Thursday, April 20, 2017

Working together to build the culture of learning in the Netherlands

by Andreas Schleicher 
Director for Education and Skills, OECD

The Dutch are known for making a virtue of necessity. Now is a time when their reputation will be put to the test.

The Netherlands’ economy and society are being transformed by technological change, increased economic integration, population ageing, increased migration and other pressures. A highly skilled population with the opportunities, incentives and motivation to develop and use their skills fully and effectively will be essential for confronting the challenges and seizing the opportunities of the future. The Dutch skills system is strong compared to others internationally, but still the Dutch understand that for a small country with an open economy to remain competitive, it will need to reinforce the foundation of skills on which Dutch success has been built.

The OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Report: Netherlands, published today, identifies nine key skills challenges for the Netherlands and three priority areas for action.

So what are the priority areas for action?
  1. Fostering more equitable skills outcomes: The Dutch skills system works well to ensure that most people develop strong skills. Still, a large number of adults have very low levels of skills that mean they have trouble extracting information from longer and more complex texts or performing numerical tasks involving several steps. Too often these people are not actively engaged in learning to improve their skills. Older workers with still many years of working life ahead of them and migrants account for a sizable share of the low-skilled population. With the costs of marginalisation so high, and with an ageing population, the Netherlands cannot afford to waste its precious talent. 
  2. Creating skills-intensive workplaces: Despite having comparatively highly skilled population, the Netherlands could use these skills more intensively at work. Small and medium-sized firms, especially, could do more to get the most out of the skills of their workers. The increased adoption of high performance workplace practices, in particular, has potential to foster greater skills use at work, resulting in higher productivity, wages and greater job satisfaction.
  3. Promoting a learning culture: Despite many years of talk in the Netherlands about the importance of developing a learning culture and the introduction of a series of policy measures aimed at making it a reality, the country is still far from realising this aim, as evidenced by the low “readiness to learn” of Dutch adults when compared with their peers in other OECD countries. Many stakeholders confirm this assessment, finding that the Netherlands has much more to do in order to transform itself into a learning economy.
The OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Report: Netherlands reflects the many valuable contributions received from four ministries, the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands and hundreds of stakeholders who shared their perspectives on what are the key skills challenges facing the country and their causes, and proposed some good practices for addressing these challenges.

In a series of workshops, the Dutch lived up to their reputation for frankness and self-reflection, with many claiming that too many people in the Netherlands were neither developing the “right” skills to succeed, nor taking sufficient responsibility for maintaining and further developing their skills in adulthood. Firms also came in for some criticism for not investing sufficiently in the skills of their workers. Stakeholders also lamented that fact the Netherlands was failing to live up to its ambitions for creating a learning society.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the Netherlands is one of collective action. Taking action in these priority areas will require that governments, individuals, employers, trade unions, education and training providers and others take joint responsibility and action. 

Along with presenting a number of specific recommendations for addressing the countries skills challenges, the OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Report: Netherlands proposes the creation of skills strategy founded on a commitment to a “national skills pact” that goes beyond a virtuous “statement of intent”. One that would, at a minimum, be guided by a shared vision, specify the concrete actions that each partner needs to take, and establishes performance measures and clear public reporting requirements for all partners.

In the past, it took a whole of society effort to build the dikes and canals that protected the Netherlands from flooding and allowed it to reclaim land for habitation and cultivation. Today, the Dutch once again need to call upon their talent for collective action, this time to shore up the skills foundation upon which they will secure their future for generations to come.

For more on skills and skills policies around the world, visit:
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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Learning in school as a social activity

by Mario Piacentini
Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
What do 15-year-old students really need from school and what can school give them for their personal growth? The third volume of PISA 2015 results on students' well-being shows how important it is that education helps them develop not only knowledge and cognitive skills, but also the social and emotional competencies and resilience to thrive in the face of present and future challenges. Schools can attend to these needs, and making schools happy and caring communities is a feasible and worthwhile pursuit.

Happy schools are places where children feel challenged but competent, where they work hard but enjoy it, where social relationships are rewarding and respectful, and where academic achievement is the product but not the sole objective. Creating happy schools is the joint responsibility of teachers, parents and students.

All of us have memories of at least one teacher who made a difference in our life. My first teacher in elementary school not only taught me everything I wished to know about ancient Egypt; he also helped me to overcome some of my shyness and find my own way to express myself, in personal relationships as in writing. Emanuele, my teacher, used to hide short personal messages in our notebooks, and from these messages we all knew that he cared about us. My other good teachers had very different personalities and taught in very different ways, but all had one thing in common: they established good personal connections with students. If not every single student felt inspired in the same way, the class, as a community, was on the teachers’ side and willing to learn from them. And perhaps this is the main reason why these teachers looked so passionate and seemed so confident about their work.

The data from the latest PISA report confirm something that might sound obvious but whose implications are often underestimated: teachers educate for life, and their work is more effective if they can establish rewarding relationships with students. For example, PISA data show that students' anxiety related to school assignments and tests is a big issue in all countries, and that this anxiety is negatively associated with students' achievement and their perceptions of the quality of their life. On average across OECD countries, around 64% of girls and 47% of boys reported that they feel very anxious even if they are well prepared for a test.

Students who perceive that their teacher provides individual help when they are struggling were less likely to report feeling tense or anxious. By contrast, students were about 60% more likely to report that they feel very tense when studying if they perceive that their teacher thinks they are less smart than they really are. These data do not imply that teachers are not doing their job well. Rather, they confirm that teaching for the development of the "whole child" is a very difficult job. It requires that the school's objectives and how to achieve them are clearly understood and bought-into by everyone – the whole school staff, parents and students. It also demands that education policy acknowledges and supports the efforts of school communities to build positive learning environments.

Positive relationships with parents are another form of social support that enables adolescents to cope with stressful life situations and thrive. PISA 2015 data show that the majority of students in all countries feel that they can rely on their parents if they have difficulties at school. But those students who do not perceive this type of support from their parents, or do not spend time just talking with their parents, are more likely to feel isolated and disengaged from school.

Parents can find in teachers important partners for their children's education. Close communication between teachers and parents is essential for conveying consistent messages and supporting children and adolescents in all contexts. For this collaboration to happen, it is important that schools find ways to encourage all parents to participate in school life, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Teachers, school leaders and parents who work together can also reduce the incidence and consequences of the most dangerous threat to students' happiness: bullying. PISA 2015 shows that, in many countries, verbal and psychological bullying occurs frequently, with possibly devastating consequences on the present and future lives of too many children. On average across OECD countries, around 11% of students reported that they are frequently (at least a few times per month) made fun of, 8% reported that they are frequently the object of nasty rumours in school, and 7% reported that they are frequently left out of things. On average across OECD countries, around 4% of students reported that they are hit or pushed at least a few times per month, although this percentage varies from around 1% to 9.5% across countries.

PISA does not provide simple answers to what schools, teachers and parents should do to end bullying and improve the quality of life at school. Nor does it establish a ranking of countries regarding students' well-being. This new report gives a snapshot of the life 15-year-old students around the world are living. The large differences in how students – even within the same country – describe their life send the message that well-being is not just about personality and culture, it is also about life experiences at school that teachers and students can improve, together. Learning is a social activity; let's make it work.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Country Roads: Education and Rural Life

by Marc Fuster
Consultant, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

“Country roads, take me home” sang John Denver a while ago and, in fact, improvements in transportation and communication technologies have brought our cities and towns closer together. Some rural regions benefit today from their proximity to social and economic urban centres to attract people and enhance their economic competitiveness. Nevertheless, the attractiveness of rural regions, particularly those more remote, has been dropping off in many OECD countries. The trend is more severe among the young: Rural populations are ageing faster and in some cases declining.

The loss of critical mass makes service delivery more difficult and puts economic and social sustainability at risk. Education plays an important role in this equation as knowledge and skills are critical drivers of individual development, community cohesion and economic competitiveness. Yet several challenges for individuals in rural communities remain, such as lower levels of educational achievement and attainment.

The urban-rural divide begins in the early stages of education. Access to pre-primary programmes is more limited in rural areas, according to latest PISA data. As students advance in their education, the provision or quality of material resources, the percentage of computers connected to the internet, and the supply of extracurricular activities are all on average lower for pupils in smaller towns. This can have an impact on performance – and indeed, in PISA 2015, urban pupils outperformed rural ones in science by the equivalent of one year of schooling on average.

Indeed, rural schools are quite different from urban ones. Rural schools are usually smaller and have lower student-teacher ratios than urban schools. They are also more likely to have a less socio-economically advantaged student body, experience staff shortages and have a lower proportion of qualified teachers. These differences can have both negative and positive implications.    
On the one hand, smaller rural schools often combine students of different ages to make more efficient use of resources. This can also facilitate a climate of stronger co-operation and sense of belonging to the school. According to PISA 2015, teachers in rural schools support students in their learning more frequently than teachers in urban schools.

On the other hand, although school size does not necessarily determine the level of education provided, larger schools might be in a better position to offer more curricular and extra-curricular options to meet a diverse range of interests and needs, as they benefit from economies of scale (size-related cost advantages). They might also be more able to support teachers to work effectively.

Children’s schooling experiences largely depend on the quality of teaching. Nevertheless, teachers may feel insufficiently equipped or be reluctant to move to rural areas. Professionals need good knowledge and skills to teach multi-grade groups and a clear picture of what rurality means and rural communities can offer. Pre-service preparation with regards to rural teaching and living (rural practicums, for example), continuous in-service support, and adequate incentives to take up with work posts in smaller towns can raise both teachers' satisfaction and effectiveness.

Making appropriate use of new technologies is of crucial importance too, especially in more remote regions. Multiple forms of distance support can help in meeting the diverse needs and interests of students, widening student learning opportunities and providing more tailored support. ICT may also keep teachers closer to their peers, administrations and teacher education institutions to strengthen their professional position, and even allow schools to benefit from shared instructional materials and human capital in times of school closures due to financial constraints.

A new Trends Shaping Education Spotlight provides a closer look to these challenges and opportunities for education in rural regions. Rapidly growing urbanisation is undoubtedly one of the main characteristics of our time but, as Asterix would say, some small villages still indomitably hold out against it. Access to quality education is a key for them to thrive.

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)

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Photo source: Child goes on a country road. Sunlight. @shutterstock

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Developing an agenda for research and education in Wales

by Hannah von Ahlefeld
Project Lead, TALIS Initial Teacher Preparation study, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

It’s an exciting time in Wales for education. In the wake of a number of high-profile reports by the OECD and leading international experts urging change in teacher education, Wales is implementing a wave of reforms designed to improve delivery of teacher education. There is a new curriculum; new teacher and leadership standards for teachers; and new accreditation standards for providers of initial teacher education.

Research can be used as an important pillar and driver of these reform efforts. The need to build research capacity was underscored in Professor John Furlong’s review of initial teacher education in Wales, Teaching Tomorrow Teachers. He highlighted the importance of research as a means of developing student teachers as critical consumers of or participants in research; recognising the role of research or critical reflection in teachers’ professional learning; and encouraging “universities to help their staff develop as research active university lecturers.” (p. 13).

In countries like Finland, the Netherlands and Singapore, teachers are both consumers and producers of research. In these countries, evidence-based practice is embedded from initial teacher education through to induction and beyond, supporting the professional growth and development – and professionalisation – of teachers. But achieving this is no easy task. It requires a shared understanding of the importance of research by all stakeholders; effective partnerships between higher education institutions (HEI) and schools to ensure programmatic coherence and alignment between theory and practice; and coherent, strategic approach to delivery and evaluation of teacher education.

From 15-17 March 2017, more than 40 delegates from the Welsh Government, schools, higher education institutions, research, regional education consortia, Education Workforce Council and others met with eight experts from Australia, Flanders (Belgium), Norway, Netherlands, Singapore and the United States to brainstorm how to build up research capacity in schools, teacher education programmes and education faculties across Wales. Workshop participants worked together to define six key challenges facing Wales with regard to developing a research agenda:
  1. Need for a national strategic research plan for education in Wales that impacts learning
  2. Need to build up research capacity in education faculties
  3. Need to incorporate more and  deeper content knowledge  and expertise into teacher training and research in order to create depth in learning
  4. Need to curate, create and share research through HWB, HEIs, lead schools and pioneer schools – and provide teachers with the knowledge and skills to engage in research
  5. Need to better integrate theory and practice by developing a 1) national strategy for engaging all stakeholders in developing a common language on research and practice and 2) maximising the potential of the research agenda included in the professional standards across the sector
  6. Need for a national approach to professional learning to include an explicit commitment to (evidence-based) co-teaching.
As Wales continues on its reform journey, one thing is for certain. A shared vision and readiness for change, drawing on talent within Wales and internationally, can only lead to success.

For more information on the OECD Initial Teacher Preparation study, in which Wales is participating, along with Australia, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia and the United States, contact:

OECD Initial Teacher Preparation study
The Welsh Education Reform Journey: A Rapid Policy Assessment
Improving Schools in Wales: An OECD Perspective

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Does the world need people who understand problems, or who can solve them?

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

The label “21st -century skills” is being increasingly used, and sometimes misused, to indicate that the rapidly changing economic, social and cultural environment of the current century demands a revision of what we think are crucial subjects for the next generations to learn. Examples include creativity, innovation, critical thinking, curiosity, collaboration, cross-cultural understanding or global competence. Some people wonder whether these skills are truly new, or whether education has always been about fostering these capabilities. But stakeholders – not least employers and the business sector – continue to complain that they don’t find candidates leaving the education systems who have the skills they think matter for the jobs they have to offer. And they claim that this is the case because current education systems do not sufficiently prioritise the development of such skills.

Many countries have recently embarked on a fundamental revision of their national curricula or curricula frameworks that offer guidance to schools and teachers. As is evident from the OECD project, The Future of Education and Skills: Education 2030, the need to rethink the skills toolkit in light of what tomorrow’s economies and societies will need is what keeps education policy makers and practitioners awake at night.

In these debates, the skill referred to as “problem solving” takes a prominent place. It is probably one of the most frequently referenced 21st-century skills. When the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) started to explore the possibility to assess domains other than reading, mathematics and science, it almost naturally moved to the area of problem solving. The assessment included a problem-solving test in 2012, followed by one on collaborative problem solving in 2015. One of the remarkable results in 2012 was that the results of the assessments of reading, mathematics and science were not very well aligned with the results of the assessment of problem-solving, despite the fact that the PISA assessment frameworks themselves – in contrast to that for TIMMS, for example – already focus on solving real-world problems, rather than applying textbook knowledge. Problem solving thus seems to be a distinct competence.

A recently published OECD publication, The Nature of Problem Solving: Using Research to Inspire 21st Century Learning, explores the concept of problem solving in great depth. The book does not offer an extensive assessment framework as such; rather, it discusses the conceptual and empirical research that various members of the Problem-Solving Expert Group for PISA 2012 used to build the assessment. The title of the volume explicitly refers to the publication, The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice. The book also fits into work on ongoing exploration of 21st-century skills.

While the book does not fully define the competency of problem solving, some common characteristics emerge. Problem-solving clearly builds on strong cognitive capabilities, but mobilises them in different ways. In solving problems that are usually complex, humans have to apply knowledge – often incomplete knowledge – in contexts where the conditions are often uncertain in order to offer a practical solution to a real-world challenge. Problem-solving is often referred to as a cross-curricular competence in the sense that solving problems in the real world obliges people to draw on knowledge from different fields and disciplines. Because real-world problems in volatile contexts are different from one another, problem-solving skills are unlike routine skills and procedural methods.

In the current debate on 21st-century skills, sometimes naïve views on innovating curriculum frameworks are being contested by policy makers and activists who defend a purely knowledge-oriented view of education and oppose recent shifts towards competency-based approaches in education. But in the case of problem solving, the knowledge-versus-skills dualism is not very helpful. The book clearly demonstrates that excellent problem-solving skills very much depend on deep levels of knowledge and outstanding analytical capabilities. But while cognitive and analytical capabilities help in interpreting and understanding problems, effective problem solving requires an additional element of decision making, implementation and communication. The combination of these capabilities is what makes problem-solving skills unique.

Research and reflection on problem solving and the deep analysis of the PISA results on both students’ individual and collaborative problem-solving skills are indispensable for innovating teaching and learning, and for making education more relevant and future oriented. The VUCA world – a world characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – will demand only more problem-solving skills. It is not difficult to predict that tomorrow’s world will need more problem solvers.

The Nature of Problem Solving: Using Research to Inspire 21st Century Learning
The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
The Future of Education and Skills: Education 2030
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

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Photo source: The Nature of Problem Solving: Using Research to Inspire 21st Century Learning, OECD

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Building tax systems to foster better skills

by Pascal Saint-Amans
Director, Centre for Tax Policy and Administration
Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Investing in skills is crucial for fostering inclusive economic growth and creating strong societies. In an increasingly connected world, skills are particularly important for citizens to get the most out of new forms of capital, such as big data and robotics. More and more, policy makers are recognising that rapid change in technologies and work practices mean that people will have to continually upgrade their skills throughout their lives.

This new reality raises many questions for governments, firms and individuals, including: who is to pay for all these skills investments? In many OECD countries, student debt is rising, and in many others, public debts are persistently high. How can policy makers decide on the right financing mix for students and governments?

This is where taxes have an important role to play. In a nutshell, delivering educational services will depend on taxes, and good tax income will depend on good educational services.  A new OECD Tax Policy Study, Taxation and Skills,  released today, highlights the role of the tax system in ensuring that the right financial incentives are provided for investments in skills. This means making sure that governments, individuals and firms all share the costs and the benefits of better skills.

In addition to raising the revenue to finance government spending on skills, every OECD country uses the tax system to provide support for skills investments. Provisions such as tax credits, tax deductions and reduced tax rates on student income help governments support skills investments both early on and later in life. Sharing the costs in this way can make investing in skills more affordable, although these tax provisions need to be well-designed.

Besides helping share costs, the tax system divides the returns to skills between governments and students. When investments in skills yield returns, it means that individuals get higher wages, and governments get more tax revenue.

The results published today show that these returns to skills are substantial. In almost every country examined, both students and governments earn a sound return on skills investments. In some countries, however, policies could be improved to better share the returns to skills between individuals, firms and governments. Rising earnings premiums paid to skilled workers across OECD countries means that the returns to skills may grow into the future. This means better wages for individuals, more profits for firms and more sustainable public finances for governments, a win all around.

In spite of these high returns, many workers do not have the right financial incentives to make the necessary investments in their skills to succeed throughout their lives. Unlike physical assets, like property and equipment, human capital cannot be used as collateral for borrowing to finance investments. This impedes access to credit for individuals’ skills investments. Firms may also underinvest in skills because they worry that newly skilled workers may be poached by competitors. Often, individuals and firms do not have access to the right information to make informed choices about how they can invest in their skills.

Designing tax and spending policies to encourage skills investments is crucial. Useful policy approaches can include refundable tax credits for lifelong learning, income-contingent loans for tertiary education, or extra tax deductions for firms that invest in their workers’ skills.

OECD governments are increasingly looking at how policies can be designed to raise productivity, innovation and growth. We hear a lot about how tax systems can encourage investments in physical capital and innovative technologies through R&D tax credits and other measures. The report released today shows the importance of tax policies that are equally geared towards incentivising investments in human capital.

OECD Tax Policy Studies: Taxation and Skills
The productivity and equality nexus
Policy Brief on the Future of Work: Skills for a Digital World
OECD work on Skills
Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators

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Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Preparing teachers for change – in and outside of the profession

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Every year in March, education ministers and union leaders of the highest-performing and most rapidly improving education systems (according to PISA) meet to seek ways to improve the status of the teaching profession. Many countries could use such guidance. While in Finland teaching has become the most prestigious profession – those who don’t compete successfully for a place in teacher education can still become lawyers and doctors – in other countries, the situation is very different. In the Slovak Republic, France and Sweden, for example, just 5 in 100 teachers agree that teaching is a valued profession in society; in Croatia and Spain, fewer than 10 in 100 teachers agree.

Ministers and union leaders concur that success hinges on ownership by the profession. Real change won’t happen without teachers being active agents for change. When governments don’t succeed in engaging teachers in the design of reforms, teachers can’t and won’t help much in implementing those reforms. That has to do with public confidence in professionals and the profession; with decisions made according to the body of knowledge of the profession; and with acceptance of responsibility and accountability in the name of the profession.

This year’s summit, held in Edinburgh, Scotland, focused on how education can become more responsive to changes in social demands and, at the same time, resilient to political change. One thing is clear: the weaker the profession, the more vulnerable education will be to political decisions, and the less trust education practitioners will have in the notion that the problems they face can actually be solved by evidence and science.

But ministers shared good examples of how governments can help make great ideas real, how to strengthen professional autonomy and a collaborative culture where great ideas are shared, refined and borrowed, and where access to funding and non-financial support lifts those ideas into action.

Estonia reminded participants of the importance of celebrating successes and finding better ways to recognise, reward and give exposure to success to convey the expectations for the system. Governments can build incentives to strengthen the visibility of and demand for what works. Indeed, many ministers spoke about the importance of evidence-based policy in education, and that it is best served when the profession plays a part in developing policy. Indeed, we heard from union leaders in Sweden that teachers want – and need – to be part of designing research and conducting it. As its name implies, evidence-based policy starts with evidence.

Singapore shared its experience in establishing a middle layer through the profession that is not government but governance. It recounted how allowing a free exchange of ideas among the teaching profession, policy makers and researchers can build the trust that then works as a glue for professional partnerships. Trust is needed in all directions: between policy and practice, between practice and research, and between research and policy.

The Netherlands tries out policy initiatives through a new Teacher Innovation Fund, where teachers apply for funding for innovation. Results are not assessed by the government but by peers, who decide which projects get funded and which don’t.

These are all valuable lessons. But the summit concluded with several unresolved issues too.

As New Zealand put it, to secure excellent outcomes for all children, we need a much more granular approach: an approach that identifies which kids and where, which resources for what, and how to give these children the education that all good systems should be delivering. While it is easy to accept that principle for children, we also need to extend it to the teaching profession itself. We need to think much more creatively about how we can capitalise on the diverse interests, skills and aspirations of individual teachers and see that they work where they can make the greatest contribution with more differentiated careers.

Inevitably, that will be difficult. But we can’t have teachers pursue a social and personal mission if our approach to delivery remains industrial. Singapore showed us that professional differentiation isn’t necessarily about pay, but can also be about the opportunity for professional development.

The summit also discussed how to reconcile the growing public push for greater flexibility and choice in education with the imperative of inclusiveness and public responsibility that governments have for all their citizens. Excellence and equity are inseparable; yet excellence does not automatically follow from equity, nor the other way around.

Countries will also need to find better ways to reconcile the imperative of innovation with the need for stability, coherence and equity. Everyone needs to develop realistic expectations about the pace and nature of reform – even if that is difficult in the heat of debate. Scotland reminded us that time and patience are needed to understand the impact of reform measures, to build trust and develop the capacity needed to move on to the next stage of policy development.

Many countries are also trying to address severe recruitment challenges. They will succeed only if they can make teaching both financially and intellectually more attractive and if they can address issues around workload and teacher well-being. Union leaders from Sweden, England and New Zealand told us how teachers need time above everything else: more time to prepare, more time to collaborate with colleagues and do the things they want to do to improve the lives of the children. But I don’t think we can continue to afford equating the need for more time with the need for more people. No other profession can afford that either. Given the constraints on public budgets, we need to find more innovative ways to use the people, spaces, time and technology we already have to respond to new challenges.

The 2017 International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP 2017)
ISTP Summit Background report: Empowering and Enabling Teachers to Improve Equity and Outcomes for All by Montserrat Gomiendo, Deputy Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
29-31 March in Edinburgh, Scotland
Archived webinar - Empowering and Enabling Teachers to Improve Equity and Outcomes for All (with Andreas Schleicher, Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills, OECD)
Follow on Twitter #ISTP2017

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Photo source: Welcome posters by St Albert's Primary School and Ayton Primary School students, Scottish Government

Monday, April 03, 2017

How to return to the “gold standard” for education

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Results from our comparative PISA studies have often been disappointing for Sweden; they’ve been disappointing for me too. When I was a university student, I used to look to Sweden as the gold standard for education. It was a country that was providing high-quality and innovative education to children from all social classes, and that was close to making lifelong learning a reality for all.

But sometime in the early 2000s, the Swedish school system somehow lost its soul. Superior learning outcomes weren’t enough anymore: Swedish educators felt that they had to offer their students shiny buildings in shopping centres, or a driving license instead of better teaching.

And even though students were getting better marks each year, PISA observed a steady decline in the quality of learning outcomes. Beyond that, new analyses show that, after Finland and Korea, Sweden has also seen one of the biggest increases in social inequality, a growing share of low performers, and widening disparities between schools that have led to the biggest decline in academic inclusion after that observed in Israel.

But Sweden has every chance to become one of the world’s leaders in education again, and PISA 2015 results show the first encouraging improvements in that direction.

Sweden has one asset that few other countries in the Western world offer: a firm belief in the power of education to transform lives and promote social inclusion. And with that comes the unwavering commitment of Swedish citizens and policy makers to do whatever it takes to provide all children with the knowledge, skills and values to create a bright future.

But some things are in urgent need of change.

At the top of my list is belief in the ability of every child to succeed. Top school systems realise that ordinary students have extraordinary talents; they embrace diversity with differentiated instructional practices. The fact that a majority of Swedish students who sat the PISA test believe that success in mathematics is the result of talent rather than hard work suggests that Sweden must try harder to raise students’ trust in their abilities and their commitment to learning. When students in Singapore were asked the same question, virtually all of them said that if they work hard, they trust their teachers to support them and that they will succeed. And they do.

Sweden also needs to revert to one of the traditional strengths of its school system: support for disadvantaged youth. The best-performing education systems attract the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms. One of the most disturbing findings from PISA is that Sweden has become almost as regressive as the United States when it comes to matching teacher talent with student needs.

England tries to mitigate socio-economic disparities through a pupil premium, which provides schools with additional resources in accordance with the challenges they face. Schools have to figure out how to spend that money best and are publicly accountable for that. Many other countries use weighted funding formulas that ensure that schools have everything they need to overcome disadvantage. They make it a privilege, not a punishment, for teachers to teach in those schools. 

These funding mechanisms include earmarked funding, defining criteria for municipalities and schools, and student funding formulae, to ensure equity and, especially, consistency in school funding.

Sweden also needs to raise standards and aspirations for students. The fact that Swedish students think they are doing fine while their learning outcomes hover around the average underlines the need to significantly strengthen rigour, focus and coherence in school standards and teaching methods. There is a similar need to seriously review teaching methods. According to PISA, the majority of mathematics problems to which Swedish students are exposed are tasks with relatively low cognitive demand, which teachers then try hard to recast as real-world problems. In contrast, tasks requiring deep conceptual understanding and complex ways of thinking are relatively rare. Similarly, while Swedish students do OK when it comes to knowing certain science content, often they can’t think like a scientist.

Most countries declare their commitment to education; but the test comes when that commitment is weighed against others. How are teachers paid compared to how others with the same level of education are paid? Would you want your child to be a teacher? How often are schools and schooling the subject of media attention?

Nowhere does the quality of a school system exceed the quality of its teachers. Top school systems are rigorous in selecting and training their staff. They attract the best talent and monitor the performance of teachers who are struggling. They provide intelligent pathways for teachers to grow in their careers. By adopting a new career structure, Sweden has taken the first steps in that direction; but a lot more needs to be done to advance from industrial to professional forms of work organisation in Swedish schools that encourage teachers to use innovative pedagogies, improve their own performance and that of their colleagues, and work together to frame good practice.

And Sweden needs to do more to grow and distribute leadership throughout the school system. School leaders and their employers need to prioritise pedagogical leadership and encourage greater co-operation among teachers and invest more in professional development.

Perhaps the toughest challenge is to put in place a coherent national school system and improvement strategy. A good school system is always more than a few thousand independent schools. School evaluation and accountability needs to be strengthened so that schools, parents and teachers are given clear and consistent guidance as to where they stand and how they can improve. That also means that the Swedish Schools Inspectorate should provide much more assistance to individual schools to examine their weaknesses and to bring about a shift in culture from administrative compliance towards responsibility for better results.

Perhaps the most sensitive point is how to reconcile public demand for choice and competition among schools with the imperative of inclusiveness and public responsibility that governments have for all their citizens. Excellence and equity are inseparable; but excellence does not automatically follow from equity, nor equity from excellence.  

There is nothing wrong with school choice; but the combination of school choice and deregulation has proven to be a toxic mix. The more flexibility Sweden provides for its school system, the stronger its school system needs to be overall, and government cannot delegate that responsibility to the market or to municipalities.

Many school systems have addressed the issue of school choice through targeted vouchers or controlled-choice schemes that ensure a more diverse distribution of students in schools. National guidelines that encourage a culture of collaboration and peer learning among schools, and that ensure that municipalities integrate independent schools in their planning, improvement and support strategies, could also help; so could better access to information about schools and better support to parents who are making the difficult choices.

In Flanders (Belgium), for example, parents and students get to choose up to four schools from a list of schools in their geographical area. An Inter-Network Enrolment Commission then steers the selection process, allocates students according to their priorities, and according to weighted geographical and educational criteria.

PISA data also show that the difference between the socio-economic profiles of publicly and privately managed schools is twice as large in education systems that use universal vouchers as in systems that use socially targeted vouchers. Regulating private school pricing and admissions criteria seems to help limit the social inequity that is often the by-product of voucher schemes.

Of course, effective policies are far easier designed than implemented. But the world provides plenty of examples of improvements in education, and there is no time to lose. Without the right skills, people end up on the margins of the society, technological progress doesn’t translate into economic growth, and countries face an uphill struggle to remain competitive, much less ahead, in this hyper-connected world.

Improving Schools in Sweden: An OECD Perspective
Download the presentation: "Improving Equity in Sweden" by Andreas Schleicher, Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Photo Source:@istock

Friday, March 31, 2017

Have emerging Latin American countries chosen quantity over quality in education?

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

Developing human capital is an integral part of economic growth and social progress. Mature, developed economies in Europe, North America and Australasia expanded their education and skills systems mainly after the Second World War in a context of unbridled economic prosperity and the modernisation of their social and political institutions. The conditions were favourable for increasing the share of tertiary-educated workers, ensuring that upper secondary education gradually became the minimum level of educational achievement for large parts of the population, and for reducing the numbers of people without an upper secondary education. These countries also benefitted from the luxury of time. It took OECD countries 30 years, on average, to halve the share of people without an upper secondary education – from 32% among current 55-64 year-olds to 16% among 25-34 year-olds.

Conditions have not been as auspicious elsewhere. Consider Latin America. As shown in the chart above – taken from the most recent Education Indicators in Focus brief on educational attainment and investment in education in Ibero-American countries – the progress made in Chile, Colombia and Brazil between the two generations, separated by the same 30 years, is more than double the OECD average. In contrast, over 50% of 25-34 year-olds in both Costa Rica and Mexico lack an upper secondary education.

The chart also offers a comparison with Spain and Portugal, with which these Latin American countries share language, history and culture. Despite their location on the European continent and their integration in the European Union, both countries do not compare favourably with their counterparts in the Ibero-American world. Still, over the past 30 years, Portugal has made impressive progress in catching up to attainment levels observed in most other European countries.

These achievements are remarkable; but the obvious question is: has this change in educational attainment been matched with a similar rise in skills? Put another way: has the quality of education and learning outcomes been maintained during a time of massive expansion? As shown by the latest results from the Survey of Adult Skills for Chile – the only Ibero-American country that participated in the survey apart from Spain – 25-34 year-olds scored around 50 points higher in literacy then 55-64 year-olds did – a significant difference that is also larger than that observed in most other participating countries. However, the level of literacy proficiency remains relatively low. The younger cohort scored around 235 points, on average, on the literacy scale, while the OECD average score is around 280 points. Even with an educational attainment level close to the OECD average, the actual level of literacy skills among these younger adults is significantly lower than the OECD average. Chilean 16-24 year-olds who have upper secondary education or who are still in education scored around 235 points in literacy – which is far below all of the other participating countries and economies, except Jakarta in Indonesia.

Even if limited to one country, these data suggest that achieving impressive growth in educational attainment in emerging Latin American countries is not sufficient – and, in fact, can be deceptive. The real challenge is to improve the quality of education so that young people leave the system equipped with the skills that their economies and societies need to foster sustainable progress. The scores on the PISA 2015 reading assessment (which measures the skills of 15-year-olds) for Colombia (425 points), Mexico (423 points) and Brazil (407 points) – all well below the score for Chile (459 points) – suggest that the challenges implicit in maintaining quality are even greater among those other emerging Latin American countries.

The shift in focus from access and attainment to quality of learning embodied in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal for education, agreed upon by the whole world, is thus very timely and much needed. The emerging economies of the world, and the developing countries in their wake, should do more than just bridge the gap with the developed world in formal education levels; they should ensure that young adults emerge from their education systems with skills that matter. The price to be paid for neglecting this political imperative is disillusion among young people when their qualifications do not deliver on their promises, and ultimately stalled economic growth and thwarted social progress.

Education Indicators in Focus No. 50: Educational attainment and investment in education in Ibero-American countries
Skills in Ibero-America: Insights from PISA 2012
Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators
PISA 2015 Results
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Education
Follow the conversation on twitter: #OECDEAG

Chart source: OECD, Education at a Glance (database),

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Empowering teachers to improve equity and inspire learning

by Andreas Schleicher 
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Fáilte! Welcome to the International Summit on the Teaching Profession 

The expectations for teachers are high and rising each day. We expect teachers to have a deep understanding of what they teach and to keep up with the rapidly expanding knowledge base; to be passionate, compassionate and thoughtful; to make learning central and encourage students’ engagement and responsibility; to respond effectively to students of different needs, backgrounds and mother tongues, and to promote tolerance and social cohesion; to provide continual assessments of students and feedback; and to ensure that students feel valued and included and that learning is collaborative. We also expect teachers themselves to collaborate and work in teams, and with other schools and parents, to set common goals, and plan and monitor the attainment of goals collaboratively. And there is more to this: Successful learners generally had a teacher who was a mentor and took a real interest in their aspirations, who helped students understand who they are, discover what their passions are and where they can capitalise on their specific strength; who taught them how to love to learn and to build effective learning strategies as the foundation for lifelong learning.

All of this is easy to say, hard to do. But one thing is clear, where teachers are not part of the design of effective policies and practices, they won’t be effective in their implementation. Education needs to do more to create a teaching profession that owns its professional practice. When teachers feel a sense of ownership over their classrooms and their profession, when students feel a sense of ownership over their learning, that is when productive learning takes place. And when teachers assume that ownership, it is difficult to ask more of them than they ask of themselves. So the answer is to strengthen trust, transparency, professional autonomy and the collaborative culture of the profession all at the same time.

The International Summit on the Teaching Profession, which brings together Ministers and Union leaders of the best performing and most rapidly improving education systems each year, has proved the ideal platform to move the search for effective teacher policies and practices forward. And one of the secrets of the success of the Summit has been that it explores difficult and controversial issues on the basis of sound evidence, provided by the OECD as global leader for internationally comparable data and analysis.

The OECD’s most recent report, Empowering and Enabling Teachers to Improve Equity and Outcomes for All, supports these discussions by looking at how high-performing education systems learn to adapt, providing teachers with the necessary tools to help students develop new sets of skills in a rapidly changing landscape.

The 2017 International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP 2017)
ISTP Summit Background report: Empowering and Enabling Teachers to Improve Equity and Outcomes for All  by Montserrat Gomiendo, Deputy Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
29-31 March in Edinburgh, Scotland
Archived webinar - Empowering and Enabling Teachers to Improve Equity and Outcomes for All (with Andreas Schleicher, Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills, OECD)
Follow on Twitter #ISTP2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How inequalities in acquiring skills evolve

by Francesca Borgonovi
Senior Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Since 2000, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has been a key source of information on how well societies and education systems have equipped 15-year-old students with the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. However important this information is, most 15-year-old students can expect to stay in education or training for at least another three to four years after they are eligible to sit the PISA test; those who go on to complete higher degrees are looking at around another ten years of study. The tendency to devote more and more years to the development of skills through formal schooling, further education and training implies that the effectiveness of education and training systems should not be judged solely on how well 15-year-old students have mastered certain skills.

PISA data reveal large disparities in achievement not only across countries, but also within countries across different subgroups of students. In particular, compared to other students, students from socio-economically disadvantaged households score lower in the three core subjects considered in PISA: reading, mathematics and science. However, PISA by itself cannot identify how disparities in achievement evolve between the teenage years and young adulthood.

A new OECD working paper released today combines data from PISA and the Survey of Adult Skills to identify how socio-economic disparities in achievement evolve as students make the transition from compulsory schooling into further education, training or the labour market. In most countries, the socio-economic disparities in literacy and numeracy observed among 15-year-old students not only persist in young adulthood, but tend to widen.

Further education and participation in the labour market are crucial for acquiring skills after compulsory schooling. But socio-economically disadvantaged young people are considerably less likely than their more advantaged peers to attend post-secondary education and training, and are more likely to drop out of education without a secondary level qualification. They are also more likely to be unemployed or out of the labour force and to work in jobs that require little advanced, on-the-job training or practice of higher-order thinking skills.

Although it is not possible to establish causality, the data suggest that, once compulsory schooling is over, the opportunities available to young people to develop their skills diverge – in ways that are largely related to socio-economic status.

Adult Skills in Focus No. 5: Do socio-economic disparities in skills grow between the teenage years and young adulthood?
OECD Working Paper No. 155: Youth in Transition: How does the Cohort Participating in PISA Fare in PIAAC
PISA 2015 Results
Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)

Chart Source: OECD Survey of Adult Skills (2012, 2015), ; OECD PISA (2000, 2003), ;

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Finding and cultivating talented teachers: Insights from high-performing countries

by Esther Carvalhaes
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills 

Teachers are the backbone of any education system. After all, without qualified teachers, how can governments and schools secure each child’s right to quality education and build a society of educated citizens, capable of shaping their own future?  But selecting the right candidates to the profession – aspiring teachers who hold the promise of becoming great teachers – can often feel like an elusive task. The complications start with the very definition of what a good teacher is.

In a rapidly changing world, having a strong knowledge base in their subject area, good classroom management skills and a commitment to helping students learn may no longer be enough to meet the expanding role of teachers. Nowadays, teachers are expected to teach diverse groups of students, adapt to new technologies and curricular changes, and be attuned to the skills, values and attitudes that their students will need in the near future. The reality is: most teachers develop those skills on the job, which makes it harder to predict from the outset who has the potential to become an effective teacher.

But that does not deter some PISA high-performing countries from keeping a close eye on the pool of candidates entering the profession. As this month’s PISA in Focus shows, in Finland, Hong Kong (China), Macao (China) and Chinese Taipei, for example, those who wish to enter a teacher training programme must pass a competitive entry examination. In Japan, it is not enough to receive training from such programmes: graduates must pass a competitive examination before they start teaching. In Singapore, recruitment starts by looking at the best students from the secondary school graduating class; in addition, teaching graduates must complete a probation period in order to teach. Yet, some of these requirements are also found in low-performing countries, showing that selection mechanisms alone are not enough to ensure a qualified teaching force.

Certification requirements add another quality checkpoint to the profession. Research shows that students learn more from teachers who are certified in the subject they teach compared to those taught by uncertified teachers. In PISA 2015, countries that performed above the OECD average in science have a higher percentage of fully certified teachers (92%) compared to other countries (76%), on average. In OECD countries, even though almost all teachers are certified, a modest but positive association is observed between the proportion of fully qualified teachers and student performance.

High-performing countries also know that great teaching may only occur after a good deal of practice, allowing teachers to deepen their knowledge base and skills. This is why professional development is critical, particularly school-based activities. In high-performing countries, at least 80% of students are in schools that invite specialists to conduct teacher training, organise in-service workshops or where teachers co-operate with each other, while only 40% to 60% of students in Algeria, Brazil, Kosovo and Turkey are in such schools. Within countries, teacher collaboration clearly pays off: students in schools where teachers co-operate by exchanging ideas or materials score higher in science. It makes sense: rather than sitting through hours of mandatory lectures that are only weakly connected to their day-to-day practice, teachers benefit more from learning from each other and from sharing “tried and tested” techniques that work in their own contexts, as TALIS results also show.

These are some of the ways in which countries boost teacher quality: they strive to attract the best candidates to the profession, but also foster a culture of continuous learning by engaging teachers in professional development and in peer networks to strengthen their knowledge and maintain high standards of teaching. Together with the ability to take work-related decisions, these form the pillars of a professional teacher workforce.

PISA in Focus No. 70: What do we know about teachers’ selection and professional development in high-performing countries?
PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education
Teaching in Focus No. 14: Teacher Professionalism

The 2017 International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP 2017)
29-31 March in Edinburgh, Scotland
Join a public webinar on Wednesday, 29 March, 12:00pm Europe Summer Time (Paris, GMT +02:00) with Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Education and Skills Directorate.
Follow on Twitter #ISTP2017

photo credit:friendly senior high school teacher helping students in classroom @shutterstock

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Why do so many women want to become teachers?

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

It is well known that the share of women in the teaching force is growing. According to the latest Education Indicators in Focus brief, the average share of female teachers across OECD countries increased from 61% in 2005 to 65% in 2010 and to 68% in 2014, in all education levels combined. Around 82% of primary school teachers and 63% of secondary school teachers are women. Some policy makers see this trend as a cause for concern, citing, among other things, that the lack of male teachers and role models might play a role in the decline of learning outcomes among young boys. But it seems fair to say that few people would be concerned about a similarly skewed gender imbalance in other professions if it benefited men.

The statistics on the age distribution of male and female teachers show that the gender imbalance in the teaching profession will increase even more in the years to come. At the lower secondary level, women make up 70% of teachers under the age of 30, while they account for 65% of those aged 50 and over. This pattern is observed in 22 out of 35 countries with available data. The larger proportion of women among young teachers raises concerns about future gender imbalances at the lower levels of education, where women already dominate the profession.

Gender imbalances among teachers have a lot to do with gender stereotyping, and the power and prestige connected with certain occupations within the profession. This is seen in the smaller shares of female teachers in the higher levels of education, in (perceived) more prestigious fields of study and in leadership positions. Women fill only 43% of the jobs in tertiary education. In secondary school, women are less frequently found teaching science, mathematics and technology classes. And, on average across OECD countries, 68% of lower secondary teachers are women, but only 45% are principals. This is particularly striking given that principals tend to be recruited from among the ranks of teachers – suggesting that female teachers are less likely to be promoted to principal than their male counterparts. So, the large share of women in the teaching profession is, itself, skewed towards specific jobs: those at the bottom of the education pyramid and the bottom of the hierarchy of power.

So why, then, do so many women want to become teachers? Gender imbalances in teaching are the result of women’s conscious and strategic choices as much as of labour market conditions, social norms and cultural messages. In many countries, women’s increased participation in the labour market coincided with the need for more trained teachers in expanding education systems. Countries where female labour participation in general is low, like Japan, also have the smallest shares of female teachers. In addition, stereotypical views of teaching as a profession that, at times, resembles parenting, probably play a role, especially with younger generations of women who apparently value motherhood more than their own baby boom mothers did. Labour provisions that allow teachers to work part time and to flexibly combine work, family life and the care of one’s own children also seem to be more appealing to women.

But less well-known is that the salaries of teachers, as measured against the average wages of other tertiary-educated workers, are much more attractive for women than for men. As shown in the chart above, on average across OECD countries, male primary school teachers earn 71% of the wages of other tertiary-educated men. But female teachers earn a significantly higher relative wage. Women in primary education earn over 90% of the salaries of other tertiary-educated female workers. While men and women doing the same teaching job in public schools earn nearly the same, the relative value of their earnings in the professional labour market is strikingly different. This is probably why more women are interested in teaching, especially at the lower levels of education.

Paradoxically, introducing a greater gender balance into the teaching profession depends on the extent to which and the speed with which other sectors reduce gender gaps in earnings. But the education sector could do much more to ensure that women are promoted into leadership positions, and to end the stereotyping that prevents women from breaking the glass ceiling in specific subject areas and in universities. It could also do more to attract young men into teaching by offering them better career prospects and labour conditions that can make teaching a more competitive career choice, even if teachers’ salaries still lag behind those of other professionals.

Education Indicators in Focus No. 49: Gender imbalances to the teaching profession
Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators
Follow the conversation on twitter: #OECDEAG

Chart source: OECD (2016), Education at a Glance (database)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How Wales can ensure the successful implementation of its reforms

By Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Wales is committed to providing high-quality and inclusive education for all its citizens. The disappointing 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment results however showed Wales was far removed from realising this commitment, which sparked a national debate on the quality and future of education in Wales. This resulted in a broad consensus on the need for change. In 2011 Wales embarked on a large-scale school improvement reform and introduced a range of policies to improve the quality and equity of its school system.

Creating lasting change however is hard, and reports of unaccomplished educational reform efforts continue to come in from around the world. But there are also many examples of successful reforms from which lessons can be drawn. The OECD is there to support countries in translating these lessons to different contexts and extending global knowledge on how to make reform happen – and ultimately improve the learning outcomes of students.

In 2016 the Welsh Government invited the OECD to take stock of the policies and reforms adopted since the 2014 OECD review, Improving Schools in Wales: An OECD Perspective, which provided a number of policy recommendations for further improvement with a longer term perspective. The recently released report The Welsh Education Reform Journey: A Rapid Policy Assessment analyses the strengths and challenges of policies and reforms, with a particular focus on their implementation processes and provides concrete recommendations for improvement.

This report comes at a key moment in Wales’ education reform journey as the country finds itself in the midst of a number of important changes, including a large-scale curriculum reform, a reform of initial teacher education and the revision of its education strategy. Since 2014, the OECD has witnessed progress in several important policy areas, including the various measures taken to support the professional learning of teachers, the increase in school-to-school collaborations and participation in networks, the rationalisation of school grants and the steps taken in developing a 21st century curriculum.

The latter has allowed for refining Wales’ education vision in that all Welsh learners are to develop as ambitious capable and lifelong learners, enterprising and creative, informed citizens and healthy and confident individuals – this vision resonates with the preliminary findings of OECDs Education 2030 project which is constructing a framework to help shape what young people should learn in the year 2030. Realising this vision of the Welsh learner however calls for further strengthening of and bringing further coherence across key policy areas:
  • the development of a high-quality teaching profession
  • making leadership a key driver of education reform
  • ensuring equity in learning opportunities and student well-being, which among others calls for a review of governance and school funding arrangements 
  • moving towards a new system of assessment, evaluation and accountability. This is important also to determine the effectiveness of reforms and policies. 
A key finding of the report is that the Welsh approach to reform has moved from a piecemeal and short-term policy orientation towards one that is guided by long-term vision and is characterised by a process of co-construction with key stakeholders. The commitment to improving the teaching and learning in Wales’s schools is visible at all levels of the education system. Sustaining this commitment and the general support for the reforms Wales has embarked on in recent years will be central to realising the country’s ambitions for education and society over the long term. However, Wales risks reverting to a piecemeal approach, with different actors going their own way. It is therefore vital that Wales consolidates the process of co-construction of policies, and strengthens their implementation through better communication and use evidence on the Welsh education reform journey.

This rapid policy assessment report will be of value not only to Wales but to policy makers around the world looking to ensure the successful implementation of reforms and policies in their education system.

The Welsh Education Reform Journey: A Rapid Policy Assessment
Improving Schools in Wales: An OECD Perspective
OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
Education 2030 project

photo credit: arrow on asphalt road to the horizon @shutterstock

Monday, February 27, 2017

Doctors and nurses are from Venus, scientists and engineers are from Mars (for now)

By Francesco Avvisati 
Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

There is little doubt that in OECD countries, the chances for boys and girls to succeed and contribute to society have become more equal over the past century. Every International Women’s Day, however, we are also reminded of the remaining obstacles towards gender equality. This month’s PISA in Focus illustrates both the progress that enables girls today to aspire to roles once exclusively reserved for men, and the remaining obstacles on the road to closing gender gaps.

The progress can be readily seen in the health sector. Only a generation ago, in most countries, women represented only a minority among doctors; today, in many hospitals, the majority of young doctors are women. That trend is likely to continue, if you trust current patterns of enrolment in tertiary health-related programmes and in girls’ expectations for their own future careers.

But not all science-related occupations saw similar progress for women. Very few women have top academic positions in physics, for instance, and the last time a Nobel prize in physics was awarded to a woman was in 1963. Meanwhile, new occupations in the emerging information and communication technology industries are often, and overwhelmingly, dominated by men. These trends are unlikely to reverse in the near future, in the absence of targeted efforts. In 2015, when PISA asked students about the occupation they expect to be working in when they are 30 years old, boys were more than twice as likely as girls to cite a career as scientist or engineering professional. Only 0.4% of girls, but 4.8% of boys, said they expected a career as software developer or information and communication technology professional.

Occupational segregation – the fact that women and men work in different occupations, even in closely related fields – is a leading cause of the persistent wage gaps between the genders. Countries that support boys and girls alike in the pursuit of science-related careers may not only reduce pay gaps between men and women, but also ensure that no talent for innovation and growth is wasted – to the benefit of all.

Look at the contributions to society made by Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (who was involved in the work that identified the human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] as the cause of AIDS), Grace Hopper (a US Navy Rear Admiral and computer scientist who was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer and invented the first compiler for a computer programming language) and Marie Curie (a pioneer in research on radioactivity and winner of two Nobel prizes – in two different science disciplines), to name just three women who were innovators in their chosen fields of science. An International Day of Women and Girls in Science, celebrated earlier this month, serves as an annual reminder that women do have a place in these fields and that they should be encouraged to occupy it. But wouldn’t it be more beneficial to everyone if we acted on that understanding every single day?

PISA in Focus No. 69: What kind of careers in science do 15-year-old boys and girls expect for themselves?
PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education
Education at a Glance 2016
Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now
Health at a Glance 2015
International Women's Day