you spoke passionately against university rankings.
IS:  Rankings are absolutely detrimental, and it’s very questionable what value they add to society. They don’t recognise teaching, they foster homogenisation, there are no assessments of publications and the effect of research on society, they completely discount valuable research. In fact, these rankings promote the “caste culture” in science. They want everyone to be Harvard, but even Harvard is having trouble being Harvard because they can’t afford it anymore. To their credit, though, rankings have focused the spotlight on high-quality universities. But those who are doing the rankings are not accountable to anyone; they’re there to make money.

General Conference 2012: "Attaining and Sustaining Mass Higher Education"
OECD Skills Strategy
Education at a Glance:
Visit our interactive portal on skills:
See related blog post: Welcome to my world. Won’t you come on in? by Valérie Lafon
Photo credit: ©OECD

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Investing in people, skills and education for inclusive growth and jobs

by J.D. LaRock
Senior Analyst, Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education
As the spectre of another economic downturn looms large in many countries and is already a reality in others, new data from the 2012 edition of Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators – released today – provides powerful insights into the link between education, economic progress and social mobility around the world.

For example, as detailed in the book’s new indicator on education and economic growth, more than half of the GDP growth in OECD countries over the past decade is related to labour-income growth among workers with higher education.  Indeed, even as GDP across all OECD countries shrank by 3.8% during the global recession year of 2009, growth in labour income among people with higher education contributed nearly 0.4% to the GDP of these countries overall. In contrast, the contraction of labour income that year among people with a medium level of education reduced the GDP by 0.8%, while shrinking incomes among people with lower levels of education trimmed another 0.5% off GDP.

In light of the substantial role education can play in promoting economic growth, countries’ success in assuring that younger people achieve a higher level of education than their parents – what is known as intergenerational mobility in education – is especially important. The new indicator on educational mobility in this year’s Education at a Glance shows that many countries are making good progress in this regard.  On average across all OECD countries, 37% of 25-34 year-old non-students have surpassed their parents’ level of education, while only 13% have achieved a lower level.  Half of younger adults in OECD countries have achieved the same level of education as their parents: 13%, a low level of education; 21%, a medium level, and 16%, a high level.

Meanwhile, as detailed in the new indicator on early childhood education, many OECD countries are working hard to expand schooling opportunities for their youngest children. For example, among OECD countries with data for both years, 81% of four-year-olds were enrolled in early childhood programmes in 2010, up from 77% in 2005.  What’s more, enrolments among three-year-olds rose from 64% to 69% during this same period. Since participation in early childhood education is linked to better performance later on in school, these developments bode well for a future in which improving young people’s skills will be more important than ever.

At the same time, this year’s Education at a Glance also shows that many OECD countries need to address the growing problem of youth who are not in employment, education or training. After several years of decline, the so-called “NEET” population began to rise in 2009 and spiked to nearly 16.0% in 2010 – a sign of the particular hardship young people have borne as a result of the global recession. As such, OECD countries would do well to examine measures that can productively engage people in this crucial age group, such as vocational education and training programmes and opportunities for non-formal education and training.

As always, the 2012 edition of Education at a Glance contains a rich array of indicators on educational attainment, graduation and completion, education financing, enrolment trends and the globalisation of higher education, and schools and teachers. In addition to the data discussed above, this year’s edition contains a number of other new indicators, including information on how the career aspirations of boys and girls compare to the fields young men and women study in higher education ; the factors that influence immigrant students’ performance in school ; who makes key decisions in education systems ; and the pathways and gateways to gain access to secondary and tertiary education.

For more information, and to download a copy of the book, visit the Education at a Glance website at:
Browse and share the book
Education at a Glance Highlights
Watch the video interview with Andreas Schleicher
Photo credit: Digital Vision/Inmagine

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Women’s outcomes in education and employment: strong gains, but more to do

by Éric Charbonnier and Corinne Heckmann
Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education

There’s no denying it: when it comes to education and employment, women are on a roll, all over the world.  As described in the latest issue of the OECD’s new brief series Education Indicators in Focus, the achievement gap between boys and girls has narrowed so much at lower levels of education that the focus of concern is now on the underachievement of boys.  On the 2009 PISA reading assessment, for example, 15-year-old girls outperformed boys in every OECD country, on average by 39 points – the equivalent of one year of school.

Young women are also making strong progress in higher education in OECD countries.  In 2000, 51% percent of women could be expected to enter a university-level programme at some point in their lives; today, the number is 66%.  In fact, the proportion of women who hold a university-level qualification now equals or exceeds that of men in 29 of the 32 OECD countries for which data are comparable. This figure is below 50% only in China, Japan, Korea and Turkey.

At the same time, still more can be done to improve outcomes for girls and young women in the classroom.  In mathematics, for example, 15-year-old boys tend to perform slightly better than girls in most countries, while science performance is more variable.  And in higher education, women remain under-represented at the most advanced levels.  Across all OECD countries, less than half of advanced research qualifications such as doctorates were awarded to women in 2009.  In Japan and Korea, the figure is only around 30%.  This pattern holds in all countries except Brazil, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal and the United States.

In addition, some fields of study are still branded as “masculine” or “feminine”. In 2009, more than 70% of higher education students in the field of education were women, and an average of 75% of the degrees in the fields of health and welfare also went to women. By contrast, in most countries, fewer than 30% of all graduates in the fields of engineering, manufacturing and construction were women.

Nonetheless, women’s strides in education have led to improved labour market outcomes for women overall. For instance, the gender gap in employment narrowed from 25 percentage points in 2000 to 21 percentage points in 2009 among those without an upper secondary qualification, and from 19 percentage points in 2000 to 15 percentage points in 2009 among those with an upper secondary qualification. And it’s narrower still among those with a higher education qualification, shrinking from 11 percentage points in 2000 to 9 percentage points in 2009.

Increasingly, OECD countries are doing more to address gender gaps – both in education and employment.  For example, in the Czech Republic, Germany and the Slovak Republic, the proportion of women graduating with science degrees grew by more than 10 percentage points between 2000 and 2009.  As a result, these countries are now closer to the OECD average of 40% -- a figure that has remained stable over the past decade. In 2000, the European Union announced a goal to increase the number of university graduates in mathematics, science and technology by at least 15% by 2010, and to reduce the gender imbalance in these subjects. So far, however, progress toward this goal has been marginal.

On the employment side, the Nordic countries, Germany and Portugal have instituted policies allowing fathers to receive parental leave and income support so their spouses can remain in the workforce.  In Iceland, Norway and Spain, some firms are required to have at least 40% of their boardroom seats assigned to women. Meanwhile, other companies, such as Deutsche Telekom, have introduced voluntary quotas for women in management and family-friendly practices such as flex-times and tele-working.

The bottom line is clear: while girls and women have made strong gains, it’s time to finish the job.  To promote gender equality even further, policymakers should be encouraged to pursue policies to increase mathematics and science performance among girls – as well as reading achievement among boys.  Meanwhile, initiatives to break down gender stereotypes in fields of study and progressive corporate policies can do more to increase women’s employment opportunities.

For more information
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus
OECD Gender Initiative
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators
On the OECD’s Indicators of Education Systems (INES) programme, visit:
INES Programme overview brochure
Chart source: OECD Education Database

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Tackling inequity

by Barbara Ischinger
Director for Education

What struck me most about the international roundtable on early childhood education and care that I attended late last month in Oslo was the simple fact that this topic attracted such intense interest. It probably wouldn’t have happened a decade ago. The fact that it’s happening now, even as most of the countries represented at the meeting are in the midst of an economic crisis, is an encouraging sign. It shows that more governments understand that equity of opportunity has to begin in the first years of life, in the earliest years of a child’s education, in order to give everyone a fair chance to succeed later on.

As recent headlines repeatedly tell us, and as is evident just looking around us, equity has become something of an endangered ideal. And this is, unfortunately, just as true in education as in many other areas of life. OECD research finds that one in five students does not complete secondary school; yet our research also shows that those 15-year-olds, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds, who had attended pre-primary education perform better on PISA than those who did not. In other words, give all children a good start and you give them the tools and the confidence to meet the challenges that arise later on in their lives.

It is easy to argue, particularly when governments are forced to make tough economic choices, that this kind of inclusiveness in education is too expensive to introduce and maintain, that the quality of the education provided would, inevitably, suffer. But some countries–Poland is one notable example–have already proven that inclusiveness and quality in education are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, I would argue that inclusiveness improves quality for all concerned, as it is to the advantage of society as a whole when people from different backgrounds learn with and from each other.

That is precisely the premise of Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools, which is published today. In essence, countries in the industrialised world cannot afford not to invest in quality early childhood, primary and secondary education for all: the cost to society later on–in high rates of unemployment, in poor health, in increasing criminal activity–would be far greater.

Many governments of OECD countries are now talking of structural reform to tackle complex problems cost-effectively; inequity–in education and in general–should be at the top of the agenda. In fact, education is no longer, if it ever was, an isolated issue. Education reform requires an all-government approach, involving policies related to such disparate domains as housing and taxation. It also requires commitment, both financial and philosophical. All governments say they want to tackle the problem of growing inequity that, left unchecked, could threaten the stability of our societies. Investing in quality education for all is one of the best ways of doing so.

More information about OECD work on equity in education:
Equity and Quality in Education - Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools
Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators
OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Photo credit: © Brian Kennedy/Flickr/Getty Images

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Higher education: an insurance policy against global downturns

by J.D. LaRock
Senior Analyst, Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education
During the first two years of the economic crisis, unemployment
was higher among adults with less education, on average across the OECD zone.
With all the economic turmoil of the past several years, have you ever wished you could buy an insurance policy to protect against the effects of a global recession?  Well, such a insurance policy already exists – and it’s called higher education.  During the first two years of the global economic crisis, in country after country, people with a tertiary (higher) education were much less likely to be unemployed, much more likely to be participating in the labour force, and more likely to have higher earnings, compared to their less-educated counterparts.

These and other findings are discussed in the first issue of the OECD’s new education brief series, Education Indicators in Focus.

As the crisis ramped up in 2008 and continued in 2009, unemployment rates increased across the board in OECD countries. However, the impact was much greater for adults without an upper secondary education. Among this group, unemployment rates rose from an already high 8.7% to 11.5%, and jumped five percentage points or more in Estonia, Ireland, Spain and the United States.  Adults with an upper secondary or equivalent level of education fared somewhat better: among this group, unemployment rates rose from 4.9% to 6.8% between 2008 and 2009 across the OECD zone.  However, in Estonia, Ireland, Spain and Turkey, jobless rates reached 10% or more for this group of people – a mark generally regarded as troublingly high territory for unemployment.

By contrast, people with a tertiary education were the best protected against unemployment during the thick of the global recession. Overall, unemployment rates in OECD countries ticked up just 1.1 percentage points for this group between 2008 and 2009, from 3.3% to 4.4%.  Moreover, 2009 unemployment rates remained at 5% or less for tertiary-educated people in 24 out of 34 OECD countries, and surpassed 8% in only two – Spain and Turkey.

Employment figures tell a similar story: during the crisis year of 2009, people with higher education not only had less trouble finding a job, but also had an easier time keeping the job they had.  Across all OECD countries, 83.6% of adults with a tertiary education were employed in 2009, compared to 74.2% of adults with an upper secondary or equivalent education, and just 56.0% of adults without an upper secondary education.  While a number of factors contribute to the level of adults’ participation in the labour force, higher employment rates for people with more education point to a better match between the skills these individuals possess and the skills the labour market demands, even during periods of economic crisis.

What’s more, the sizeable earnings premium that university-educated people typically enjoy in the labour market held strong during the crisis years of 2008 and 2009.  In 2008, among 14 OECD countries with comparable data, the typical employee with higher education earned 56% more than the typical employee with an upper secondary or equivalent education.  Even in the face of the economic crisis, this premium increased slightly to 57% in 2009. By contrast, the typical employee without an upper secondary education earned 23% less than a corresponding worker with an upper secondary education in 2008 – and this earnings penalty remained the same in 2009.

Having a higher education isn’t fail-safe protection from the consequences of a global economic downturn.  But like any good insurance policy, it can help people recover when bad things happen to them.  And with the economic outlook for 2012 looking as uncertain as it does, that’s no small comfort.

For more information
Education Indicators in Focus
Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators
OECD’s Indicators of Education Systems (INES) programme (Brochure PDF 2.3 KB)

Chart source: Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, Indicator A7.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Ringing in a new (school) year

Early September marks the beginning of a new school year for children in the northern hemisphere (our friends in the southern hemisphere have been back to school for months now). It also marks the beginning for OECD educationtoday's new blog home here at

Many of you know us at where for years now we have brought you the latest and greatest developments in education - in areas such as student performance, early childhood learning, online learning and more. Today, we are moving our blog to a new home, where we hope many more of you will find us, join us and tell us what you think.

We will continue to blog about hot topics in education around the globe and at OECD, bringing you an insider look at new findings in international student performance, skills, early childhood education, education innovation and more. Guest bloggers from within the OECD (including experts in the field) and from around the world (education ministers and education movers and shakers) will share their thoughts, listen to yours and respond to your questions and comments.

Next week look out for a post by Andreas Schleicher, all about OECD's Education at a Glance, our annual report on how countries around the world are measuring up inside and outside the classroom. You won't want to miss it!

There's nothing like having access to breaking and relevant thinking in your favourite field. Ours is education. You too? Sign up to receive our blogposts by email, join this site with Google Friend Connect, tweet out blogs you like (or those you don't) and keep coming back.

Now back to the pencil sharpeners, books and laptops ... a busy year lies ahead!
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Photo credit: © Creative Commons/Kaytee Riek