Friday, June 23, 2017

Rethinking the learning environment

by Rose Bolognini
Communications and Publications Co-ordinator, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

What do innovative learning environments around the world look like? How might they be led and evaluated? What policy strategies stimulate and support them? For the past decade the OECD’s Centre for Education Research and Innovation (CERI) has addressed these and similar questions in an international study called Innovative Learning Environments.

Now drawing on their extensive research within this project  – from the nature of learning, to innovative cases, to leadership and strategies – CERI has translated these findings into a practical handbook, aimed at educators, leaders and innovative policy-shapers. It gives a set of tools based on this extensive international knowledge source as well as succinct summaries of the research accessible to practitioners.

The handbook is divided into four chapters:

i) The principles of learning to design learning environments;
ii) The OECD “7+3” framework for innovative learning environments;
iii) Learning leadership and evaluative thinking; and
iv) Transformation and change in learning ecosystems.

Altogether, fourteen tools are included – some might be covered in a single workshop session while others ideally need a couple of years to work through (with most in between).

Take the first chapter on the learning principles. These principles emphasise flexibility and autonomy, placing learners at the centre and treat learning as collaborative where educators are highly attuned to learners’ emotions and what motivates them. It is an environment where diversity is embraced, the learner is challenged but not exhausted and overwhelmed, expectations are clear and formative feedback is encouraged. It is also an environment that urges learners to make connections across areas of knowledge and subjects as well as with the wider community.

There are four tools presented to help educators fully understand these fundamental principles. Let’s work through the first one to give a flavour of the handbook. It is called “How well do we embed the learning principles?”. There are five steps outlined, intended to push schools or networks or districts to think about whether they exemplify what makes young people learn best and to gather evidence to back up their answers. The steps range from “familiarisation with the principles” to “overviewing the existing situation” and “deciding on a course of action”. The last step invites schools to come back and review their progress after allowing some time to pass.

The handbook also provides tools for educators to focus on the changing landscape of leadership – no longer a one person job at the top but a shared, collaborative responsibility between teachers, learners and the wider community. And just as formative feedback is systematically integrated in the classroom so should leaders continuously question and evaluate the educational innovation taking place.

And what might these changing learning environments look like? Even though the handbook and previous research discuss how traditional environments can transform,  it would be useful to be able to measure education systems’ development towards and implementation of innovative learning environments. Now in 2017, CERI has launched a new study on Innovative Pedagogies for Powerful Learning to take this initiative a step further  – looking more in depth at teaching and learning. In this context, the OECD Handbook for Innovative Learning Environments is not the end point – but one resource in the rich mix of analyses and reflections that will inspire innovative change in the classroom.

The OECD Handbook for Innovative Learning Environments 
The Innovative Learning Environments (ILE) project 
The Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Priming up for primary school

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Why do children in their last year of pre-primary education spend so much time playing and the year after sitting in large classes listening to their teacher? Why do we pay the teachers of our youngest children so much less than we pay the teachers of our oldest children? Why do first-year primary teachers know so little about the children from whom their pre-primary teachers have learned so much? The simple answer is that that’s the way we have always done this.

But we have learned so much about how children learn and what they learn best at what stage of their development, that we can, and should, do a lot better. It is time for this knowledge and experience to shape education policy and practice more distinctly. To this end, the OECD has just published its first internationally comparative set of indicators on early childhood education and care and, more than that, we analysed what more can be done to shift the focus from making our youngest ready for school toward serving them and their parents best to build solid foundations for their.

This is important. The first years of life lay the foundations for future skills development and learning, and investments in high-quality early childhood education and care pay huge dividends in terms of children’s long-term learning and development, particularly the most marginalised ones. Most OECD countries recognise this, and this is reflected in our indicators which show the steeply rising enrolment and spending figures. These efforts should not underestimated. In most industrialised nations, early childhood education has advanced from a service for a minority of children to virtually universal enrolment for at least one year. However, for the youngest children, provision remains patchy. Beyond that, the benefits of early learning can fade during the first years of primary school if the transitions between early childhood education and care and primary schooling are not well-prepared, or if continuity in quality is not ensured. For many children, the transition from the last period of early childhood education to the start of primary school is a big culture change – in the people surrounding them, the ways in which they interact, their number of peers, the types of activities they are engaged in, and their physical surroundings. This often gets compounded by a fragmentation in services, difficulties in engaging all relevant actors, weak collaboration among stakeholders, and simply poor knowledge management across institutional boundaries.

Quality transitions that are well-prepared and child centred, managed by highly educated staff who are collaborating professionally, and guided by appropriate and aligned curricula, can go a long way to ensure that  the positive impacts of early learning and care will last through primary school and beyond.

But there is more to successful transitions. This starts with professional continuity. In most, but not all countries we surveyed, preschool and primary teachers already have access to training on transitions, and qualification levels required for preschool and primary teachers are increasingly brought into line. But pre-primary teachers have often still less working time than their primary school peers for tasks outside the classroom. There are also discrepancies between the status and perspectives of early childhood and primary school teachers, lack of relevant training and support on transitions at both levels, and structural hurdles to co-operation and co-ordination.

Curriculum and pedagogical continuity is equally important. On the one hand, many countries have made efforts to better align or integrate their curricula, ensuring that instructional techniques and strategies do not vary too much across transitions. However, in the majority of jurisdictions, children have a less favourable staff-child ratio during their first year of primary school than during their final year of pre-primary education. Add to this differences and inconsistencies in curricula, a lack of a shared pedagogical understanding of staff in early childhood education and schools, and inconsistent delivery of pedagogy during transitions.

Developmental continuity is also important. The report portrays many efforts of preparing children, parents and teachers for the transition to primary school, but important differences remain among jurisdictions in their recognition of the importance of children’s participation in transition preparations, in their capacity to raise awareness among parents on the importance of the transition process, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, in promoting closer collaboration between early childhood and primary school staff, and in increasing co-operation with other child development services.

More can also be done to align working conditions of preschool and primary school teachers: increase flexibility and responsiveness to individual communities, families and children, while at the same time strengthening coherence of services; overcome structural and informational roadblocks to co-operation and continuity; and to better facilitate collaboration among staff, managers, parents and the community based on reciprocal communication, inclusivity, mutual trust and respect.

The report makes a start to build a comparative evidence base on effective early childhood and care policies and practices, but it recognises that there remain important gaps in our knowledge base. That is encouragement for us at the OECD to push the frontiers further. As a next step, we will be conducting our first survey of staff in early childhood education care, to give these staff their own voice, which is badly lacking in current policy development. The survey seeks to identify strengths and opportunities for early childhood learning and well-being environments, with an emphasis on professional and pedagogical practises, but will also take a close look at the work organisation, careers and rewards of staff. Further down the road, we will try to broaden the range of early learning outcomes that are currently measured, to ensure that these don’t remain limited to cognitive aspects, but instead give due attention to the social and emotional qualities of children where early action can make such a huge difference.

Starting Strong 2017: Key OECD Indicators on Early Childhood Education and Care
Starting Strong V: Transitions from Early Childhood Education and Care to Primary Education 

OECD work on Early Childhood Education and Care

Register for a public webinar on Wednesday, 21 June, 17h00 Central European Summer Time (Paris, GMT +02:00) with Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Education and Skills Directorate, Miho Taguma, Senior Analyst and Éric Charbonnier, Analyst in the Early Childhood and Schools division.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Studying more may not make you a top-performer

by Hélène Guillou
Consultant, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

It’s 3pm in Finland. A bell rings, marking the end of classes in a middle school and time for students to go home. In a different part of the world, at the exact same time, other students are also just finishing  up classes. Except for these students, it’s not the middle of the afternoon, but night time, and they have just spent several hours studying in a “cram-school”, after a normal school day.

Even if Finnish students study for a couple of hours after school, they will still have spent significantly less time cracking the books than some of their East Asian counterparts. Yet, when it comes to performance, Finland ranks among the top-performing countries in science.

As this month’s PISA in Focus reveals, students spend considerably more time learning in some countries than in others, but this does not necessarily translate into better learning outcomes.

Across OECD countries and economies, students reported spending 44 hours per week learning. This represents approximately 55% of students’ available time, excluding weekends and eight hours of sleep per day. In some countries and economies, such as Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangdong (China), Qatar, Thailand, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, students spend at least 65% of their available time learning; whereas in others, notably Finland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay, students spend less than half of their available time learning. Most of these differences are explained by the variation in the time students spend studying after school, which includes homework, additional instruction and private study, rather than the time they spend in regular school lessons. For instance, students in the United Arab Emirates spend 17 hours more studying after school and 5 hours more in school compared to Finnish students.

When looking at the relationship between time spent studying and performance, the diversity among countries and economies is even more striking. Some manage to both score at or above the OECD average while still providing their students with free time to practice sports, or to discover their passion for other activities such as playing the guitar. And just as Finnish and East Asian students perform at equally high levels while experiencing completely different school routines, in other school systems, students perform below the OECD average despite long hours of studying. In these school systems, the ratio between PISA science scores and total learning time is relatively low. This not only calls into question the efficiency of their education systems but can also signal differences in learning time across education levels, with students compensating for the time spent learning in earlier stages of their education. The ratio might also reveal that, in order to succeed academically, students in some education systems need to spend more time in “planned” or “deliberate” learning because they have fewer opportunities to learn informally outside of school. What some students learn by discussing with their parents, others have to learn by spending more time studying at a desk.

But even if we just focus on planned learning time, not all of its components are associated the same way with science performance. In school systems where less time overall is spent learning science, an increase in the average time students spend learning in regular science lessons is associated with an increase in the average science score. But, for every additional hour spent studying after school, the average science score drops by about 20 points, revealing that learning time in school may be more effective than studying after school. However, students who are already low-performers may be those who need that extra time after school to learn.

It is difficult to say how many hours students should spend studying, if such an optimal time exists. One thing is certain though: being inspired by an enlightening science class sounds much more enjoyable than memorising a lesson far into the night.

PISA in Focus No. 73: Do students spend enough time learning?
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
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Monday, June 19, 2017

Who makes it into PISA?

by Nicholas Spaull
Former Thomas J. Alexander Fellow, OECD
Unlike earlier PISA reports, the 2015 PISA report (Volume I  and Volume II) highlights differences in sample coverage – how many students were eligible to participate in PISA – between countries. Why is this important? Because you can’t really appreciate the magnitude of improvement in a country’s performance in PISA unless you also understand how access to education has expanded over time, too.

Take the case of Turkey. Of the OECD countries that participate in PISA, Turkey has one of the lowest levels of performance and the highest rates of improvement in PISA scores. Between 2003 and 2012, Turkey managed to improve its mathematics score by 25 points while also narrowing the achievement gap between rich and poor students (in other words, improving equity in education). Over the same period, Turkey also managed to keep students in education longer and see them progress more steadily through grades – achievements that, until now, have gone largely unrecognised.

In order to be eligible to sit the PISA assessment, a student must be between 15 years, 3 months and 16 years, 2 months old, still enrolled in school, and in grade 7 or higher. These details may sound like trivial technicalities, and in most OECD countries they are. But in Turkey and Mexico, and partner countries like Viet Nam and Indonesia, these details can make a big difference. This is because early school-leaving, dropout and slow progress through grades are widespread and substantially affect PISA sample coverage.

A recently-released paper shows that in 2003, fewer than one in two Turkish 15-year-olds was eligible to sit the PISA test. Household survey data from the 2003 Turkish Demographic and Health Survey show that 33% of 15-16 year-olds had already left school, and another 18% were still enrolled in grades 1 through 6. Thus the 2003 PISA results were only truly representative of less than half (45%) of the population of Turkish 15-16 year-olds.

But between 2003 and 2012, there was a significant increase in students remaining in school and a considerable decline in excessively delayed grade progression. The figure immediately below, based on data from the Turkish Demographic and Health Surveys of 2003, 2008 and 2013, shows that the percentage of students who were eligible to sit the PISA test increased from 45% in 2003 to 80% in 2012.

The paper explains that if one takes into account these large expansions in access and attainment, the improvement in Turkey is much greater than is usually thought. For example, taking into account both improvement in test scores and the expansion of the population of 15-year-olds who are eligible to sit the PISA test, the paper shows that the increase between 2003 and 2012 in the percentage of 15-16 year-olds attaining baseline Level 2 in mathematics and reading is more than twice as large as previously considered. While this paper only covers the PISA cycles from 2003 to 2012, in PISA 2015 Turkey’s performance declined in the three core domains of assessment, and coverage expanded only minimally compared to 2012.

Although all students benefited from the improvements in Turkey, girls and the poorest 40% of students benefited the most. This was largely because the dropout and early school-leaving rates among girls halved from 38% in 2003 to 20% in 2013.  During the same period, the percentage of disadvantaged 15-16 year-olds who attained Level 2 in reading increased more than threefold, from 13% to 46%. Since the percentage of advantaged students who attained Level 2 also increased – from 50% in 2003 to 82% in 2012 – the performance gap between rich and poor remains large.

Analyses reported in the paper also find that advantaged students are considerably more likely to be eligible to sit the PISA test – and to acquire basic proficiency in mathematics and reading – than disadvantaged students.

This new research shows the importance of accounting for who makes it into the PISA sampling frame. After all, survey results are only as representative as the students that make it into the sample. To address the problem of coverage, the OECD is piloting a survey for out-of-school 15-year-olds through the PISA for Development programme. The programme is currently conducting the field trial of this component, which will become available to all countries participating in the PISA 2021 survey.

Who makes it into PISA? Understanding the impact of PISA sample eligibility using Turkey as a case study (PISA 2003 – PISA 2013) 

Who makes it into PISA? Illustrative Charts

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
PISA for Development

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Risky business

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

As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, so do the risks we face. A disease breaking out in a village in Africa, a bank crashing on Wall Street or a protest in a distant country can all potentially “snowball” and influence the world financial, health or security order.

While very different topics, environmental degradation, financial crises, cyber-attacks and social instability both within and in between countries have all been identified as risks for OECD countries and indeed, the whole world. Their global nature means that all of these risks require a co-ordinated international response. Education has a key role to play: as a preventative tool, it can be used to raise awareness as well as shape the attitudes and responsible behaviours of a generation of conscious global citizens. Education can also mitigate the effects of risks by equipping students with the knowledge and skills needed to cope with crises as they emerge, building their resilience in the process.

A newly released Trends Shaping Education Spotlight explores some of the ways education can make a difference:
  • Education can prepare the future workforce with the skills required to address emerging risks. Whether it is in the fields of green energy, sustainable food production or clean water technology, there is a call for stronger STEM skills for students and more training in these innovative fields as one of the best ways to respond to environmental risk. Similarly, technological risks such as cyber-attacks and cyber-espionage have created a huge demand for cyber security professionals and even "ethical hackers" as a way to improve cyber safety. These emerging fields of work will be built on new frontiers of research and innovation, and all will require new skills and competencies.
  • Education can be a catalyst for changing knowledge, attitude and behaviour. For example, better educated people are more likely to be concerned about the environment and to promote political decisions that protect it. "Green schools” can be used to model what sustainability means in a daily context as they are designed to minimise energy, water, and waste. Environmental issues can be integrated across the curriculum and are a powerful tool for raising awareness.
  • Education can reduce the impact of risk and crises. While not the main cause of the latest global financial crisis, a lack of financial literacy might have deepened its effects: Less financially literate individuals are more likely to have costly mortgages and engage in credit card spending, and less likely to hold precautionary savings and undertake retirement planning. The latest PISA results reveal that 22% of students do not have basic financial skills across OECD countries. Financial education can foster greater understanding of financial processes, products and services and might be a key to preventing future shocks from extending and worsening.
  • Education can protect and prevent young people from engaging in risky behaviour. Cyber “hygiene” education seeks to provide youth with the tools to better handle technological risks such as fraud, identity theft, online predators and cyberbullying. It is an increasing part of the curriculum in countries such as the Netherlands, the UK or Japan. Similarly, both formal and informal education can help counter the risks of radicalisation and extremism, two very current concerns for countries across the OECD. By supporting social cohesion, fostering intercultural understanding and dialogue, and developing social and emotional skills, education can help protect youth at risk from recruiters who seek to attract them to their cause.
In our fast-paced modern world, it might be a comfort to know that some things remain the same. Basic literacy and numeracy are still important, for participation in society and as the basis for critical thinking and problem solving. These skills in turn allow us to better manage change and uncertainty. Perhaps one of the most important roles that education can play is to foster the capacity to deal flexibly with change and manage unanticipated and interconnected crises. Managing volatile situations well lessens the chance of global contagion of risk.

We can't entirely prevent the next outbreak of a communicable disease, a cyber-attack or another bank crashing. But we can continue to equip our citizens with the tools they need to protect themselves, and we can continue to support innovative solutions to minimise these risks. Any challenge is also an opportunity. The biggest contribution education can make it is to help develop the capacity and skills to build a safer future for all.

Trends Shaping Education Spotlight No. 10: Globalisation of Risk
Trends Shaping Education 2016
PISA Financial Literacy
Center for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Why are immigrants less proficient in literacy than native-born adults?

by Theodora Xenogiani
Senior Policy Analyst, OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs

Why is it that highly educated migrants to OECD countries are less likely to be employed than native-born adults who are similarly educated, even if they have lived in their host country for several years? The OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) provides some answers. Based on results from the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), a new Adult Skills in Focus shows that immigrants tend to have lower proficiency in the language of their new country than native-born residents. On average, the difference amounts to about 3.5 years of schooling and a difference is observed even when comparing immigrant and native adults with the same level of education.

Migrants in the various countries participating in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) differ in their reasons for migration, their country of origin, the time they have already spent in the host country, and the age at which they arrived. For instance, the literacy gap is much wider for immigrants in Sweden than for immigrants in other countries. This could reflect the fact that a large share of Sweden’s migrants came to the country for humanitarian reasons. It could also be because relatively few people outside of Sweden speak Swedish, so migrants are less likely to be already familiar with the language.

In contrast, the small differences in literacy proficiency between immigrants and natives in Australia and New Zealand could be explained by these countries’ selective immigration policies, leading to a large share of highly educated migrants with good knowledge of the English language.

Migrants’ language skills should be taken into account when interpreting their literacy proficiency. Two-thirds of the migrants assessed by the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) were not taking the test in their native language. The literacy and numeracy proficiency measured in the survey thus does not just reflect migrants’ cognitive skills, but also – possibly to a large degree – their familiarity with and fluency in the test language. That means we have to distinguish between language skills and purely cognitive skills. For instance, we could take into account the country where migrants earned their qualifications, or the languages they speak at home or have learned in their lives.

A report by the OECD and the European Union shows that around one-third of the gap in literacy proficiency between immigrant and native-born adults can be explained by whether immigrants speak the host-country language at home or had learned it as a child. In Finland and Norway, countries with complex and less widely spoken languages, this factor can account for at least half of the gap in proficiency between migrants and natives.

The good news is that migrants’ literacy and numeracy skills improve with time, especially in countries where the gap is large and the language issue is important. In most countries, immigrants who arrived as young children and completed their education in their host country do just as well as their native-born peers.

If countries are to make the most of immigration and ensure the successful integration of migrants into their labour market and their society, they need the right policies to tackle these issues. However, the lack of detailed data up to now has made it hard to provide the analysis needed to create effective policies.

The Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) opens a new world of information to policy makers. Not only does it assess the skills of both migrants and natives, but it also includes detailed information about immigrants, their country of origin, their migration experience and their outcomes since arriving. It is possibly the first data source that allows us to draw a detailed picture of migrants’ skills and how those skills are used in the labour market. It provides a solid basis from which we can design policies to help migrants integrate more quickly and successfully into their new communities.


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The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Is more choice always a good thing?

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Many education systems around the world are looking for ways to give parents more choice over where they send their children to school. Proponents of school choice defend the rights of parents to send their children to their preferred school, whether because of the quality of the school, the school ethos or religious denomination. Expanding school choice, they argue, can stimulate competition and encourage schools to innovate.

But opponents argue that this type of market-based system tends to skim wealthier students from the state school system, resulting in a network of socially and culturally segregated schools. Critics also say that voucher systems divert public resources to private providers, leaving state schools with a disproportionate number of disadvantaged students and tighter budgets to support them.

What does OECD evidence show?

Across OECD countries, two out of three parents of 15-year-olds say they have some form of school choice. But what this means varies widely in practice.

For example, for families in rural, poorer areas, distance might be a big factor in determining the extent of choice. For other families, cost might be an important factor in how choice is exercised.

In both of these examples, where parents’ choice is limited by concerns about distance or cost, students are likely to be low performers, even after accounting for their socio-economic status.

School systems that use vouchers allow families to seek a place in either state or private schools. But there is an important distinction between schools that are publicly run and those that are publicly funded.

Across OECD countries, 84% of students attend publicly run state schools, 12% attend schools that are private but government-funded, and 4% are in independently funded private schools.

Private schools in Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden receive nearly all of their resources from the government, and they don't charge additional fees. In Hong Kong (China) and the Slovak Republic, more than 90% of funding for private schools comes from public coffers.

But in Greece, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States, less than 1% of funding for private schools comes from public sources.

This matters because in those countries where privately managed schools receive larger proportions of public funding, there is less social segregation in the school system as a whole.

But there are some complicating factors. Publicly funded private schools might charge additional fees – making them accessible only to wealthier families and thus undermining the principle of choice. So public funding, such as from vouchers, may fail to widen access to private schools unless rules on tuition fees are also in place.

In addition, if private schools invest public resources to improve their quality rather than to expand access, government subsidies can exacerbate inequities in education. This is one of the reasons why abolishing substantial add-on fees in a voucher system can reduce performance gaps between rich and poor students.

The way vouchers are targeted at students can have a big difference on their impact. Vouchers that are offered to all students (universal vouchers) can help expand the choice of schools available to parents and promote competition among schools. School vouchers that target only disadvantaged students (targeted vouchers) can help improve equity in access to schools.

For school systems where public and private schools receive similar shares of public funding, the performance gap related to students’ socio-economic status between pupils in state schools and those in private schools is twice as large in those systems that use universal vouchers compared with systems that use targeted vouchers. Regulating private school pricing and admissions criteria also helps limit social inequity when vouchers are used.

OECD evidence also shows that schools with selective admissions criteria tend to attract better-performing students of higher socio-economic status, regardless of the academic quality of the school. Given that better-performing students are less costly to educate and can make schools more attractive to parents, such selective intake can give schools a competitive advantage.

Thus, allowing private schools to select their students gives them an incentive to compete on the basis of exclusiveness, rather than on the basis of the extra value they can add. This can undermine the dynamics of competition and diminish the positive effects it may otherwise have on the quality of education provided.

The international evidence also points to selective admissions as a source of greater inequality and stratification among schools. The social sorting of students occurs not only because of admissions rules and tests, but also because of parental self-selection and more subtle barriers to entry.

Simply put, vouchers work well in some systems and badly in others. OECD evidence shows that the success of school vouchers in offering meaningful choice to parents and students depends on the regulatory framework in place. School choice should not be offered at the expense of equity in education opportunities.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dollars and sense? Financial literacy among 15-year-olds

by Andreas Schleicher 
Director of the Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD
Pierre Poret
Director of the Directorate for Financial and Enterprise Affairs, OECD

Two in three 15-year-old students earn money from work activity, and more than one in two hold a bank account. And yet, among students in OECD countries who took the 2015 PISA test in financial literacy, fewer than one in three of them reached Level 4 on the assessment – the level that signals the kinds of knowledge and skills that are essential for managing a bank account or a financial task of similar complexity. And the demands on their financial skills rise as students get older: 79% of Australian students took out a public loan in 2013; in the Netherlands, students graduate with an average debt of USD18 000.

Being able to interpret financial documents and make financial decisions that take into account longer-term consequences, such as understanding the overall cost implications of a loan, are precisely the kinds of things that students are expected to do in the PISA test. More generally, the PISA assessment seeks to assess students’ knowledge and understanding of financial concepts and risks, and the skills, motivation and confidence to apply such knowledge and understanding in order to make sound decisions across a range of financial contexts.

Among the countries with data for 2012 and 2015, only students in Italy and Russia made any headway in their performance in financial literacy. This is worrying because it’s an uphill struggle. Everywhere, people face more challenging financial choices. The spread of digital financial services opens up new opportunities for people once excluded from the financial system; but the digitised system also exposes consumers to new security threats and risks of fraud that are compounded when low financial literacy is combined with poor digital skills and ignorance of cyber security.

There are also greater financial risks. More individualised pensions, and more uncertain economic and job prospects due to digitalisation, technological change and globalisation are just some of these. Last but not least, growing inequality means that those with poor skills face particular risks. We don’t expect 15-year-olds to be able to meet all of these challenges. But we should expect them to be able to define their priorities and plan what to spend money on; to remember that some purchases have ongoing costs; to be aware that they can become the victims of fraud; and to know what risk is and what insurance is meant for. Again, that is exactly what the PISA assessment of financial literacy is all about.

Parents and families play an important role. PISA results show that when students discuss money matters with their parents, they have significantly higher financial literacy skills, even after accounting for differences in socio-economic background. Young people can also learn on their own by using appropriately regulated financial products in a context where young consumers are adequately protected.

The trouble is that all this seems to work just for students from more privileged backgrounds. Advantaged students score the equivalent of more than one PISA proficiency level higher in financial literacy than their disadvantaged peers. That’s equivalent to the difference between being able only to identify a delivery cost that is stated on an invoice and interpreting the various elements of the same invoice to correct a mistake in the billing.

This shows how important it is for schools and school systems to play a role in giving all children a fair chance to succeed. Some school systems already do this very well. Students in the four Chinese provinces and municipalities that took part in the test – Beijing, Jiangsu, Guandongand Shanghai – came out well ahead of their peers in every other country. Even more impressive, the socially and economically most disadvantaged quarter of students in these provinces did as well as the second wealthiest quarter of students in the United States, and better than the wealthiest quarter of students in Brazil, Chile and Peru.

That raises the question of whether a great school system will automatically help its students to acquire strong financial skills. The answer is not straightforward. On the one hand, having a solid foundation in mathematics and reading is crucial for navigating the financial landscape, from computing percentages to reading a bank statement. On the other hand, the PISA financial literacy assessment reveals that 38% of the variation in financial literacy is not explained by mathematics and reading skills. Many features of financial literacy are unique to the subject. These include being aware that some deals really are too good to be true, understanding the role of income tax, being vigilant for fraudulent e-mails, and knowing one's rights and responsibilities in the financial marketplace. It is also interesting to see that some countries do much better in financial literacy than they do in reading and mathematics. This is the case in the Flemish Community of Belgium, the Canadian provinces that took part in the test, in the four provinces in China and in Russia, where students do better in financial literacy than predicted by mathematics or reading.

Educators should not see this as a zero-sum game, where more financial education will take something away from the rigour, focus and coherence that is needed to give students strong foundations in mathematics or reading. Instead, they should look for complementarities, where financial education becomes a context that helps make learning in traditional school disciplines more relevant and interesting. We already find good examples of this in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Lithuania, Peru, the Slovak Republic and the United States.

Evidence that there is a positive relationship between performance in financial literacy and holding a bank account or receiving gifts of money, all other things being equal, suggests that some kind of experience with money or financial products can provide students with an opportunity to reinforce financial literacy, or that students who are more financially literate are more motivated to use financial products, and perhaps more confident in doing so. Young people can also learn through after-school initiatives. In some countries, governments and not-for-profits are offering young people videos, competitions, interactive tools and serious games via digital and/or traditional platforms.

But the more financial education initiatives are developed, both in and outside of school, the more important it is for governments and other stakeholders to evaluate and prioritise such initiatives and to scale and spread good practice. PISA tells countries how well they are succeeding; the OECD International Network on Financial Education will continue to build and share relevant international expertise and help countries provide the right combination of financial literacy and consumer protection.

PISA 2015 Results (Volume IV): Financial Literacy
PISA in Focus No. 72: What do 15-year-olds really know about money?
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Register for a public webinar on Wednesday, 24 May, 1:00pm Europe Summer Time (Paris, GMT +02:00) with Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Education and Skills Directorate.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Knowing and actively debating why, the heart of every policy

by Rien Rouw
Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

What makes some of the largest companies in the world successful? According to consultant Simon Sinek in a very popular TedTalk it is because they start with the ‘why’. While many companies are good in telling what they do and how they do it, outstanding firms succeed in organising and communicating from their raison d’être. Because that is what the why is about: the reason for existence of organisations, their purposes, beliefs and aspirations. Communicating from the why goes something like this: “we want to support you to take control of your life (why), therefore all our devices are user friendly (how), such as this beautiful computer (what)”. The why is crucial Sinek argues, because it inspires and engages both employees and customers.

Does this simple concept only apply to the world of business, or would it also hold true for public services, more specifically for education? There is certainly evidence from several educational reforms we studied in the context of the Governing Complex Education Systems project, that engaging with the rationale and the underlying concepts, i.e. the why, made a difference in the uptake of the reforms by schools.

Our case studies showed the importance that school leadership and school culture promote sufficient focus on the why. In Flanders for example, while implementing revised system level attainment goals, some schools renewed their education accordingly, going through an intensive multiannual and collaborative professional development trajectory of training the trainers and peer coaching in new methods. More individually, school leaders encouraging teachers to take part in the developing of education goals at a system level proved to be beneficial for owning the rationale of the goals and putting them into practice in line with it.

In Norway, where school leaders promoted the why, this led to more successful implementation of the formative assessment programme in school that aimed at changing professional attitudes towards research and knowledge. The researchers noted the importance that school leaders “based their implementation strategies on a clear understanding of the programme goals and (…) could integrate these goals within the broader aims of educational policy and school practice”.

In contrast, our case studies showed that not engaging with the rationale could lead to the partial uptake of a reform by school leaders and teachers, to a superficial realisation of new concepts or even to the opposite implementation of a new scheme. For example, researchers in Norway also noted that various schools tended to implement the formative assessment programme as if they were following a recipe – with many teachers unquestioningly applying the tools provided by the Ministry in their classrooms - instead of taking professional ownership of the concept. In Poland, while the introduction of a new supervision and school inspection regime in 2009 was meant to promote a collaborative culture, in some localities it led to distrust and local power games.

If embedding the why in local practices is so important, what can governments do to strengthen this? The first avenue is professional development both of school leaders and teachers. Professional development activities should be designed as truly two-way processes, with participants actively engaging with the why and confronting it with their own motivations and aspirations and relating the why to the specific knowledge and concrete tools that are being provided.

It is even more important for a government to recognise that the why is a crucial motivating force that needs to be kept vital throughout the policy process through an open and ongoing dialogue. This is not as obvious as it seems. Quite often the purposes behind a policy initiative drop off the radar as soon as it reaches the phase of policy design and implementation. At that stage, negotiations on responsibilities, tasks, funding and accountability are dominant. Up the policy road evaluations tend to be rather instrumental in many cases, focusing on goals, processes and mechanisms and leaving the underlying purposes out. However, to be vital the why needs to be dynamic, i.e. open for negotiation and adaptation along the way. To be motivating for all stakeholders the why needs to be multidimensional. It must be written in a language that speaks to teachers and school leaders and relates to their aspirations.

‘Start with why’, the phrase coined by Sinek, is easily misinterpreted. As if starting means only beginning and then leaving it behind. On the contrary, ‘starting’ means putting the why in the heart of every policy and keeping it alive across all stages of the policy life cycle.

Strategic Education Governance project
The Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Who benefits when international students pay higher tuition fees?

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

In 2014, over 3 million students in OECD countries – more than double the amount in 2000 – were studying outside their country of citizenship. International students go to study in countries with reputations for academic excellence; but they are frequently also seen as seeking economic and social opportunities in the host country.

As many countries seek to restrict immigration, international students are becoming a targeted population. One of the policies that aim to reduce the number of incoming international students is charging higher tuition fees for international students compared to national students (“national” meaning outside the European Economic Area [EEA] in the case of European countries). Countries also hold the view that national resources and taxpayers’ money should not be spent to subsidise international students, so they increasingly aim to charge the full tuition cost to international students. Some of the countries that have put themselves firmly in the market for international students in recent years also see fee-paying international students as an important source of revenue for their higher education sector.

The current Education Indicators in Focus brief, based on the most recent data on international student mobility and tuition fees published in Education at a Glance 2016, looks into the reforms differentiating tuition fees between national and international students. The majority of OECD countries still do not differentiate fees between the two categories, but a growing number of countries do. As the chart above shows, in some countries the differences are significant. In Australia, Austria, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, foreign students pay double or more the tuition fees charged to national students, on average, while Sweden and Denmark charge no fees to national students but ask international students to pay more or less the full cost of tuition.

It is well known that exporting education services has become an important economic activity in some countries, including Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Fee-paying international students generate a considerable revenue stream to higher education institutions; they also consume other goods and services and thus contribute to the host country’s economy. But to what extent do universities in these countries benefit from this source of income? There are no data available to make reliable estimates for a large group of countries; but for Australia and New Zealand, countries that vigorously market their higher education services, the income from fee-paying international students equals over one-quarter of the total expenditure on higher education. By contrast, in the United States, income from these students represents only 2.4% of total expenditure on higher education; in Canada, it represents only 8.2%. But it is interesting to see that in Denmark – a country that traditionally considers free higher education to be a right, but introduced tuition fees for non-EEA students in 2005 – the income generated by international students now equals 13.3% of total expenditure on higher education.

Universities are genuinely concerned about their place in the global scientific research and education system. They thus see the internationalisation of their institutions as part of a wider strategy. But at the same time, it is clear that in several countries fee-paying students generate welcome additional revenue at a time when public funding is insufficient to cover costs. As is evident from the political debate in several countries, this creates tensions between universities’ policies to defend their commercial interests on the one hand and governments’ restrictive immigration policies on the other.

These developments fundamentally alter the position and perception of international students. From being a desirable addition to the student population, a source of global relevance and diversity, they are now regarded as either cash-cows or scroungers of national resources, taking away benefits and opportunities from locals. It remains to be seen how these students will react to these developments. The current Education Indicators in Focus brief provides some evidence, based on observations in Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden, that introducing fees for international students did result in a drop in their numbers in subsequent years. International students are looking for the best education at a reasonable cost, balancing perceived academic excellence and reputation against cost and hospitality.

As long as higher education systems in emerging economies are not able to match growing demand with sufficient high-quality local supply, students will continue to cross borders to seek education opportunities. For destination countries with excellent higher education systems, international students offer a lot of benefits – but only if they are regarded as welcome additions to the student population, and not as cash cows or opportunistic free-riders.

Education Indicators in Focus No. 51: Tuition fees reforms and international mobility
Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators
Podcast: International Tuition Fee Policies: An Interview with Gabriele Marconi
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Chart source: OECD (2016), Education at a Glance Database,

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Do new teachers feel prepared for teaching?

by Yoon Young Lee
Consultant, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
Feelings of preparedness of new vs experienced teachers
Percentage of new and experienced teachers reporting preparedness in content, pedagogy, and classroom practice of the subject(s) they teach
“Don’t smile in March.”

As a new, enthusiastic and slightly nervous secondary school teacher in the Republic of Korea, I was perplexed to receive this advice from other, more experienced teachers. I took it to mean that as a new teacher, I should be strict and impersonal with my students, showing them that “I mean business”, particularly during the first month. I was even more surprised to find that variations of this adage – for example, “Don’t smile until Christmas” - exist in other countries.

The fact that  this advice was given, even given half in jest, shows how challenging teaching can be for first-time teachers.

One of the greatest challenge for new teachers, does not come from not knowing what to teach, but from not knowing how to teach what they know and how to manage a classroom in all its strange and exciting complexity. Some days, students are not willing to participate in discussion. Other days, new teachers struggle to manage unruly classroom behaviour. Even if teachers apply state-of-the-art teaching methods, students are not always as interested as new teachers expect them to be. These are common challenges for new inexperienced teachers.

The latest Teaching in Focus brief, “Do new teachers feel prepared for teaching?”, analyses the perceived preparedness of new teachers by domain using data from the TALIS 2013 dataset. Figure 1 shows the preparedness of new teachers – defined here as those with a maximum of three years’ experience – in the following three domains: content of the subject field(s), pedagogy of the subject field(s), and classroom practice in the subject field(s) they teach.

The results of the analysis reveal that new teachers are generally less likely to feel prepared in the pedagogy and practice of their subject field(s) than in content knowledge.

More than 90% of new teachers reported that they feel either “well” or “very well” prepared in the content of their subject field(s), with more than 51% of new teachers specifically responding “very well”. Compare this to the level of preparedness claimed for pedagogy and classroom practice of the subject field(s) and only slightly over 80% of new teachers claim to feel either “well” or “very well” prepared, with only 32 (for pedagogy) and 34 % (for classroom practice) of teachers saying that they feel “very well” prepared in these two domains.

As expected, the preparedness of new teachers is lower than that of their experienced peers. When comparing the proportion of new versus experienced teachers who feel “very well” prepared, the difference is even more pronounced in the domains of pedagogy and classroom practice of the subject field(s).

Results of the analysis suggest that teacher education institutions in many countries and economies may have been overemphasising content knowledge, to the detriment of other types of teacher knowledge. Through quality pre-service education and continuous professional learning, teachers can be well prepared in the pedagogy and practice of their subject area, as well as in the content. Then maybe one day, more new teachers may be able to smile, regardless of the season.

This research feeds into the OECD Initial Teacher Preparation study that examines initial teacher preparation systems in eight countries: Australia, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Wales (United Kingdom).

Teaching in Focus No. 17: “Do new teachers feel prepared for teaching?”
OECD Initial Teacher Preparation study
TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning
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Chart source: OECD (2013), Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS): 2013 complete database,

Thursday, May 04, 2017

How to surf the new wave of globalisation

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Globalisation is connecting people, cities, countries and continents, bringing together a majority of the world’s population in ways that vastly increase our individual and collective potential, and creating an integrated market in products and services. One in three jobs in the business sector now depends on demand in other countries. In fact, a single product is often produced by workers in different parts of the world along the so-called Global Value Chain. Global value chains give small companies and countries unprecedented opportunities to reach global markets and create new jobs.

But the same forces have made the world more volatile, more complex and more uncertain. The rolling processes of outsourcing and the hollowing out of jobs, particularly for routine tasks, have radically altered the nature of work. For those with the advantage of the right knowledge and skills, this is liberating and exciting. In India and South East Asia, for example, online providers have picked up the outsourced functions of corporate and public enterprises, while in America and Europe, 20-something entrepreneurs are using disruptive Internet models to invent new services. However, for those who are insufficiently prepared, it can mean unemployment or the scourge of vulnerable and insecure work: zero-hour contracts without benefits, insurance, pension or prospects.

So there is a potential weak link in global value chains: the workers who don’t have the right cognitive, social or emotional skills to contribute to – and benefit from – it. The 2017 OECD Skills Outlook shows there are over 200 million workers in OECD countries who don’t even have the most basic foundation skills: for example, they don’t read as well as a 10-year-old child is expected to read. This matters a lot. In all countries more educated workers enjoy higher job quality. But while better integration with global value chains has resulted in significant increases in productivity, it has also widened the gap in job quality between those with better and worse skills.

To ensure that no one is left behind, countries need to equip all workers with a mix of skills and qualifications that are relevant and understood around the world. These skills are needed to realise the productivity gains offered by global value chains and ensure that these gains transfer to a broad range of firms, including small ones, and thereby benefit the whole economy. They can protect workers against the potential negative impacts of global value chains, including job losses and lower job quality. And they are crucial for countries that want to specialise in the most technologically advanced manufacturing industries and in complex business services.

Reaching the technology frontiers and specialising in technologically sophisticated industries is what many countries aspire to these days, because it is those industries that largely drive innovation, higher productivity and job creation. The Skills Outlook analyses how successful these efforts are, and what individuals, companies and nations can do to advance their position in global value chains. Countries like Estonia, Japan, Korea and New Zealand already have the talent pool to capitalise on a wide spectrum of specialisation opportunities across the different technologically advanced sectors. Austria, the Netherlands, Norway, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia are currently better positioned to thrive in advanced service sectors, while the skills of Canadians, Chileans and Finns are better aligned with high-end manufacturing. Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States still have a comparative advantage in complex business services, but they need to watch out because their talent pool is no longer well-aligned with further specialisation in either advanced services or manufacturing. In fact, in Australia, Canada, Norway and the United Kingdom the talent pool no longer provides the skills several high-tech industries demand; as a result, the comparative advantage in these industries has actually deteriorated.

So education and skills policies come into play, but migration, labour market and tax policies also need to be revisited so that they too are aligned with countries’ ambitions to advance along global value chains. It is important to bear in mind that countries’ comparative advantages always emerge from the interaction between skills and industry requirements – which underlines the importance of connecting the world of learning with the world of work. That can include vocational education and training with a strong work-based learning component, local initiatives to link education institutions to the private sector, and specific policies to foster collaboration between the universities and research institutions and the private sector. Management policies, too, can be a source of comparative advantage in global value chains, and entrepreneurship education can foster awareness and knowledge of best practices for employers and workers. It is also important to design employment-protection legislation that provides both flexibility to firms and security to workers.

And don’t expect workers to accept losing their jobs through outsourcing or automation if they don’t feel prepared to get or create new ones. Countries need to seek a better balance between short-term training and labour market programmes for displaced workers, and long-term policies that facilitate lifelong development of the knowledge and skills for tomorrow’s world. Removing barriers to further skills development means working on several fronts: whether it is improving the tax system to provide stronger learning incentives, easing access to formal education for adults, or working with trade partners to enhance flexibility in the sharing of time between work and training.

Countries also need to work together to define workers’ skills so that employers around the world understand what diplomas and degrees really mean, and become better at recognising skills acquired informally or abroad. Recognising skills acquired abroad makes it easier for foreign students and workers to contribute to research, innovation and workplace performance; recognising skills acquired informally helps workers exposed to the risks of offshoring to gain further qualifications and adapt their careers to changing needs. This is also about ensuring greater consistency between the degrees awarded and the skills actually acquired. As the report shows, the issue isn’t just that, in many countries, there is a significant dispersion of skills among workers with similar degrees; the data also show that Japanese high school graduates have stronger literacy and numeracy skills than Italian or Spanish university graduates.

Last but not least, global value chains make it much harder for countries to recoup their investment in education. This suggests that countries need to collaborate more in the design of education programmes and perhaps seek financing arrangements that reflect the distribution and benefits of costs across countries.

None of this is easy, none of it will be done overnight. But with forward-looking policies and a shared understanding of what workers’ qualifications signify, countries can both improve their international competitiveness and help more of their citizens benefit from this wave of globalisation. And the alternative is clear – just visit Albania or any other of the countries that have excluded themselves for half a century from international collaboration and global value chains.

OECD Skills Outlook 2017: Skills and Global Value Chains 
OECD National Skills Strategy
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Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Assessing school assessment in Romania

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

We published our review of school assessment and evaluation in Romania today, and the report received a lot of attention. We had done our last assessment of education in Romania in 2000, and it was a very different country back then. It was only in 2011 that Romania put in place an inclusive vision for education, a vision of 21st-century learning and 21st-century assessment. Since then, the country has made remarkable progress in backing that vision up with institutional capacity. Perhaps most important, Romania has been one of Europe’s success stories in terms of delivering improved results. Over the past decade, only Portugal has seen faster improvement in our PISA science assessment than Romania.

But it’s important to look forward, since Romania’s schools today will be Romania’s society tomorrow. And today, 40% of Romanian 15-year-olds still lack the foundation skills they need for lifelong learning and productive employment. Many of the schools and educators involved are not yet in sync with the 21st-century vision of Romania’s new curriculum – nor is the assessment system. High-stakes examinations still determine the future of students’ based on a narrow set of academic knowledge at age 14. This is outdated and unfair.

Never underestimate the influence of examinations on what is taught and learnt. So broadening what is assessed will help ensure that the new curriculum reaches the classrooms. And strengthening other forms of assessment can put examinations in balance. Good education is about developing human talent, not about sorting it. In the late 1990s Poland redesigned its school structure so that students follow the same curriculum until age 15. The reform has helped to significantly reduce performance differences between schools and improve performance among the lowest-achieving students. Perhaps most important, taking away the option to pass struggling students down to programmes with lower performance expectations has delivered the message to Polish teachers and schools that they need to better support student learning. Our data show that those who benefited from the extra year of general education in Poland increased their average PISA score in 2006 by the equivalent of almost three years of schooling.

The quality of education can never exceed the quality of teaching. The way in which teachers engage with students in their classrooms and provide feedback on what they can do to improve is more powerful than anything else in helping students to learn. That starts with the development of professional standards for teachers. If you can’t define a good teacher, it’s hard to get one. And if you give them the support and the space, teachers will be incredibly good at framing their professional practice just like other professions do. I was so impressed by how teachers in the Netherlands developed the Dutch system of professional standards for teachers. No government could have come up with a more demanding and practical vision for great teaching.

One of the most important lessons we can learn from great education systems is how they create a teaching profession that owns its professional practice. Every day I meet people who say we cannot give teachers and school leaders greater autonomy because they lack the capacity to fill that autonomy with meaning. There is some truth in that. But the response to perpetuate the industrial work organisation in schools with prescriptive instructional systems will continue to disengage teachers from their craft. Those who heat up pre-cooked hamburgers from McDonald’s rarely become a master chef. By contrast, when teachers feel a sense of ownership over their classrooms, when students feel a sense of ownership over their learning, that is when productive learning takes place.

The answer is to strengthen trust, transparency, professional autonomy and the collaborative culture of the profession all at the same time. And that is exactly what good evaluation and assessments are about. Professional autonomy can be nourished. Last year, I was the head of the committee that awards the British pupil premium. That’s an amount of money that schools receive for each disadvantaged student to better support them. But rather than telling schools what to do with this money, teachers and schools have to come up with their own plan based on government assessment data, justify how it will improve learning outcomes with evidence and research, and account for the results to the public. And they come up with incredibly imaginative answers.

So in our review we highlight how building teacher capacity, and in particular strengthening teachers’ assessment literacy, must be front and centre of any reform to raise learning outcomes. Assessment is always at its best when it facilitates open dialogue, reflection and feedback, where weaknesses can be acknowledged and mistakes recognised as an opportunity for growth and building trust. This will also require investing in more and better initial teacher education, continuing professional development and simple, practical tools that will help teachers understand the new curriculum’s learning expectations and bring them to life in Romania’s schools.

Examples of what key competencies, like critical thinking and creative problem solving, look like in practice can have a transformative impact on pedagogical practice. Guidance on helping students to understand their own learning strategies can help teachers engage students who are at risk of dropping out, and instil in every child the belief that they can succeed. New Zealand has developed a range of online tools that demonstrate key competencies using student work, and that break the competencies down into essential knowledge, skills and attitudes so that teachers know how to support their students through each learning stage.

Teachers also need the right incentives and professional support to become effective in their job. Teachers in Romania are regularly assessed, but too often appraisal is only summative. It will be important to develop appraisals that are more focused on formative practices, such as professional dialogue and feedback, and grounded in classroom observation and evidence of performance. The theoretical written exams Romania’s teachers take often do not capture what matters most for excellent teaching, such as the relationship teachers establish with their students, their attitudes, and their mastery of pedagogical strategies so that they can plan and sequence teaching to reflect their students’ needs. Ireland’s reform increased the prominence of classroom-based and formative assessments. An important part of that success has been Subject Learning and Assessment Review meetings, where teachers share and discuss examples of their students’ work so that they develop a common understanding of the quality of student learning.

The combination of professional autonomy with a collaborative culture is the key to good teaching, and assessment and evaluation are at its heart. I am always struck by the power of “collaborative consumption”, where online markets are created in which people share their cars and even their apartments with total strangers. Collaborative consumption has made people micro-entrepreneurs – and its driving engine is building trust between strangers. The reason this works is because behind these systems are powerful reputational metrics that build trust. We know a lot more about the driver of an Uber car than about the bus driver or the teacher of our children. When I visited Shanghai in 2013, I saw teachers using a digital platform to share lesson plans. That in itself was not very unusual. What made it special was that the more that other teachers downloaded lessons, or criticised or improved lessons, the greater the reputation of the teacher who had shared them. At the end of the school year, the principal would not just ask how well the teacher had taught his or her students, but what contribution they had made to improve the wider education system.

Shanghai’s approach to curated crowd-sourcing of education practice is not just a great example of identifying and sharing best practice among teachers, it is also much more powerful than performance-related pay based on test scores as an approach to appraisal and professional growth and development. In this way, Shanghai created a giant open-source community of teachers and unlocked the creative skills and initiative of its teachers simply by tapping into the desire of people to contribute, collaborate and be recognised for it.

Still, whenever systems drop a great teacher into a poorly functioning school, the school wins every time. That is why we also took a close look at the evaluation of schools in Romania. Here our advice is to shift the focus from compliance and control, to building school leadership for improvement. Again, this should start with a common and robust framework for school evaluation. In Scotland, school evaluation is focused on three simple questions: How good is our leadership and approach to improvement? How good is the quality of care and education we offer? and How good are we at ensuring the best possible outcomes for all our learners? Scotland’s differentiated model of school evaluation identifies those schools with the greatest need for support. Staff from the ministry and the local authority then work together to determine how the school can best be helped to build capacity for improvement.

In sum, strengthening evaluation and assessment so that it sets high standards for all, and supports all students, teachers and schools to achieve those high standards will create not just a good, but an excellent education system.

OECD Review on Evaluation and Assessment in Education: Romania 
Press Release: Strengthening evaluation and assessment in Romania is key to educational reform
OECD Reviews on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes

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Photo source: Scoala - Romanian driving school car sign @shutterstock