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

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Is more time spent in the classroom helpful for learning?

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



In OECD countries, between the ages of 6 and 15 – this is the age-bracket covered by compulsory education, including primary and lower secondary education – children are supposed to spend their days at school. All countries attach great value to schooling and expect children to learn the foundation skills during their time spent in formalised instruction. Therefore, one would expect there to be a shared view on how much time exactly children should spend in school.

The most recent issue of the Education Indicators in Focus series shows however that there is actually no common view. The data on the total number of instructions hours in primary and lower secondary education per country (see chart above) show a surprising variation in the number of hours OECD countries expect children to be at school. The OECD average total intended instruction time is 7 751 hours, but the instruction-time requirements range from 6 054 hours in Hungary to 10 710 hours in Australia. This means that the total time Hungarian children spend in school is only 56.5% of what their Australian peers have to spend. Even if we forget the outliers, we cannot ignore that the discrepancies between countries with very similar educational systems and histories are striking: the total intended instruction time in the Flemish Community of Belgium is only 71.5% of that in the Netherlands. And yet, both countries’ educational systems share many features and are performing very similarly in many educational outcome measures.

How much does instruction time actually matter then? Comparing country-level data on instruction time with PISA 2012 data on learning outcomes for mathematics does not seem to support the hypothesis that more instruction time leads to better student learning outcomes. As far as there is any relationship, it actually goes the other way: the 10 countries with the highest instruction time have a mean PISA score for mathematics, which is 20 score-points below that of the 10 countries with the lowest amount of instruction time. More than 2 700 hours of instruction in primary and lower secondary education do not seem to make a difference in learning outcomes at the end of that period. And at first sight more instruction time does not help reducing the proportion of low-achieving students either: the 10 countries with the highest number of instruction hours have 47% of 15 year-olds achieving at or below level 2 on the PISA math scale, compared with 40% for the 10 countries with the lowest amount of intended instruction time. It is likely that the amount of instruction time educational systems have settled on is related in quite complex ways to historical patterns and social conditions in countries. Or it may be a mere product of pure coincidence and tradition having gradually lost its social significance and relevance.

Of course, children do many more things than just sitting in the classroom, and they learn through many more daily activities than just going to school. After all, total instruction time in schools comprises an estimated 15% of total non-sleeping time of children aged between 6 and 15. From a learning perspective the remaining 85% is interesting. Some activities are school-related, such as homework, others expand formal learning into parallel environments, such as private tutoring or music lessons. In some countries these activities significantly increase the formal learning time beyond school-based instruction.  Children also participate in non-formal learning, such as sports, youth work and cultural activities. We should also not forget that children need time to play with friends, to engage in family time with parents and siblings, to learn from surfing the internet, to participate in social media, to watch television or just to enjoy being on their own. Very little is known about this crucial dimension of time of children and how it may contribute to learning. But several countries – mainly European ones such as Germany, Belgium, Austria, Nordic countries, etc. – who do not consider a very long school day for children as optimal for learning and well-being, attach great importance to safeguarding children’s play-time and joyful informal learning.

Completely different views on children’s learning time exist as well. In some countries activists and movements concerned with maximising learning opportunities for disadvantaged children seek to increase school-based instruction time, because they think it’s the only way to offer more favourable learning conditions to disadvantaged kids than the home or the street. Historically, this thinking aligns with some of the considerations which led to the implementation of compulsory education legislation one century ago.

There are many good reasons to bring children together in schools to offer them a powerful learning environment. But there doesn’t seem to be a shared view on exactly how much time children should spend in schools.

Links:
Education Indicators in Focus, Issue No. 22, by Eric Charbonnier and Nhung Truong
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus: www.oecd.org/education/indicators
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators: www.oecd.org/edu/eag.htm


Friday, March 28, 2014

Higher but also more flexible teacher salaries

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



 
If one were to ask today’s education ministers which topics were at the forefront of their mind, they would almost certainly refer to the quality of the teaching work force in their country. Countries have been looking towards combination of ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’ policies to address quality concerns regarding teachers. ‘Stick’ policies mainly include strengthening accountability and teacher evaluation procedures, sometimes linked to student achievement measures. But many countries understand that tightening the screws on teachers might not be the best answer;  the attractiveness of the teaching profession also comes into play. They are concerned that they don’t get the most promising students in teacher training, that they don’t recruit the best graduates in the teaching profession, and that many of them leave the profession too soon. And several countries fear being confronted with / the confrontation of teacher shortages in specific subject fields, but also more generally as the ageing teaching work force will result in important replacement problems in the near future.  A bigger ‘carrot’ might also be part of the solution.

The compensation of professionals is a complex issue, with many costs and benefits entering the equation of the relative attractiveness of a profession in an increasingly competitive market. Salaries are seen as part of the full package which also includes medical insurance, pensions, etc. In the case of the teaching profession, several secondary benefits – such as the work-life balance or the autonomy in the time-organisation of the tasks in relationship to the overall work load –play an important role in the  student’s decision-making. But the monetary compensation in the form of salaries is a crucial component of the package.

The most recent issue of the Education Indicators in Focus series provides the comparative statistical evidence on the salaries of teachers. The positive side of the picture is that in virtually all OECD countries, teachers’ salaries increased in real terms between 2000 and 2011. This trend coincided with a general rise in the qualifications needed to enter the teaching profession. However, the brief also shows enormous/ significant differences between countries in the relative pay of teachers, measured against the salaries of tertiary qualified professionals in general. As the graph above shows some countries pay their teachers up to 30% more than the average for tertiary educated professionals, but there are many more which pay them up to 30% less. The OECD average for upper secondary teachers is 89% of that benchmark salary. For lower-secondary school teachers it is 85% and for primary school teachers it is 82%.

Even if partially compensated with various other benefits, these figures do not support  the claim that teachers are among the better paid professionals. Their level of monetary compensation does not match the increasing social expectations and demands being placed on teachers or the ambitions of policy makers to recruit future teachers in the upper ratio of skills distribution of tertiary qualified graduates. Budgetary concerns, with which many countries are confronted, preclude massive increases in the short term. The expectation that a demographic decline in the size of the student population would create some room for salary increases, did not materialize due to a higher participation to education as a result of the economic crisis. Still, it is difficult to see how countries will be able to resolve their concerns in regard to teacher recruitment, without including higher compensation in the package of teacher policies.

The brief also reveals another important point: the rigidity of the salary structure of teachers. Statutory salaries are mainly determined by the level of education and by the age of teachers, formal criterions for which the rationality is difficult to ascertain (why should a primary school teacher be less educated and less well paid than an upper secondary one?). There still seems to be very little diversification or flexibility in the compensation of teachers. This fact is at odds with developments in other highly educated professions. The role of remuneration in the attractiveness of the teaching profession is perhaps not so much determined by its average level, but instead by the more specific relationship of salaries and tasks and demands, as well as the way teachers can positively influence their salaries through excellent performance. Countries should use salary flexibility to address specific policy concerns, such as recruiting/placing the best teachers in the most demanding schools. Teachers deserve a better compensation, but excellent teachers in demanding jobsare the most deserving.

Links:
Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 21, Eric Charbonnier
International Summit on the Teaching Profession 2014
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus: www.oecd.org/education/indicators
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators: www.oecd.org/edu/eag.htm
Related blog post:
The ever growing generation gap in the classroom, Dirk Van Damme

Chart source: OECD Education at a Glance 2013: Indicator D3.1  (www.oecd.org/edu/eag.htm)

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Making the right connections

by Barbara Ischinger
Director for Education

It’s becoming clear to me that the crisis in youth unemployment around the world is not just one of the aftershocks of the global economic downturn, but may also have roots in education systems that are not adequately preparing students for 21st-century economies. I took that message to a regional conference on Promoting Youth Employment in North Africa,  held in Tunis in mid-July, where I presented not only the OECD Skills Strategy but also discussed the importance of improving the quality of education and of teachers, and of making quality education accessible to all.

Some 41% of 15-24 year-olds in Tunisia are unemployed – a statistic that is devastating in the present and potentially catastrophic for the future of the country and the region. In more than half of OECD countries, the rate of unemployment among young people approaches or exceeds 20%; and many of the underlying conditions are the same as those found in Tunisia. These include not only weak or stagnant economic growth, but education systems that cling to outdated policies and practices and are divorced from the labour market.

Today, education systems are expected to provide graduates not only with foundation skills and knowledge in given disciplines, but also with the skills needed to adapt to changing employment circumstances and to transfer what they have learned to different environments – what are known as generic skills. To do this effectively, there has to be more co-operation between education systems and industry. Without dialogue, education systems will not know which skills are in demand in the labour market, while prospective employers will not know whether graduates are leaving education with the skills they are looking for. Employers, too, have to be willing to invest in further training for their employees; and policy makers need to provide fiscal incentives to make it attractive for employers to do so.

But equally important, education systems need to adopt more innovative, project-focused teaching methods, particularly in science, to spark students’ curiosity and involvement. I’m encouraged to see this already happening in many places: from France’s La Main à la Pâte programme, developed by the French Academy of Sciences, which aims to reinvigorate a hands-on approach to the teaching of science in elementary schools, to the Agastya International Foundation, which dispatches mobile science labs throughout rural India, to the science education company  founded by Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, who died last month, whose aim is to develop and support young girls’ and boys’ interest in science, math and technology.

There are – and will be – many more of these kinds of initiatives. Their value is not only that they help to make science more meaningful to students, but they can also help to make the important connection between what students learn in school and how that knowledge and those skills can be used effectively in the wider world. And if we can also make more connections between education systems and employers, then we may be able to help more young people fulfil their potential – and help more societies prosper – by creating a better match between young people’s skills and the jobs that propel economies.

Links
OECD Skills Strategy
Related blog posts:
“Creativity” is spelled with a “why”
Understanding youth, unemployment and skills in Africa
Photo credit: Stack of pebbles / Shutterstock