What future for the family?

by Barrie Stevens
Head, International Futures Programme

The family landscape in OECD countries has changed enormously over the last few decades. The extended family has all but disappeared in many places, and the traditional family – the married couple with children – is much less widespread than it used to be.  Of course, this has a lot to do with other things that have been happening in society – divorce rates have been rising, as has the number of cohabiting couples and couples “living together apart”, and single parenthood and same-sex partnerships have increased too.  Many more women have taken up work, adolescents spend longer in education, and elderly family members live longer and, frequently, alone.

So, are we witnessing the fragmentation of the family?  Well, not quite, because at the same time, we are seeing family relations start to reconfigure on new foundations. We see networks of loosely connected family members from different marriages, partnerships and generations emerging, with fresh attitudes and approaches to cohesion and solidarity. We see technological progress (mobile phones, Facebook, Skype…) bringing new opportunities for easy, frequent communication among family members, and medical progress improving the health and reducing the dependence of the elderly on other family members.

Whatever we may think of these new trends in family structures and relations, many of them could be here to stay.  The national statistical offices of a dozen or so OECD countries have recently conducted or commissioned, quite independently of one another, long-term projections of household and family composition. Detailed comparisons among the different forecasts are not very useful, because the start dates, time horizons and methods used vary from study to study. What is striking however, is that the underlying trends revealed by the estimates show strong similarities.  For example: All the studies, without exception, expect significant increases by 2025/30 both in the number and in the proportion of one-person households.  Similarly, almost all of them expect a substantial rise both in the number of single-parent households and in the share of single-parent households as a percentage of all households with children.  And almost all expect significant increases in the number of couples without children.

Just to be clear.  These are projections and not predictions of the future. They serve to illustrate the growth and change in families or households that would occur if certain assumptions about marriage, divorce, fertility, work, values, migration, etc. were to prevail over the projection period.  These are impossible to predict.  However, it has to be said that social structures are not given to rapid transformation. In the absence of extreme events, key trends such as the expansion of higher education, the growing participation of women in the labour market and the rising numbers of dependent elderly all seem set to become a permanent feature of the next couple of decades.

 This suggests that quite strong likelihoods attach to the projections, and calls for strengthening the links among family-relevant aspects of different policy domains, such as care for children and the elderly, labour market, education, technology and housing.

If the above projections are indeed a reasonable reflection of the future, then we need to start thinking about some of the possible consequences.  The OECD’s The Future of Families to 2030 report, which will be published in January 2012, offers a foretaste.  For example:  the growing numbers of single-person households will put increased pressure on housing and in many cases complicate the task of preserving family cohesion; the expected increase in single-parent families, the numbers of cohabiting couples and reconstituted families could lead to more such families facing a higher risk of poverty; and the increase in childless couple households, divorce rates, remarriages and stepfamilies may weaken family ties and undermine capacity for informal family care.

What are the long-term  consequences for education? If, as many experts suspect, the home is set to grow in importance as a locus of learning, where does that leave families that are less able to support their children with the requisite time, technology and resources?

The next 20 years look pretty challenging – for families and for policy makers alike.

For more on the OECD International Futures Programme: www.oecd.org/futures
The Future of Families to 2030, a synthesis report
OECD,  Doing Better for Families, 2011
OECD, Higher Education to 2030, Vol. 1, Demography
OECD, Trends Shaping Education, 2010
Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators
OECD work on Education and Social Progress

Some National links to household statistics:

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Helping immigrant students to succeed

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Indicators and Analysis Division, Directorate for Education

Whether in flight from conflict, with the hope of building a better life, or to seize a social or economic opportunity, people have been crossing borders for as long as there have been borders to cross. Modern means of transportation and communication, the globalisation of the labour market, and the ageing of populations in OECD countries will drive migration well into the next decades. Education is key to helping immigrants and their families integrate into their adopted countries. How are education systems adapting?

Results from PISA 2009 show that although native students generally outperform students with immigrant backgrounds, some countries have been able to narrow the performance gap between the two groups considerably—even as the proportion of immigrant students has grown.

The latest issue of PISA in Focus notes that the percentage of 15-year-old students with an immigrant background grew by two percentage points, on average, between 2000 and 2009 among OECD countries  with comparable data. Immigrant students now constitute more than 5% of the 15-year-old student populations in 13 OECD and partner countries and economies. In Ireland, New Zealand, Spain, the United States, and the partner countries Liechtenstein and the Russian Federation, the percentage of students with an immigrant background increased by five percentage points or more over the past decade, and these students now represent from 8% to 30% of these countries’ student populations.

During the same time period, a few countries narrowed the performance gap between native and immigrant students. In Belgium and Switzerland, for example, the performance gap shrank by nearly 40 score points, even though native students still outperform students with an immigrant background by 68 score points in Belgium and by 48 score points in Switzerland. And Switzerland was able to reduce the performance gap despite the fact that the percentage of students with an immigrant background rose during the period. Germany, New Zealand and the partner country Liechtenstein also show a narrowing of the performance gap between these two groups of students.

What these trends tell us is that there are ways that governments and schools can help students from immigrant backgrounds to overcome some of the disadvantages associated with that background. Often, students with an immigrant background are socio-economically disadvantaged. On average across OECD countries, the performance gap is reduced from 43 to 27 score points when comparing students of similar socio-economic status, regardless of whether they are from immigrant backgrounds or are native to the country in which they were tested.

But the fact that a 27-point performance gap–equivalent to well over half a school year–persists, even after accounting for socio-economic status, implies that other factors also have an impact on student performance. These may be related to whether the students were born in the country in which they were tested or elsewhere, or whether, when they’re at home, they speak the same language as that used in the PISA test. Yet given that the performance gap varies so widely across countries, even taking into account these other characteristics, and given that in some countries the performance gap has changed markedly over time, it is clear that public policy can make a difference to these students’ progress in school.

For more information:
on PISA: www.pisa.oecd.org
Full set of PISA in Focus: www.oecd.org/pisa/infocus
PISA 2009 Results: Overcoming Social Background
PISA 2009 Results: Learning Trends
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Education does not equal skills

by Julie Harris
Consultant, OECD Department of Education

Mapping skills at the European Youth Forum
I went back 25 years in time yesterday, as I sat with participants at the European Youth Forum, all young, vibrant, educated and driven. I felt as if I were at university with my daughter and 100 of her friends. We discussed the future, skills, and in particular, the skills mismatch, described by Andreas Schleicher as “a lot of unemployed graduates plus a lot of employers looking for skilled workers”.

At the eve of my own career 25 years ago, my current profession did not exist. The Internet did not exist. There were fewer graduates and fewer employers looking for skilled employees. Did we worry about getting jobs? Probably, but back then a degree was the passkey.

Today, as my daughter graduates from college in 2013, the debate for her as well as for the 120 participants we worked with today, centred around jobs, skills and education. Just what is the link? Does a degree guarantee a job? Less and less so. Does work experience play a role? Yes, but the youth in my breakout group felt that unpaid internships amounted to exploitation and rarely provided the learning originally intended. What about the “soft” skills that so many students report are not developed in traditional school settings: clear communication skills, emotional intelligence, problem-solving, collaboration, curiosity, critical thinking and technological skills? How do individuals best acquire these skills – which mean more to long-term professional success than purely occupational skills do – and what do we need to do as a society to develop, value and encourage such skill development?

As Andreas Schleicher pointed out in his introduction to yesterday’s session, we need to build strong generic skills (skills that cross contexts, such as reading, writing, problem-solving, communication and collaboration), better utilise talent pools and skill for future jobs.

So how do we go about that?

Some of the ideas participants in the session came up with were:
  1. Link studies to labour market demand. Should governments regulate entry into study programmes, for example when there is a skills surplus and a jobs deficit?
  2. Improve career counselling to students and involve parents. Help students and parents know what the jobs of the future will be, where some of the shortages may lie and what skills will best help them succeed.
  3. Provide internships/work experience opportunities on a parallel track along with university studies (as in the United States and France).
  4. Put more professional, practical skills training into university education. 
  5. Encourage entrepreneurship and innovation among youth: communicate that small-business owners are important actors in society and that there is room for thinking outside the box, across disciplines and beyond borders.
  6. Build skills locally (rather than outsourcing to cheaper providers).
  7. Keep in mind that skills mismatch can begin at school – tracking can lead to rigidity and close down broader skills development. 
In sum, and as one participant put it, skills is a complex issue. It is more than the ability to “do something” and bigger, much bigger than education alone. Education, both formal and informal, at school and in the workplace, gleaned young and old, is a vital piece of the skills puzzle, but education alone does not skills make.

Learn more:
European Youth Forum: Youth Employment: A Call for Change
OECD Skills Strategy
Participate in the 2012 OECD Global Youth Video Competition

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Transforming education the no-choice way in Japan

by Deborah Roseveare
Head of the Education and Training Policy Division, OECD Directorate for Education

Most of the time, transforming education involves a strategy that is proposed, debated, planned and rolled out.

For pieces of hope in a land of despair
On a road near Kamaishi Higashi Junior High, we bumped into a group of students. 
They say they're on their way to see their school.  "We're going in to find what was ours" they say.
But for the children, teachers, families and communities of the Tohoku region of Japan hit by the earthquake and tsunami, education was transformed in the space of an afternoon -- with no warning, no planning, no time to develop a strategy and no choice.

Yet despite being uprooted from their homes, grieving for lost loved ones and unclear about their futures, for the children of Tohoku, the last few months have transformed what they learn, how they learn and why they learn.

They’re learning to live, to value what they previously took for granted, to collaborate and support each other, to express their emotions and to say what they think. They’re learning to improvise, to innovate, to solve problems, to think critically, to take initiative. And they’ve demonstrated courage, resilience and adaptability.

Students are also learning new skills. For example, the Recovery Assistance Media Team provided cameras to children to collect images of disaster areas seen through their eyes and involve them in learning to document and record events. Another group of university students in Sendai organised the first TEDx event ever in Tohoku, with the aim of sharing proposals for the future of the Tohoku region and Japan.

Student volunteers at Fukushima University set up learning support and play support services to children in emergency shelters and later in temporary housing. These student volunteers learnt how to plan and organise support and how to reflect carefully as weeks went by to ensure that they continued to respond effectively as children’s needs evolved.

Students are also learning to use art and theatre to share their experience with others, like the high students who prepared and performed the tremendously moving “A Message from Fukushima”. This theatre play – a component drama – is now available with English subtitles on YouTube and is well worth watching.

The students of Tohoku know that their world has irrevocably changed. But their experience also demonstrates the value of new, action-oriented ways of learning. The transformation in their learning shows the way for redesigning education across the whole Tohoku region so that it meet the needs, hopes and aspirations of students, families and communities across the Tohoku region and build a better and brighter future.

Please take a further look at these initiatives through the links below:
Recovery Assistance Media Team
TEDx Tohoku event
Student volunteers at Fukushima University
“A Message from Fukushima”

See also: OECD Economic Survey of Japan 2011

Photo credit: Kamaichi East Jr. High

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‘An obligation to systematise success’

Randi Weingarten, attorney, educator and president of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers spoke with Marilyn Achiron during an afternoon at OECD headquarters. This is a continuation of the conversation that was posted on 30 November 2011.

Marilyn Achiron:  How would you define effective education?
Randi Weingarten: Most of our educational systems have been created to an industrial model. They were built to ensure that kids could competently deal with the routine tasks that were necessary in factories. Some kids would succeed in a different way; but in the main, we were educating kids to be employed in factories; and educating a lot of people to be housewives. The world has totally and completely changed. What has to happen now is that education has to be about knowledge acquisition and knowledge application. And that has to be for virtually all kids, not simply some kids.

MA: How do you prepare children for a life we can’t even imagine yet?
RW: In my lifetime, we’ve gone from technology being a shiny object–a TV–to being an indispensable part of one’s everyday life. Technology is changing as rapidly as you change the channels on the TV set. The challenge and opportunity in education is to understand what’s needed and try to make that happen on a systemic level, yet constantly be open to innovative ideas for improvement. But the one thing we haven’t ever done: we’ve not changed that basic system of education, from the industrial factory model to a knowledge-based model. When I talk about a knowledge-based model what I’m talking about is helping kids apply knowledge, think critically, imagine, be creative, be confident about being lifelong learners. It’s not simply about memorising facts and being able to recite that which one has memorised; it’s about knowing how to learn and knowing how to continue to learn; knowing how to apply that knowledge, and knowing how to communicate it. That’s the deep work, the rigorous work that we need to do in public education, for not just some kids, but for all kids.

Once you see what kids need, it becomes much easier to create the professional learning environment that teachers need. You start with standards: what do kids need to know and be able to do in order to succeed. When teachers start seeing that, then we start working with and amongst teachers in order to make that a reality.

One of the most frustrating conversations I’ve had is around the issue of merit pay. When someone says, ‘I want to give that teacher who has succeeded a lot more money, and fire the ones that haven’t’, I say, ‘Well, what will that accomplish? What happens to all the other kids? Don’t we have an obligation to systematise success?’ To see what is successful and figure out what are the characteristics that enable us to systematise it, so that we sustain success, we continuously improve, and we scale it up: that’s what the international comparisons have helped us see.

When you see what, say Finland or Ontario, Canada, have done over the course of 10-20 years, and you see the change in their systems…they’re not simply rhetorically focusing on education, but they’ve taken steps to enable a significant number of kids in their jurisdictions to succeed. That’s breathtaking. And that’s what the OECD should be credited with: creating a path to do that for all kids.

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education (A video series profiling policies and practices of education systems that demonstrate high or improving performance in the PISA tests)
Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC)
American Federation of Teachers
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When the school inspectors call less often, will Flemish schools take up the self-evaluation challenge?

by Claire Shewbridge,
Policy Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education

As in many European systems, Flemish schools are very used to school inspectors knocking on their doors. Schools have to let them in, as such external evaluation is a requirement. The inspectors make a “recommendation” to the Flemish authorities on whether or not the school should continue to be able to award official certificates and to benefit from public funding.

This led to another change in inspection style in 2009. Inspectors now focus their attention on those schools that need this most and on areas that are most relevant within a particular school. This is known as the “differentiated approach”. Each Flemish school will be inspected at least once every ten years, but some may be inspected more often depending on how inspectors judge their quality. For example, some schools may receive a “restricted positive recommendation”, meaning that they can continue to award official certificates and receive public funding, under the condition that they address certain quality concerns identified by the inspectors. Such schools are given an agreed amount of time to improve and inspectors come back to check on their progress and re-evaluate the case. So, if all is well at the school, the inspectors will be knocking at the door less often!

At the same time, the Flemish authorities decreed that schools are legally responsible for providing quality education. Although the decree does not specify that schools must conduct self-evaluation, the hope is that the schools will take up the self-evaluation challenge in assuring their quality.

As part of the OECD Review on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes, the Flemish Ministry of Education and Training asked the OECD to come knock on a few doors. A new OECD report shows the results of this exercise. We were delighted to be joined in our expedition by Marian Hulshof from the research arm of the Dutch Inspectorate and Louise Stoll, a school improvement specialist. During an enriching eight days in Brussels, Antwerp, Vilvoorde and Sint-Niklaas, school leaders, teachers, students, parents, educational networks and their pedagogical support teams, public officials and hot chocolate cafés, all opened their doors to us. We enjoyed frank and open discussions as we investigated:
  • In between inspections, how do inspectors know that all is well at a particular school?
  • How do inspectors judge school performance on each area of the inspection framework?
  • Are all schools ready to take up the evaluation challenge?
  • Are the right tools available to schools to conduct high quality self-evaluations?
  • Do school leaders and teachers know how to interpret self-evaluation results and what to do about them?
  • How do schools know whether they are improving?
  • Are there opportunities for schools to learn from other schools?
Our favourite question, put to all was: “What is a good quality school?”. There has been a reluctance within the Flemish Community to define “quality”. As it stands, an important proxy for school quality is the inspectors’ judgement on whether or not schools ensure students demonstrate an agreed minimum level of knowledge and skills at the end of primary school and at different stages of secondary education (the Flemish attainment targets).

As in any evaluation exercise, the discussions challenged some of our assumptions and we hope that we also challenged others’ assumptions.

Inspection results and evidence from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment indicate that in general the Flemish Community of Belgium can be proud of the quality of education provided by its schools. But there are some worrying inequities and the Flemish authorities, via the Policy on Equal Educational Opportunities, have called on the Flemish Community to take up the challenge to reduce the strong influence of socio-economic factors on student learning and outcomes. This has also been a vehicle for stimulating collaboration among schools and some self-evaluation activities.

In going forward, schools have been given the star role in assuring their quality. The OECD review team discovered pockets of excellent examples of self-evaluation activities for improvement, both within schools and a few pioneers of critical friendship among schools. However, many schools have yet to take up this challenge fully and require further stimulation and support. In striving for continuous improvement throughout the Flemish Community, school self-evaluation activities will be fundamental to creating the professional learning community, where collaborative enquiry and use of data for whole-school improvement is the norm. The Inspectorate can help here with clearer communication of its inspection framework and sharing existing information on a regular basis with schools. School Evaluation in the Flemish Community of Belgium (OECD, 2011) provides many other ideas for the authorities, schools and other stakeholders in how to build on existing school evaluation activities. Schools are at the heart of this process, and the quality of teaching and learning should be at the heart of all school evaluation activities. The OECD review team identified the following priorities in making school evaluation fit for continuous improvement:
  • Clarify the goals of school evaluation and how different types of evaluation fit together
  • Continue to invest in school leader and teacher capacity to conduct evaluation and use its results for improvement
  • Increase the objectivity of evaluation procedures and ensure they promote improvement and excellence
  • Increase the use of information (collected by schools and the Flemish authorities) for both internal and external school evaluation
With collective commitment to working on the above priorities, we have no doubt that our Flemish friends will be well on their way to becoming the “Flemish Professional Learning Community” of Belgium.
OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education: School Evaluation in the Flemish Community of Belgium
For more details on the OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education, go to the website:  www.oecd.org/edu/evaluationpolicy
Related blogs
Photo: OECD Flanders Review team
from left to right Louise Stoll; Deborah Nusche; Claire Shewbridge; Marian Hulshof
Photo credit: Louise Stoll
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All immigration is local: How Regional Factors Shape Global Migration

by Monica Brezzi
Head of Regional Statistics Unit, OECD Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development

Debates over international migration tend to be driven by national politics and often incomplete information. But to better understand both the real drivers and effects of migration, it is critical to analyse them by region.  The total number of migrants – as well as the profiles of the foreign-born population – differs widely from region to region. For example, more than 13% of people in London and Brussels and nearly 10% in Murcia are foreign-born arrived there less than 5 years earlier, while in the other regions of these countries recent migrants represent between 3% and 6% of total population.

By now, we know that immigration is a sensitive issue. The economic crisis has destroyed millions of jobs in OECD countries, making their governments especially attuned to the impact of immigration on local wages and employment. But better information at the regional level on the skill composition of migrants could better inform policy reforms. Data show that foreign-born workers have significantly increased the level of education of the labour force in many regions of Ireland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic and the United Kingdom.

A recent OECD report Regional Outlook argues that regions resilience to shocks and capacity to deliver services mostly relate to the quality of human capital. Attracting and retaining high-skilled migrants can then be a key asset for regions. In some regions in Mexico, the United States, Spain and Germany, the share of highly-skilled migrants on the total foreign-born population can be almost three times higher than in other regions. Some of these migrants are top talents in their field, contributing greatly to innovation and scientific productivity of local firms and universities. Do regions that already host highly educated migrants maintain a competitive advantage in attracting global talent over time? The Regional Outlook reports that there is a substantial inertia in the location choices of the highly skilled. Thus regions which already have a competitive advantage in attracting skilled migrants will benefit relatively more from the increasing international flows of talents. A better coordination of migration policies and regional policies could generate incentives for skilled migrants to locate in regions needing to attract talents to boost competitiveness. Canada and Australia have established quota systems taking into account local differences in the demand for highly skilled or professionally qualified workforce. Other countries are experimenting similar initiatives.

Regional and municipal governments take on significant responsibilities in the management of migration and in successfully integrating migrants. They provide training programs, deliver anti-discrimination and cultural diversity projects helping migrants use effectively their skills and provide language services for children and youth through the education system. Better integrated migrants mean also a significantly lower burden in terms of provision of social services and costs for the local population. Not all the regional governments are equipped for the challenge, and the difficulties can only become greater with the increasing migration pressure and the current budget cuts. Coordination among different levels of government is more than ever needed to reap the benefits migration can bring. All immigration is local and policymakers will be aided by a closer view of their immigrant population.

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‘Internationalist, not isolationist’

Randi Weingarten, attorney, educator and president of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers spoke with Marilyn Achiron during an afternoon at OECD headquarters.

Marilyn Achiron: To what extent do you look to international examples for improving teaching performance? To what extent is that important to you?
Randi Weingarten: Good practice and what works knows no geographic boundaries. We should be looking for it wherever we find it. To borrow somebody else’s expression, the world has become more and more flat, more and more accessible, more and more global. Therefore, in some ways, geographic boundaries mean very little in the economic system of the world. When you know that, then you have to look around the world to see what is working, how to innovate, how to ensure that kids have the skills that they need so that they can compete, or at least so that they can be enabled not simply to dream their dreams, but to achieve them. So whether you think about it from a process standpoint, in terms of what is working in education; or you think about it from an economic standpoint, in terms of what the world has become; or whether you think about in terms of a child’s standpoint, in terms of how do we enable kids to become successful in the world in which they will find themselves, we have to be internationalists, not isolationists. That is what the OECD’s work is about.

MA: Given the economic morass we’re in, and given that, in most OECD countries, societies are aging, is there the risk that teachers’ unions will become marginalised in the next few years? What can be done to maintain their relevancy?
RW: I think the fight about relevancy has been happening over the last two years. We have to win that fight if we believe that voice and democracy is important for societies to prosper and if we believe that education is essential for a society to be a good society. There are lots of people who look at the world and think about it as a race to the bottom. They think: “the only way we can compete is to ensure that we pay the least amount for the most amount of goods”. And that way of viewing life means that each successive generation is going to do worse than their parents did. That is antithetical to what we always believed was the American dream; and it is, frankly, antithetical to the whole notion, seen all across the world, that if you work hard then you are going to do better than your parents did; and that your kids are going to do better than you did. What the labour movement has always been about, whether it is the teachers’ unions or other unions, is about the dignity of work, is about ensuring that work garners with it a good wage and some security. It is not a free lunch, not a free ride. If one actually believes that our best days ought to be ahead of us, then you have to believe in the social and economic engines that help us get there; and the labour movement is one of those engines.

What’s interesting is that this time of economic morass has created another Gilded Age. There are some people who are doing quite well; and the gap between rich and poor has grown greater than it has ever been. But if we don’t create a sense of who are the engines that will help propel the world to greater things in the decades to come, that will help solve the world’s real problems, whether they are economic or environmental, if we just throw our hands up and give up, then the world will be a very different place.

One of most hopeful things I’ve seen in the last few years is the effect PISA has had. The effect has been to open a window on what works to educate youngsters across the world. It is not simply having results that say Country A is outperforming Country B. What the OECD has done and the data and analysis has shown is why certain countries outperform others. And that is one of the most valuable pieces of work we can have: a path to the key attributes to long-term, systemic, scalable change so that we help all kids succeed.

The conversation with Randi Weingarten will continue in a forthcoming post.

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC)
American Federation of Teachers

Photo credit: Ilene Perlman
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Calling all youth: Get involved in the OECD Global Youth Video Competition 2012

by Desiree Quinteros
OECD Global Youth Video Competition 2011 winner and Consultant to the OECD Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development

Where am I going to work after I finish my studies? This is the question all young students face sooner or later, but finding a quick answer is growing more and more difficult. Finding the “dream job” has never been easy, but finding a “job” is becoming harder, particularly after the financial and economic crisis. As the OECD Emploment Outlook 2011 points out, “while overall unemployment has fallen from its recessionary peak, it is still high in many countries, especially for vulnerable groups such as disadvantaged youth”.

After three, four, five or even more years studying, young professionals expect to not only to find a job, but a well-paid and productive one. The recent crisis showed that more action is needed to reduce youth vulnerability to changing political and economic conditions: in the first quarter of 2011, the unemployment rate for young people (aged 15 to 24) was 17.4% in the OECD area compared to only 7% for adults (aged 25 and over).  So it’s time to think about solutions and “preventative” measures, which must start with education: reducing the gap between skills youth acquire at school and those needed in the labour market,and increasing the opportunities for vocational education and training.

In this sense, youth have a unique opportunity to take action and express their thoughts/challenges/solutions to the issues that matter for youth in the next OECD Global Youth Video Competition 2012. This competition invites young people to think about global issues affecting their future today, from unemployment, education and skills, to inequality and development. As a first step, the OECD is asking you  to vote on what should be the theme of the 2012 Video competition.  Tell us what you think from among the themes and the selected one will be announced on 14 December 2011 at the Conference on Youth Employment, organised by the European Youth Forum, with the support of the OECD. Then the creative process starts – young people, aged 18-25 – will be eligible to enter the competition with a 3 minute video on the chosen theme – get scripting and filming!!

After participating  in the last OECD Youth Video Competition and winning first place, I can say that it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Sharing thoughts with policy makers, listening to live presentations of presidents, ministers, and business leaders, and meeting people from all around the globe, really encouraged me to keep working for better policies and to always keep in mind that young people need to be involved directly in the global issues that will craft our future, and take action!

To find out more about the competition, and to vote, please visit: www.oecd.org/videocontest
Get voting!

Photo credit: Desiree Quinteros.  Watch the winning video on Youtube
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Early childhood education: an international development issue

by Ian Whitman
Head of the Programme for Co-operation with Non Member Economies, OECD Directorate for Education

Quality, quality, quality – that’s what matters most. This was the overwhelming cry at the international conference I attended in Beijing this week on early childhood development, “Child Leads, Equity Counts”. Feng Xiaoxia, the Former President of the Chinese National Society of Early Childhood Education went as far as to say that without quality (in early childhood education and care), access doesn’t much matter.

Evidence bears the importance of quality out, as we find in Investing in high-quality early childhood education and care (ECEC):
The Effective Pre-school and Primary Education (EPPE) longitudinal study carried out in English found that the quality of pre-school setting was still exerting a positive effect on literacy and maths after the children had been at school for five years. However, the children who had gone to low-quality pre-schools were no different from those who had not gone to pre-school at all.

My fellow conference participants felt very strongly about the issue of quality and stressed that though it is not cheap, it was well worth it. It can take decades to see the results of quality early childhood education and care, which makes it difficult for some governments to invest, but we have hard evidence and real results. We are not only seeing improved school performance (PISA shows that pre-school attendance can put students ahead by one year in reading, compared to their classmates), but increased societal benefit (increased female employment which can lift families out of poverty, for example) and individual benefit (better health, less of a tendency to engage in risky behavior, and more of a likelihood to contribute to society).

Equity was another issue close to their hearts. China currently has 96 million children under the age of six. In 1978, there were 8 million kindergarteners; in 2009 the number tripled to 26.9 million (with 56% coverage). There is a need to ensure the same early childhood services for migrant children as for others. Currently, only 20% of migrant children benefit from these services, whereas 70% is the average for China.

“Mobile ger-kindergartens” is one of the solutions being used in Mongolia (as well as in China). These kindergartens move and follow herder populations. Less expensive to construct and maintain, they are meeting the needs of nomadic populations by setting themselves up near 10-15 herder families during the summer months. They enroll 12-15 children at a time for three to four weeks, and then move on to the next location. Though this is a much-needed service, access to quality preschool education is still below the norm for herder children. Mongolia has identified this as one of their challenges in early childhood development.

As Chen Zhili, former Education Minister and Vice Chairwoman of the 11th Standing Committee of the People's National Congress and President of the All China Women's Federation so rightly put it, “Our children are the hope of nations.” Leaving this conference, I agreed and know that we are doing all we can to give them every chance. 

Learn more:
Photo: Mobile ger-kindergarten, Mongolia Credit: Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, Mongolia
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The parent factor in student performance

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Indicators and Analysis Division, Directorate for Education

The latest PISA report Let's Read Them a Story! The Parent Factor in Education has just been published.

When it comes to parents’ involvement in their child’s education, is there really such a thing as “quality time”?

Evidence from PISA, highlighted in this issue of  PISA in Focus, suggests there is. Parents who are concerned that they don’t have enough time–or, for that matter, expertise–to help their children succeed at school can find some comfort in knowing that it doesn’t take a PhD or unlimited hours to make a difference in their children’s school career. What it does take is genuine interest and active engagement in their children’s lives.

For example, students whose parents reported, through a PISA questionnaire, that they had read a book with their child “every day or almost every day” or “once or twice a week” during their child’s first year of primary school had markedly higher reading scores in PISA 2009, when those children were 15, than students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child “never or almost never” or only “once or twice a month”. That difference in score averaged 25 points–or well over half a year of formal schooling–across the 14 countries with comparable data.

Often, differences in performance at school are strongly associated with students’ socio-economic backgrounds. But in this case, even when students from similar backgrounds are compared, those whose parents regularly read books to them when they were in the first year of primary school score 14 points higher, on average, than students whose parents did not.

When it comes to helping older children, parents don’t need to worry about their own abilities in, say, geometry or chemistry. PISA findings show that even such non-academic parent-child activities as “discussing books, films or television programmes”, “discussing how well children are doing at school”, “eating main meals together around the table” and “spending time just talking with one’s children” are also associated with better student reading performance in school. For example, according to PISA results, students whose parents discuss political or social issues with them either weekly or daily score 28 points higher in reading, on average, than those whose parents discuss these issues less often or not at all. And when socio-economic background is taken into account, the score point advantage drops, but remains important–16 score points–and is seen in all participating countries and economies, except Hungary.

In effect, PISA results confirm what most parents know intuitively: children–of all ages–benefit from their parents’ active interest in them. And PISA also shows that it’s not the quantity of time that makes the difference, but rather the depth of parental engagement.

For more on PISA, go to the website: http://www.pisa.oecd.org/

Photo credit: Neeta Lind
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Finding your way in the higher education marketplace

by Richard Yelland
Head of the Education Management and Infrastructure Division, OECD Directorate for Education

Suppose you are running a business with global brand recognition and tens of thousands of customers trying to buy your product. You can choose to remain exclusive and put the price up, or you might want to increase production to meet demand.

If you are running a university you might well find that your Government won’t allow you to do either of these things. Indeed, they might not even allow you to charge for your product at all. At the same time some of your competitors benefit from public subsidies and strong support for their export efforts.

As higher education has grown and expanded over the past fifty years its international dimension has become stronger. OECD data show that the numbers of students attending institutions outside their country of origin tripled between 1985 and 2008 and expectations are that the market will continue to grow.

It is however a very asymmetrical market, dominated by some strong providers, mostly in English-speaking countries: the United States in terms of sheer numbers and Australia in terms of the proportion of its student body who come from abroad. Moreover it is a volatile market, where public perceptions can be quickly swayed by relatively minor incidents. Changes in Government policy on immigration or institutional funding can make a big difference.

The challenges to those who responsible for strategic planning in universities and other higher education institutions are therefore considerable. OECD’s Programme on Institutional Management in Higher Education (IMHE)  has been running a series of focus groups to explore some of the issues and the conclusions will be presented at a conference at Lund University in Sweden in mid-December. The aim is to learn from each other and to come up with some useful advice for institutions as they plan their approaches.

And if those who are responsible for the supply side are struggling to keep up with developments, spare a thought for the students and prospective students who make up the demand side. Some countries will provide scholarships and other help, while elsewhere they have to fend for themselves. The quality and relevance of higher education programmes and institutions is far from transparent even at national level. Internationally, where students are prey to misleading - and sometimes fraudulent - advertising, and where their only guide is rankings largely based on research outcomes, it is very hard for them to reach the right decisions about their futures.

As we traverse the second decade of the twenty-first century there is more than ever a need for us to focus not only on the quality of higher education, but also on being transparent about it and on communicating what we know.

Programme on Institutional Management in Higher Education (IMHE)
More about the OECD/IMHE project "Managing Internationalisation"
Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO)
Conference "Strategic Management of Internationalisation in Higher Education", Lund University, Sweden

Photo: Lund University House, credit: Kennet Ruona
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Good fences make good neighbours

by Oscar Valiente
Consultant, OECD Directorate for Education

‘Good fences make good neighbors’ says Robert Frost’s protagonist in ‘’Mending wall’. Frost himself was not so sure. Barriers in education – like barriers between people - are not what cities and regions need in our time: rather what they need is better collaboration between the vocational and the university sectors for social and economic development. A very good example of this is the area of lifelong learning. Lifelong learning does not fit well with a system based on barriers and divisions even when they are pragmatic and blurred. Learners need to move from one sector to another in different moments of their life and tertiary education systems don’t always allow that.

Vocational and the university sectors can collaborate through updating and upgrading workers’ skills in firms, sharing business links for apprenticeships and internships, establishing dual programmes with the business sector, to name but a few. The range of possibilities for collaboration is very large and it goes from lifelong learning and skills development to creating partnerships to boost innovation in their cities and regions.

Institutional divisions between vocational and university education are unlikely to disappear, but the OECD through its reviews on Higher Education for Regional and City development provides international evidence of increased blurring of the boundaries.  Last week we jointly hosted an International Seminar on the “Collaboration between Vocational and University Education for Regional Development”  in San Sebastian  in Spain.  During the seminar we had the opportunity to see that some experts still claim a clear separation between institutions providing vocational skills and institutions providing academic knowledge, which has been traditionally the role of universities. In contrast, and during the same seminar, practitioners, policymakers and the business sector pushed universities to play other roles and to collaborate with other stakeholders.

Universities today need to be prepared to leave the ivory tower. The capacity to compete in the global knowledge economy depends on whether countries and regions can collaborate together meet the demand for high-level skills. There is room for the pines as well as for the apple orchard.


Photo: OECD/IMHE International Seminar “Collaboration between Vocational and University Education: Building Partnerships for Regional Development.” Left to right: Bernard HUGONNIER, Deputy-Director for Education, OECD; Isabel CELAÁ, Basque Minister of Education, Universities and Research, Basque Country; Iñaki GOIRIZELAIA, Rector of the University of the Basque Country, ES; Màrius RUBIRALTA, General Secretary for Universities, Ministry of Education, ES; Cristina URIARTE, University of the Basque Country, ES.  Credit: UPV/EHU University of Basque Country.
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What’s in children's school bags?

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Indicators and Analysis Division, Directorate for Education

The textbook in your or your child’s backpack: who decided it was the best one to use? And does it matter to your or your child’s success in school if that decision is taken by your school or by your government? The latest edition of PISA in Focus looks into how those issues relate to learning outcomes.

For example, school systems that grant individual schools autonomy in defining curricula, which can include determining which courses are offered, the content of those courses and the textbooks used to teach that material, tend to show better student performance overall, even after accounting for national income. Data from PISA 2009 show that the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the partner economy Macao-China grant their schools the greatest autonomy in these matters, while schools in Greece, Turkey and the partner countries Jordan and Tunisia have the least autonomy in these matters.

Within countries, though, the relationship isn’t as clear-cut, as school systems may grant individual schools more or less autonomy for a wide variety of reasons. So just because a school might have the responsibility of creating its own curriculum and choosing its own textbooks does not automatically mean that its students will perform better on PISA reading tests than students in a school that doesn’t.

A closer look at PISA results reveals another interesting twist in the school autonomy-student performance tale: while there is no clear relationship between autonomy in resource allocation (how a school raises and spends its money) and performance, there is a positive, albeit weak, relationship between the two in those school systems where most schools post student achievement data publicly. In these instances, it’s the combination of the school system’s accountability policies (in this case, having schools publicly disclose information about student performance) and school autonomy that is associated with slightly better student performance. Some 37% of students across OECD countries attend schools whose principals reported that they make achievement data available to the public; in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the partner countries Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, more than 80% of students attend schools that do so.

So while the analyses of PISA results can’t offer a simple equation, like school autonomy + accountability = better student outcomes, they can suggest the ways in which schools are governed, and the policies they put in practice, that are most strongly associated with better student performance. In effect, that textbook in your or your child’s backpack embodies a set of policies that could weigh a student down or help him or her soar.

For more on PISA, go to the website: http://www.pisa.oecd.org/

Photo credit: © Exactostock / SuperStock
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Chinese lessons

Head of the Indicators and Analysis Division, OECD Directorate for Education

While in China last month for the launch of the first Chinese edition of Education at a Glance, I had the privilege of spending half a day in one of the experimental schools in Shanghai that is developing and piloting the next generation of the provinces educational reforms. Shanghai, among today’s top performers in PISA serves, in turn, as a pilot for China’s educational future.

The previous wave of reforms in Shanghai had focused on professionalising education and disseminating good practice through a system of empowered and networked schools. Those established the capacity of the education system to attracted the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and the most capable school leaders to the most disadvantaged schools. The new reforms are now intended to produce innovative approaches to pedagogy and personalised learning experiences. The aim is to offer a more flexible curriculum while avoiding the pitfalls that are familiar to students and teachers in the West. Students in our countries, for example, can sometimes feel overwhelmed and lost amid a great selection of courses and may opt for courses that either do not make use of or hone their talents or that help them to avoid demanding work.

This includes an intensive process of individual career counselling, where students can express and explore their interests in projects. Teams of teachers then match these student wish-lists against professional assessments of students’ strengths. This is all done systematically and is carefully monitored to determine whether and how the process can work on a far larger scale. For example, the experimental school I visited is required to replicate its efforts in seven of its empowered schools.

The Chinese are investing substantial resources in these reforms and are prepared to invest even more later on when they are disseminated more broadly throughout the education system. This investment, and the ways in which students expressed themselves and discussed their ideas about their education, were very different from what I had seen and heard in Chinese schools before. What is evident now is that the Chinese system is well beyond playing catch-up with world-class standards; quite simply, China is designing its own educational future.

If I had any doubts that China is “going global” at breakneck speed, they were dispelled when, on my way to the municipal office, I encountered a group of pre-school children who all wanted to speak with me in English. When I asked my hosts about this later, they said that their vision was to prepare every pupil for a global economy. They seem well on their way to achieving this goal.

More about Education at a Glance: www.oecd.org/edu/eag2011
How China is winning the school race, by Yojana Sharma, BBC News, 11 October 2011
Chinese students learn from PISA, OECD Insights

Photo: Andreas Schleicher with schoolchildren in Shanghai, PRISMA Film
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Making bullying prevention a priority in Finnish schools

by Christina Salmivalli
Professor of Psychology at the University of Turku, Finland

Worldwide, an average of 10% of children and youth are targets of on-going negative treatment by their peers at school. 

Bullying is aggressive, harmful behavior which is targeted repeatedly at one and the same individual. Apart from its repeated nature, bullying can be differentiated from occasional conflicts or fights in another respect as well: it occurs between children who are unequal in their strength, power, or social status (for instance, a physically stronger or older child harassing a younger/weaker peer; several children mocking one target; a self-confident child attacking someone who is very shy and socially anxious and thus finds it difficult to stand up for him/herself; or a highly popular child harassing someone who is viewed negatively in the peer group). Due to such inequalities, bullying has also been called systematic abuse of power. Bullying often takes place in the school context, not because that would be an environment that especially invites, or creates bullying problems, but simply because that’s where children spend a lot of time together: as coming to school is not voluntary, you cannot stay away even if you are not treated well.

According to PISA studies, Finnish 15-year-olds are among the best in reading literacy, mathematical literacy, problem solving, and scientific literacy . However, in Finland, as in many other countries worldwide, bullying has been a concern for several decades.  Early attempts to reduce bullying included awareness-raising and legal requirements for schools to develop antibullying policies. These actions were not, however, enough to change the prevalence rates of children and youth who were bullying others or themselves victimized.

In 2006, The Finnish Ministry of Education made a contract with the University of Turku concerning the development and evaluation of a national antibullying program that would provide educators concrete tools to address bullying. The KiVa Antibullying Program was developed and evaluated in a stringent study including 134 schools representing all provinces of Finland. The findings were strikingly positive, showing that KiVa not only reduced bullying and victimization significantly, but also improved school liking, academic motivation, and academic performance, and reduced anxiety and depression among students. KiVa is now implemented in 90% of Finnish schools providing comprehensive education. Feedback from schools has been extremely positive, and KiVa seems to be effective in reducing not only traditional, but also more modern forms of bullying such as ‘cyberbullying’ occurring via modern communication technologies, such as mobile phones or the Internet.

KiVa has received a lot of international attention. In 2009, the program won the European Crime Prevention Award. As the program developers have received numerous requests about implementing KiVa abroad, the University of Turku now sells licences to international partners wishing to disseminate the program in their countries. Evaluation studies testing the effectiveness of the program are starting in the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States. 

Reducing bullying is an important goal in itself,, but it also has numerous beneficial effects on the general well-being, school liking, and academic motivation of all students. The Finnish example shows how joint efforts from the part of politicians, researchers, and schools can lead to significant improvements in the everyday lives of numerous children and youth.

About the author
Christina Salmivalli has been conducting school based bullying research for over 20 years and is a leading international researcher in this area. She is the principal investigator in the project developing and evaluating the national KiVa Antibullying Program in Finland. She has published numerous international research articles, reviews, and book chapters on the topic of school bullying, and she has been leading several large-scale projects funded by Finnish and European funding organizations.

Photo credit: A1 Media/Mika Kurkilahti. © KiVa project.
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Celebrating teachers and new ones at that!

by Julie Belanger
Analyst, OECD, Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

World Teachers' Day, held every year on 5 October, was started by UNESCO in 1994. Today, 18 years later (long enough for a generation to have started and completed school), we join our colleagues in celebrating teachers the world over.

The aim of World Teachers' Day is to mobilise support for teachers to ensure that the needs of future generations will continue to be met.

Of all the school factors that can influence students’ achievement, teachers in the classroom have by far the biggest impact. Recruiting, retaining, and developing effective teachers is therefore critical to the needs of future students and a priority in all school systems world wide. Our OECD programme, Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) helps to inform these policy priorities by examining the ways in which teachers’ work is recognised, appraised and rewarded.

TALIS also assesses the degree to which teachers’ professional development needs are being met. It provides insights into the beliefs and attitudes about teaching that teachers bring to the classroom and the pedagogical practices they adopt.

Recognising the important role that school leadership plays in fostering an effective teaching and learning environment, TALIS describes the role of school leaders and examines the support that they give their teachers.

The first cycle of TALIS (TALIS 2008) was so successful with data gathered for 24 countries across four continents that a second cycle is currently under preparation (TALIS 2013). More than 30 countries have now joined the programme (and still counting!), including Australia, Belgium Fl., Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada (Alberta), Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, UAE (Abu Dhabi), United Kingdom (England) and the United States.

But back to teachers, we are excited about a forthcoming report on the working lives of lower-secondary teachers in the first two years of their careers (new teachers). This report comes out of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2008. It takes a look at:
  • The importance of new teachers
  • The schools where new teachers work
  • Support and development initiatives for new teachers
  • The work of new teachers
  • Effectiveness of new teachers, and
  • Policy implications
With a focus on differences between the experiences of new and experienced teachers, the report helps readers understand the unique challenges new teachers face and grasp important policy implications.

A report for teachers, parents and policy makers alike, we look forward to sharing it with you in the weeks to come. Bookmark it here and follow us on twitter at @OECD_Edu to find out when it is released.

Happy World Teachers' Day, everyone!

Related links
Experience of New Teachers, to be released soon
OECD work on education

Photo credits: © Mike Kemp/Rubberball Productions/Getty Images
© Laurence Mouton/PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections/Inmagine ltb.
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Inspiring education through great design

by Hannah von Ahlefeld
Analyst, OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments

In many parts of the world, schools have re-opened their doors after a long summer break. Like many parents, I was nervous about the first day of school. First impressions count. As we arrived, my kids remarked that the recently renovated Parisian suburb school looked attractive and welcoming. Inside the school, they noted the different learning spaces in the large open-plan classrooms. Students were moving quietly through the different activity areas, taking in their new surroundings and exchanging excited conversation with friends. “This looks like a fun place”, they remarked (concurring, exceptionally, and to my relief). “We like the brightly painted walls, and the cosy canteen and reading area. And we really love the pink toilets with the giant water fountain!”

OECD’s new publication Designing for Education: Compendium of Exemplary Educational Facilities 2011 is all about how design can create new and exciting opportunities for students, teachers, parents and communities. Opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of schools and promote environmental education. Opportunities to create a safe and secure environment for kids. Opportunities to inspire learning, improve the quality and inclusiveness of the learning environment, and bind schools and universities to their local communities. And opportunities to bring new technologies and dynamic pedagogies to the classroom.

The publication showcases over 60 exemplary schools and universities from 28 countries and includes examples of early childhood, primary, secondary, vocational and higher education facilities spanning countries in six continents, from India, Uruguay and Portugal, to Australia, United States and Burkina Faso. Published every five years, it reflects on what we have learned from the dynamic interplay between design and education over the last 40 years and on what could be possible in the next 40 years.

In these times of financial constraints, this publication is not a testament to iconic architecture or expensive state-of-the-art facilities. Investment in schools – through renovating, extending or constructing new schools - is a visible commitment to the community and a cost-effective way to revitalise local economies.

One of the best examples of this is Seven Fountains School in Kokstad, South Africa. This new school demonstrates the benefits of community involvement from the planning stage of the project. Local people were fully involved in the design and construction of the school, and they now make use of the facilities outside of school hours. There is a strong sense of community ownership, with high demand for places and no theft or vandalism of the property. Many of the design elements, such as the circular buildings and thatched roofs, reflect the local architecture. There are a variety of spaces for teaching and learning. Many classrooms have mezzanine or loft areas that provide breakaway spaces for creative teaching and for project work. Several features - such as sensors that measure room temperatures, light levels and energy consumption – act to reduce the environmental impact of the school, and they have been implemented at little or no extra cost.

To celebrate the launch of this publication, come along to the live webcast launch event and exhibition at the OECD Headquarters in Paris on the afternoon of 29 September 2011 or tune in to the webcast at http://webtv.oecd.org/.

Download a sneak preview of the Compendium
Full information on the Compendium: www.oecd.org/edu/facilities/compendiumlaunch
Website for the OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments
Follow us on twitter @ OECD_Edu  #CELE
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