Breaking down the barriers to immigrant students’ success at school

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education 

Education is one of the best ways of integrating immigrant children and their families into their new home countries. But most immigrant students have to overcome multiple barriers in order to succeed at school. The latest edition of PISA in Focus shows that of all the obstacles to success these students must surmount, the concentration of socio-economic disadvantage at school is among the most strongly related to poor performance.

Disadvantage and immigrant status are closely linked. Most immigrants leave their home countries in search of better economic prospects. Once immigrants arrive in a host country, they often settle in communities where there are other immigrants who share their culture, their language and often their socio-economic status. Their children often attend the same schools – and those schools frequently have large proportions of immigrant students. As a result, immigrant students tend to be concentrated in certain schools. In most cases, these schools are generally more socio-economically deprived than other schools.

PISA finds that countries vary markedly in how immigrant students are accommodated in schools. In New Zealand, for example, 50% of immigrant students – well below the OECD average of 68% – attend a school that has a large proportion of immigrant students. In addition, the concentration of immigrant students in socio-economically disadvantaged schools is also relatively low in New Zealand: only one in four immigrant students – compared with the OECD average of 36% – attends a school that has a large proportion of students whose mothers have low levels of education. (Having a low-educated mother, that is, a mother who has not attained an upper secondary education, is a measure of socio-economic disadvantage among immigrant populations.) In Germany, the concentration of immigrant students in schools is around the OECD average, while the concentration of immigrant students in disadvantaged schools is higher than the OECD average. In the United Kingdom, high concentrations of immigrant students in schools are coupled with high concentrations of immigrant students in the most disadvantaged schools.

When analysing student performance through this prism, poor student performance, particularly among immigrant students, is most strongly related to the proportion of students in a school whose mothers have low levels of education. This finding indicates that immigrant students – indeed all students – face a major obstacle to success at school when they are concentrated in schools attended by students who face similar socio-economic disadvantage.

In contrast, the results suggest that it is not the proportion of immigrant students or the proportion of those who speak a different language that is most strongly associated with poor performance. In other words, being in a school with students from different countries or who speak multiple languages does not hinder learning as much as being in a school that has a high concentration of disadvantaged students does. In fact, there are many high-achieving schools that have large proportions of immigrant students. Many schools in the Canadian province of Alberta, for example, have just this kind of profile. Often, that high performance is the result of specific national or regional education policies designed to accommodate – and make the most of – heterogeneous student populations.

What these results tell us is that reducing the concentration of disadvantage in individual schools is a good first step towards helping immigrant students integrate successfully into school and, ultimately, society.

For more information on PISA:
PISA in Focus No. 22:How do immigrant students fare in disadvantaged schools? 
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Private vs. public expenditure

by Dirk Van Damme
Division Head, Innovation and Measuring Progress (IMEP) and Head of Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)

Tertiary education institutions such as colleges and universities raise an increasing share of their funding from private sources. As the latest issue of the OECD’s Education Indicators in Focus details, the major part comes from households via tuition fees and other forms of household expenditure, but institutions also raise more contributions from private companies. Private expenditure now accounts for 30% of expenditure in tertiary education. As the latest issue of the OECD brief series Education Indicators in Focus details, the increase in private expenditure between 2000 and 2009 in OECD countries is remarkable. On average across OECD countries it more than doubled, but countries like Austria, Portugal and the Slovak Republic had growth indexes exceeding 500 points. In 2000, the United Kingdom already drew 32.3% of its expenditure on tertiary education from private sources and further increased it to 70.4% in 2009. The United States, usually seen as a country with the highest level of private expenditure, has seen a decrease from 68.9% in 2000 to 61.9% in 2009.

A simplistic interpretation might suggest that countries have substituted public funding with private resources. On the contrary the evidence shows that the increase in private expenditure did not occur at the expense of public funding. In addition, public funding for tertiary education increased in the same period from an index of 100 in 2000 to an index of 138 points in 2009 across the OECD. Countries such as the Czech Republic, Korea and Poland have seen increases for public funding to more than 180 index points.

The growth rates of public and private expenditure to tertiary education institutions are quite different across countries. Some countries combine high growth rates for both public and private expenditure, such as Austria, the Czech Republic, Mexico and the Slovak Republic. In other countries public and private expenditure have dissimilar growth patterns: Denmark, Portugal and the United Kingdom combined a higher than average growth index for private expenditure with a lower than average growth index for public expenditure for tertiary education.

With different growth rates, both public and private expenditure on tertiary education institutions increased between 2000 and 2009. However, the variation between countries in the relative proportion of private expenditure remains very high, from the Nordic countries with 10% or less private expenditure, to the United States and the United Kingdom with around 60% and 70%, respectively. Private resources have added to public expenditure, and at the country level, a higher level of private expenditure in tertiary education is not associated with lower chances for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access tertiary education.

For more information
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus: 
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators: 
On the OECD’s Indicators of Education Systems (INES) programme, visit:
INES Programme overview brochure
Chart source: Education at a Glance 2012: Indicator B3 (www.oecd/edu/eag2012)
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Got any good ideas about how to improve education?

by Pablo Zoido
Analyst, Early Childhood and Schools Division, Directorate for Education

Do you have an idea about how to improve quality and equity in education in your country or region, but need some time and support to research that idea? You might find what you’re looking for through the OECD’s new Thomas J. Alexander Fellowship Programme.

In effect, the OECD is holding a “competition for ideas” on education policy. As Andreas Schleicher, deputy director of the OECD’s education directorate, puts it, the Fellowship “provides an opportunity to identify and nourish the best available ideas”. The Fellowship, named after a dynamic and admired former head of the OECD’s education team and funded by the Open Society Foundations, offers a chance for qualified candidates to work with international experts on education policy, including during a stay at the OECD’s headquarters in Paris.

Prospective candidates can come from any field of study and from anywhere in the world; those from emerging economies are strongly encouraged to apply. Only online applications will be accepted and proposals will be judged based on their originality, promise and scientific rigour.

We look forward to hearing your ideas!


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The more the merrier

by Tracey Burns
Analyst, Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education

Who is responsible for successes and failures of schools? A new Education Working Paper says  involving parents and students can help improve education systems by including them in accountability and school achievement processes. The traditional approach where central government provides the resources and made the majority of decisions has given way in many OECD countries to greater autonomy and control over decision-making for schools and local governments. This greater freedom has developed hand in hand with the rise of benchmarking and international assessments, and has made accountability a hot topic for policy makers and communities alike.

But what about other voices? Parents, community leaders, and others are taking an increasingly active role in governing their local schools. This trend, called “multiple accountability”, aims to provide more localized and nuanced feedback and guidance that schools and education systems can use in addition to standardized test results. It is a promising concept that builds on successes from other public policy areas such as environment and health. There is also fascinating evidence from the business world that suggests that enabling shareholders in private corporations to vote on the pay policy of the company’s executive officers appears to lead to large increases in the company’s market value, profitability and long-term performance. These “Say-on-Pay” regulations, promoted in the US and UK, allow more people within the corporation to have a say in decisions – and crucially, this shared responsibility can result in benefits to the whole company.

In education, multiple accountability is still a fairly new concept, and the amount of available research on how to make it work is modest. Three lessons, however, can be learned from existing models in The Netherlands and the United Kingdom:
  1. You must identify the key stakeholders. This is more difficult than it sounds, and schools must make efforts to involve less powerful or inactive voices.
  2. You must build capacity for this new role. Some stakeholders might not have the knowledge and language needed and may inadvertently be excluded in accountability processes. Providing them with the tools to interpret and analyse benchmarking data and other evaluation processes (e.g., value added measures) is an important part of giving them the expertise they need to take part.
  3. You must be ready and open to assess your school’s quality and processes . School leaders play a key role in empowering staff to be involved and open to parents and members of the local community.  
Including the voices of parents and other stakeholders could be one of the most relevant shifts for education policy today. But unforeseen challenges may arise: it turns out that market mechanisms such as school competitiveness and parental choice in education can actually be disincentives for making multiple accountability work. In a competitive market, transparent discussion of the weaknesses of a school can threaten the image and competitiveness of the institution. In such contexts, it is strategically important to highlight the successes and avoid talking about room for improvement. The real question is: which approach is best-suited to improving our schools and education systems?

Education Working papers
OECD'S Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
Governing Complex Education Systems (GCES)
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How “green” are our children?

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education
As the threats to the environment become ever more urgent, are our children learning what they need to know to make environmentally responsible decisions now and later on? The latest issue of PISA in Focus finds that while most 15-year-olds have some understanding of environmental issues and feel responsible towards the environment, those without some scientific knowledge consistently underestimate the amount of time needed to find solutions to pressing environmental problems.

When tested on their understanding of the science of environmental issues, and when asked about their attitudes towards these issues, large majorities of 15-year-olds across OECD countries not only knew about such issues as air pollution, the loss of plant and animal species, and water shortages, but also felt a strong sense of personal and social responsibility towards these issues. For example, an average of 92% of students believes that air pollution represents a serious concern for themselves or others in their country, and over 80% of students feel the same about energy shortages, the extinction of plants and animals, and the clearing of forests. Some 78% and 76% of students, respectively, feel the same about water shortages and nuclear waste.

But the numbers were nearly inverted when it came to students’ sense of optimism that solutions to these problems would be found in the next 20 years. On average across OECD countries, only 15% or fewer of students believe that there will be improvements with respect to nuclear waste, the extinction of plants and animals, and the clearing of forests for other land use; 16% of students feel the same about air pollution, only 18% are optimistic about tackling water shortages, and 21% feel the same about energy shortages.

The majority of students across OECD countries reported that school was their main source of information about the environment, although families also play a key role in forming students’ attitudes and opinions about environmental issues. Students’ often share their parents’ sense of responsibility and optimism towards the environment, although the strength of this correlation varies across countries, and is stronger when it comes to feelings of optimism than with a sense of personal responsibility.

Interestingly, the extent to which students feel optimistic that solutions to environmental problems will be found over the next 20 years was negatively related to student performance in environmental science: the lower their scores in environmental science, the more optimistic students were that the situation will improve over the next two decades. This may be due to the fact that students who lack a deep understanding about environmental issues may be more optimistic, or that students who are optimistic about the future of the environment have less incentive to become more knowledgeable about environmental science.

In short, PISA finds that making the link between environmental science studies at school and how they apply to the “real world” can help to foster a sense of responsibility towards the environment. But undue optimism—or pessimism—about the environment could stymie students from using their knowledge and understanding to positive effect.

For more information on PISA:
PISA in Focus No. 21: Do today's 15-year-olds feel environmentally responsible?

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What the D in OECD stands for

by Barbara Ischinger
Director for Education

Did you know that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development helped to lay the groundwork for the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals? Even though Development is part of our name, there are many people who don’t realise just how much of our resources are devoted to developing economies and not only to the development of the OECD’s 34 member countries.

The focus of this year’s International Economic Forum on Africa, held at the OECD’s Paris headquarters in early October, was youth employment, but this issue cannot be separated from another one just as important:  education. The African Economic Outlook 2012 notes that in Egypt, for example, about 1.5 million young people are unemployed at the same time that private-sector firms cannot fill 600 000 vacancies. And in South Africa, there are 3 million young people who are neither in education nor employed and 600 000 unemployed university graduates, yet 800 000 jobs are vacant. At the Forum itself, I heard many participants ask themselves whether they were equipping their students with the skills their economies needed.

This is exactly where the OECD’s expertise in collecting and analysing data can help. Already, many of the countries and economies that participate in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are in the developing world; but we think all countries would benefit from even greater participation by developing countries. By participating in PISA, countries can see whether the skills they are teaching their 15-year-olds are relevant to “real life”. They can also learn from other countries’ experiences how to improve their own education systems, and can benchmark their progress over time. The assessment, itself, benefits by gaining a deeper understanding of student performance in a broader range of countries and cultural contexts.

We have completed a review of Egypt’s system of higher education and have also reviewed the education systems of South Africa, Gabon and Mauritius. These in-depth analyses – conducted in close collaboration with local actors, regional organisations and other international partners – can guide countries in reforming their education policies so that students leave school with the skills needed to participate productively in the economy. We also stand ready to work with our partners – in Africa and elsewhere – to build stronger links between labour markets and education systems. That would help to avoid the situation, seen in so many countries, where universities train students to become civil servants when what the country or region really needs are engineers and health workers – and also people with the mid-level trade, technical and professional skills that can be acquired through well-designed vocational programmes. At the moment, vocational education accounts for only 5% of training among African youth.

As the 2015 target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals approaches, the international community has begun to consider a framework for goals beyond 2015. For the first set of goals, progress in education is measured by access; I hope that future goals will complement such measures by looking at learning outcomes. Again, this is one of the OECD’s specialties, and we’re keen to offer our work and expertise to an even larger number of countries. I thought you’d want to know.

OECD Development home page
The OECD and the Millennium Development Goals
OECD Strategy on Development
The OECD Strategy on Development: Giving fresh impetus to a core mission
2012 International Economic Forum on Africa
OECD Skills Strategy
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Women leaders can break the mould

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

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

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

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

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

by Dirk Van Damme
Division Head, Innovation and Measuring Progress (IMEP) and Head of Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)

More people than ever before now reach a level of educational attainment equivalent to upper secondary education. The available evidence is very conclusive: this level of education can be considered a minimum level to ensure a job and a living wage. As the latest issue of the OECD’s Education Indicators in Focus details, the difference in unemployment risks in OECD countries between individuals with and without an upper secondary qualification is significant. In 2010, across OECD countries, 19.1% of 25-34 year-olds without an upper secondary qualification were unemployed, compared with 9.8% of young adults of the same age who had an upper secondary qualification. And without an upper secondary qualification, the risk of poverty is looming: some 27% of people without an upper secondary education earn less than half the median income – around 10 percentage points more than the proportion of people who do have that level of education.

The negative effects of lacking an upper secondary qualification are excacerbated during the crucial phase of transition from education to work. Among NEETs  (not employed nor in education and training) in 2010, there were 8 percentage points more 20-24 year-olds without an upper secondary education than 20-24 year-olds with that level of education. In 2010, in Estonia, France, Ireland, the Slovak Republic and Spain, at least 25% of the 20-24 year‑olds who had not attained an upper secondary education were neither in school nor employed.

So, countries have very good reasons to ensure that as many young people as possible graduate from upper secondary education. Over the past decades almost all OECD countries have seen dramatic increases in educational attainment from one generation to the next. The average difference between the 25-34 and 55‑64 year‑old generations in OECD countries was 20 percentage points, but in Chile, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Portugal and Spain the difference was 30 percentage points or more.

Most OECD countries – especially European ones – have increased their upper secondary graduation rates over the past ten years. As the graph above indicates, this trend coincided with declining numbers of 20-24 year-olds who were neither in education nor employed. But the start of the economic crisis in 2008 was a turning point: the size of the NEET population started to swell again. The wage gap between people with an upper secondary qualification and individuals with a tertiary level qualification increased. The evidence suggests that the crisis has accelerated job polarisation based on skills levels. People without an upper secondary qualification are highly vulnerable to unemployment, while those who have an upper secondary education are working for less money. In today’s unstable economy, an  upper secondary qualification no longer provides sufficient insurance against unemployment and low income.

For more information
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus: 
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators: 
On the OECD’s Indicators of Education Systems (INES) programme, visit:
INES Programme overview brochure
Chart source: Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators, Indicators A1 (
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It's high time to fight corruption in education

by Mihaylo Milovanovitch
Policy Analyst, Non-Member Economies, Directorate for Education

A modern day Bulgarian proverb says “What money can’t buy, a lot of money can”. Sadly, the truth of this popular wisdom holds well beyond the country it comes from. Sadly too, it seems to work well in schools and universities. Year by year Transparency International (TI), an international anti-corruption NGO, publishes data on the perceptions and experience of people from around the globe with corruption and in 2011 it reported that 35% of the world population considered education in their respective countries to be extremely corrupt.

There is no lack of individual examples. A media outlet in Serbia, a country in which more than quarter of the population this year is officially without a job, recently reported that getting one as a teacher would cost you 7000 EUR - the equivalent of around 22 average salaries. Students are ready to pay too. To succeed in school in Kyrgyzstan, they better be ready (and able) to pay their teachers. In 2006 (the last year for which there is data), 64% of all secondary students in the country were regularly paying for one-on-one private tutoring to teachers from their own schools.

Numbers are important. If you are a student or parent, however, would it really make a difference if in your country 10%, 25% or 30% of the education institutions are corrupt? Probably not. Even one corrupt school, and one fake doctor, engineer or teacher is just one too many.

Indeed, no matter how much of it there is, corruption is always a problem and corruption in education is particularly destructive. Corrupt schools and universities replicate tolerance for malpractice, undermine public trust, waste the human potential of nations and raise the cost of education (which is as an already costly sector anyway).

But, what can be done? What is it that corrupts education institutions and makes them do the opposite of the very mission they were founded to fulfil – to instil values, promote knowledge, and serve the society and its citizens? What makes parents and students initiate or agree to corruption? What policies work in preventing and eradicating corruption in education and how can they be replicated beyond national borders for the benefit of all interested countries and their students, teachers and education stakeholders? Finally, how to inform policies on preventing a problem which the ones involved have all reasons to hide?

In the course of the past year, the OECD Directorate for Education initiated the Integrity of Education Systems (INTES) project to find answers to these questions and use them in a novel approach to the problem. At its core is a focus on the causes of corruption in education – on identifying what gives individuals and education institutions the possibility, the motives and the reasons to engage in malpractice, and on how policy decisions influence corruption risk. The project is driven also by the genuine concern of countries-members of the OECD Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia for the integrity and efficiency of their education systems and by their request for policy support
The INTES project already bears promising fruits. The first INTES country report – on Serbia – was released some days ago. It uses the new methodology to provide an assessment of the integrity of the Serbian education system, supplies evidence on its shortcomings and strengths, formulates forecasts of corruption incidence, points out areas in need of attention, and identifies solutions for closing the gaps.

Even the best of reports and the most reliable of evidence are useless without national follow-up and without ownership for subsequent policy decisions, by all sides concerned. This is particularly true for highly sensitive topics such as the one at hand. In Serbia, the report triggered considerable policy response already in its drafting phase, and led to action by the national Parliament which amended the laws on primary and on secondary education to address some of the preliminary findings, in particular those related to recruitment procedures for teachers.

It can only be hoped that further countries - OECD members and non-Members alike - will follow the Serbian example and open up their national education to an integrity “health check” and afterwards invest in a meaningful follow-up. Their students, families and education professionals deserve nothing less.

Strengthening Integrity and Fighting Corruption in Education: Serbia
Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia
Public Sector Integrity Reviews
Bribery in international business
Photo credit: Shutterstock/iofoto
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A lesson in teaching from the grassroots

by Andreas Schleicher
Deputy Director for Education and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary General

I was in London last week to give a talk on “how to transform 10,000 classrooms” at the annual Teach First/Teach for All conference in London. Some 3,000 teachers and social entrepreneurs from around the world gathered there to discuss ways to re-invent and strengthen the teaching profession. The aspiration of the organisations under the Teach for All umbrella is to enlist promising future leaders from across academic disciplines and careers to teach at least two years in high-need schools and become lifelong promoters of educational quality and equity.

The enthusiasm, commitment and growing professionalism of these grassroots organisations was inspiring. I heard many stories of people who had left successful careers to join the teaching force in order to make a significant impact on the lives of disadvantaged children. In some countries, participation levels have reached the critical mass to have a transformative impact on student achievement, and have made the success of this work both scalable and sustainable. Wendy Kopp, who co-founded Teach for America 22 years ago, recounted the evolution of her organisation from a small group of friends to one that reaches more than 750,000 students. In New Orleans, 25% of teachers are now from Teach for America. In the UK, too, Teach First is now the third largest recruiter of graduates and reaches over 150,000 children.

Still more impressive were the stories told by the young participants who had designed and were delivering intensive training courses for 400 teachers per year in Nigeria – a country with an essentially non-existent teacher-training infrastructure; and a participant from China shared how she was collaborating with local governments to build urgently needed teaching capacity in remote rural areas.

Critics of these organisations maintain that there is just no alternative to the traditional route of undergraduate studies, teacher training and then a career in the classroom. But those critics may simply underestimate the potential for creativity in the field of education that this combination of talent, passion and experience represents. The fact that, in many countries, these programmes are now so attractive that they can recruit the most promising candidates, even where the general status of the teaching profession is in decline, speaks for itself. We should also not overlook the rapid professionalisation of these organisations, which combine intensive initial training, ongoing support, and a work environment in which teachers work together to create good practice. They also offer intelligent pathways for teachers to grow in their careers, and support teachers in their efforts to find innovative ways of teaching.

What struck me most is the vision of social transformation behind all this work – extending from teacher leadership through school leadership, policy and political leadership, up to community organisation. The work of these organisations can complement the OECD’s efforts to design and implement policies by challenging the teaching profession and education systems from within. We should do what we can to engage with them.


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A Window into the classroom

Dirk Van Damme
by Division Head, Innovation and Measuring Progress (IMEP) and Head of Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)

An excellent teacher is what makes students learn and succeed in school. Everything else – standards, curricula, assessments, resources, school leadership – come second. Yet, what do we actually know about what teachers are doing?

Classrooms seem to be the ‘black boxes’ of the education system. There is not an awful lot of research on classroom teaching practices, but TALIS 2008 provides some self-reported data on teaching practices and professional activities including participation in collaborative learning with colleagues. The main TALIS report, published in 2009, compared the relative preference for three different teaching practices – structuring, student oriented and enhanced activities – across the 23 different countries that participated in the survey. The report showed differences between countries regarding the extent to which teachers are favouring directive and teacher-directed practices over more activating and learner-centred ones. These TALIS results were received as rather disappointing signals, suggesting that the teaching profession was relatively resistant to change in many countries.

In collaboration with the TALIS programme and as part of its Innovative Teaching for Effective Learning project the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) has just released a research report which delves deeper in the TALIS data on teaching practices in classrooms and schools. Based on some advanced analytical tools (multilevel latent profile analysis), this new book called Teaching Practices and Pedagogical Innovations: Evidence from TALIS  identifies underlying profiles in teachers’ classroom practices. A large set of variables about teachers, such as gender, training, subjects taught, but also their pedagogical beliefs, the degree of professional development, the amount of feedback and appraisal received, etc., were brought together and in each country different profiles of teachers were distinguished.

The scientific and policy implications of this research are huge. Many learning researchers and education policy makers strongly – and rightly so – believe in the benefits of more student-oriented, self-regulating approaches to teaching and learning. This suggests that a particular form of teaching is outdated and should be replaced by a more innovative one. Consequently, this report now suggests that we should not look at the quality of what happens in classrooms in an ‘either-or’ way. While it is true that the best teachers differ from their colleagues in their relative use of activating, student-oriented ways of teaching, they also use more structuring, teacher-driven forms of classroom practice. Teaching quality is a matter of diversity of practices, not of one set of practices against the other. Excellent teachers are those teachers who master a large repertoire of teaching practices, which they can deploy according to learners’ needs and varying classroom conditions. Those teachers are also the ones who actively advance their own professional competence by professional development and who feel more satisfied and effective about their own work.

A final important finding is that there is also a clear difference between these teacher profiles in the degree of co-operation with other colleagues and engagement in collaborative learning communities in and outside schools. Excellent teachers view teaching as a collective responsibility within the profession, not as an individualised thing happening behind closed doors. They open the doors of their classrooms, inviting colleagues to engage in what they are doing but also disclosing what happens in classrooms to the outside world. It is that kind of teachers we need to work with our kids.

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) Activities
OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)
Teaching in Focus Briefs
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Looking for equity in education? Follow the (public) money

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education

Talk of school vouchers inevitably triggers heated debate: do they give all students equal access to quality education? Or do they transfer resources away from precisely those schools that need them the most and inadvertently create a two-tier system of education?

This month’s PISA in Focus highlights results from PISA 2009 show that while privately managed schools do tend to attract advantaged students, the scale of the difference between the socio-economic profiles of publicly and privately managed schools is associated with the level of public funding allocated to privately managed schools – and with how that funding is provided.

In Finland, the Netherlands, the Slovak Republic, Sweden and the partner economy Hong Kong-China, principals in privately managed schools reported that over 90% of school funding comes from the government, while in Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg and Slovenia, between 80% and 90% does. In contrast, less than 10% of funding for privately managed schools in Greece, Mexico, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, the partner countries Albania, Brazil, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Panama, Peru, Tunisia, Uruguay and the partner economies Dubai (UAE), Chinese Taipei and Shanghai-China comes from the government. PISA data reveal that in those countries where privately managed schools receive higher proportions of public funding, there is less of a difference between the socio-economic profiles of publicly and privately managed schools.

To refine these results further, PISA considered two systems through which public funding to privately managed schools is offered directly to parents: universal voucher systems, in which vouchers are available to all students, and targeted voucher systems, in which vouchers are provided only to disadvantaged students. Vouchers that are available for all students can help to expand the choice of schools available to parents and promote competition among schools; vouchers that target only disadvantaged students can help improve equity in access to schools. An analysis of PISA data shows that the difference between the socio-economic profiles of publicly managed schools and privately managed schools is twice as large in education systems that use universal vouchers as in systems that use targeted vouchers.

But PISA results also show that providing more public funding to privately managed schools will not necessarily eliminate that difference: other factors that are unrelated to funding, such as a school’s admittance criteria, academic performance, and learning environment, are also partly related to differences between schools’ socio-economic profiles.

What is crucial to take away from this analysis is that countries that manage to have small differences between the socio-economic profiles of publicly and privately managed schools also tend to achieve better overall performance. That means that policy makers – and ultimately parents and students – do not have to choose between equity and strong performance in their school systems: the two are not mutually exclusive.

For more information on PISA:
PISA in Focus No. 19: Is there really such a thing as a second chance in education? 
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Welcome to my world. Won’t you come on in?

by Valérie Lafon
Analyst - Institutional Management in Higher Education
As a young mother, in relation to my children’s age, and being the ripe old age of 40, I am discovering the daily ritual of education.

Education, we believe, will make our children’s dreams real, open the door to knowledge and experiences, help them grow, and ultimately give them the tools to live a happy, well-rounded life with a fulfilling career.

Filled with goodwill, well-informed thanks to working at the OECD and steeped in the notion that higher education will provide my children with the best and most appropriate skills, I found myself, like many other parents, lost in this new environment.

Looking at all of these issues, different worlds having different rules with goals at times at odds with each other and difficult to reconcile. Five separate worlds…

The world of learning

A plethora of various stakeholders are saturating the media and students are fighting to be heard. Perhaps so many different players makes it difficult to figure out who wants what.

  • How do these students see their future? What do they expect? What do they want?
  • How to bring their aspirations into the debate?

The world of knowledge 

Mass higher education affects all countries and academic systems. Participation, role, impact, and responsability of higher education institutions have taken on greater significance and will continue to do so.

  • How can institutions maintain and improve quality despite limited resources?
  • Which institutional strategies are more effective to improve students’ learning experience and keep them engaged and motivated?
  • How to help students, parents and governments make informed choices based on information that has been certified, verified and accepted internationally?

The world of public goods

Developed economies rely on skilled labour to drive productivity and economic growth as well as to support social cohesion. Besides, the economic benefit of higher education is good for individuals as well as society.

  • How can governments, or should governments, steer higher education?
  • How to hold on to the public good while faced with the commodification of higher education?
  • How to reconcile individual aspirations, the public good and the economic reality?

The world of economics

As skills are a country’s future, each and every government should be thinking about how to manage these skills strategically. Erasing the “bright red dividing line” between education and work will require, among many other things, greater collaboration between education systems and industry.

  • How to recreate the link between higher education and the job market?
  • What skills does the knowledge economy need most and how to strike the balance between specific skills and generic skills?

Planet Earth

Lastly comes globalisation, the planet, English as the dominant language, the internet, facebook, twitter, McDonalds, the financial crisis and, within the higher education market, we can add rankings and student mobility. To be free to make the right choices, we need to understand the balance of power, and then the landscape becomes even more complex!

Sometimes at night, after the children have gone to bed, I think about the different colours of all these different worlds. How do we bring these worlds together and build bridges rather than remain in silos? The OECD is organising a conference in Paris from 17 to 19 September that will examine the issues around mass higher education. Governments, universities, students and the private sector will discuss the present and the future of higher education

I will be wearing two hats: that of a parent, and that of an OECD analyst. Will you join me?

Follow the Conference live on twitter @OECD_Edu and @OECDLive (#OECDIMHE)

General Conference 2012: "Attaining and Sustaining Mass Higher Education"
OECD Skills Strategy
Education at a Glance:
Visit our interactive portal on skills:
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Investing in people, skills and education for inclusive growth and jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, and to download a copy of the book, visit the Education at a Glance website at:
Browse and share the book
Education at a Glance Highlights
Watch the video interview with Andreas Schleicher
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What can be done to support new teachers?

by Kristen Weatherby
Senior Analyst, Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)

While many students in the Northern Hemisphere are starting a new school year, this is also the first day of school for thousands of new teachers around the world. Walking into a new classroom – “your own” classroom – for the first time can be exciting and daunting. The pressures on a new teacher are many: administrative tasks, classroom management issues, dealing with potentially intimidating parents, challenges of developing lessons and marking homework and more. Most importantly, though, new teachers need to take what they learned in the weeks or months of teacher preparation, as well as their knowledge of the subject area, and put that to practice in shaping and motivating the learning of the 25, 50 or 150 students in their classes.

It’s no wonder that on average nearly 10% of teachers leave the profession within the first 1-3 years of teaching. But as our new Teaching in Focus brief shows, there are many practices that schools and countries can put in place that might help new teachers stay teaching.

Many media reports attribute the high attrition rate of new teachers to the fact that they are placed in difficult classrooms in challenging or underresourced or otherwise hard-to-staff schools. Data from the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) refutes that claim. On average, new teachers surveyed in TALIS (those with two years of teaching experience or less) reported classrooms and school situations similar to those of their more experience colleagues, with nearly no differences in language or socio-economic status of their students, for example. So if these challenges don’t exist, what is making new teachers leave?

At the root of the issue seems to be a new teacher’s level of confidence in his or her own teaching ability. TALIS asks teachers to report on their own feelings of self-efficacy. Not surprisingly, new teachers report significantly lower levels of self-efficacy than their more experienced colleagues. The TALIS report The Experience of New Teachers discusses research on how self-efficacy can relate to a teacher’s instructional practices as well as student achievement. It can thus be rather important for a teacher to feel good about his or her on abilities as a teacher.

As the TALIS data shows, and the Teaching in Focus brief enumerates, there are programmes and policies that schools and governments can put in place to help new teachers. Activities like mentoring and induction programmes, when combined with feedback on a new teacher’s practice, can help provide support and additional professional development to new teachers.

To learn more about this topic, check out this month’s Teaching in Focus brief. Look for further Teaching in Focus briefs @ on topics relevant to the experience of teachers in the coming months.

Follow TALIS and Kristen Weatherby @Kristen_Talis
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Second chances in education

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education
We all know how important the first years of formal education are; but what if the education provided during those years isn’t the best it can be? Are students forever penalised? A study in Canada that followed the 15-year-old students who had participated in PISA in 2000 and re-assessed their reading skills 9 years later shows that where education and training opportunities are readily available, deficits in initial education do not doom individuals to poor reading proficiency for the rest of their lives. In fact, on average, the young people surveyed gained 57 score points on the PISA reading scale between the ages of 15 and 24 – the equivalent of more than one year of school.

As this month’s PISA in Focus relates, those students who had performed poorly when they were 15 improved the most during the 9-year period; yet, for the most part, they were not able to fully catch up with their peers. For example, in 2000, when students who participated in PISA were 15, girls outscored boys in reading by an average of 32 points; by 2009, that gap had narrowed to 18 points. Similarly in PISA 2000, socio-economically advantaged students outscored their disadvantaged peers by more than 65 points; by 2009 that gap had narrowed to 50 points.

But one group of students did close the gap entirely: students born outside of Canada. At the age of 15, those born in Canada outperformed those born outside of the country by more than 20 score points – 545 to 524 score points, respectively. By the age of 24, young people with an immigrant background scored on a par with those who had been born in the country – around 600 score points, on average. This significant finding reflects the effectiveness of Canada’s education and integration policies.

The Canadian study identifies several ways that initial disadvantage in education can be overcome. Improvements in reading proficiency are strongly related to time spent in the education system, regardless of the educational pathways individuals follow. For instance, the improvement in reading skills among young adults who had spent 4 or more years in school after age 15 was about the same, whether they had actually completed a degree or not by age 24. Those who never completed a programme above high school, but who studied for 4 or more years after high school, improved their reading skills by 70 score points. Those who did complete a university degree improved their reading skills by 60 score points.

There is no doubt that greater proficiency at early ages is an advantage for further education and creates opportunities for additional studies that may not be as readily available to low-achievers. While taking the most common path – through secondary and then directly on to university-level education – appears to maximise improvements in reading proficiency, not everyone takes that route. The evidence in this unique study shows that learning does not end with compulsory education. Second-chance programmes and flexibility in education systems can help young people who have not had the advantages of supportive learning environments early in their lives to improve their reading proficiency later on.

For more information on PISA:
PISA in Focus No. 19: Is there really such a thing as a second chance in education? 
Photo credit:  Stack of books / Shutterstock

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Making the right connections

by Barbara Ischinger
Director for Education

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

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

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

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

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

OECD Skills Strategy
Related blog posts:
“Creativity” is spelled with a “why”
Understanding youth, unemployment and skills in Africa
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Hooked to be connected!

by Lynda Hawe
Communications Officer, Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI), Directorate for Education OECD
Concerned parents are becoming more and more anxious as they watch their bright children getting completely absorbed by and attached to new mobile devices.  Young people’s attachment to digital media and connectivity will shortly reach a level of almost universal saturation. In some OECD countries, more than 95% of 15-year-olds use an internet connected computer daily while at home. How many of us have experienced frustration while trying to get kids to actually listen, as their eyes remain glossily glued to their favourite pet gadget?  So just how worried should we really be? Well, it still remains difficult to clearly identify the risks or rewards of such behaviour, especially in relation to long-term learning and brain functions.  But first, let’s be reassured - it’s not all bad news!

The OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) has just released an inspiring new publication called Connected Minds: Technology and Today's Learners, authored by Francesc Pedró. This book has wisely researched technology in relation to emerging issues for education.  Particularly, given that digital media and connectedness are an essential part of the lives of today’s learners, schools and teachers must now cope with the new responsibilities in relation to these skills.  This explorative book tackles the issue and helps to contribute to filling the knowledge gap.

Frankly, it’s not about the technology, but it’s all about connectedness. Connectedness, which is the capacity to benefit from connectivity for personal, social, work or economic purposes, is having an impact on all areas of human activity. Consequently, devices and gadgets are less important than the ability to be connected and seizing the opportunities that connectedness offers. Education is expected to play an important role in this transformation as it can equip individuals with the required skills for harnessing the opportunities that the knowledge economy and society offers.

In particular, teachers need to be well prepared in terms of the potential pedagogical benefits of new technologies. Challenges for schools and teachers are to better integrate the new digital media and the resulting innovative social practices into the daily experience of schooling.  With the objective to help learners to make the most out of connectedness, while enabling teachers to improve their skills. In addition, teachers should simultaneously pay attention to the different needs of learners and provide increased support to those who come from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.

It is very reassuring to discover that Mobile Learning is emerging as one of the solutions to the challenges faced by education. As described in UNESCO’s Mobile Learning project, it offers unique characteristics in comparison to conventional e-learning: personal, portable, collaborative, interactive, contextual and situated.  As well as the fact that it highlights "just-in-time-learning", since instruction can be delivered anywhere and at anytime.

Nobody can predict what new technologies may bring, or how the teaching and learning experience in education will evolve over the next decade.  So in the meantime, let’s just stay aware of the learning opportunities, while keeping a caring eye on the gadget screens as well as a little clock beside the video-games, see Setting Computer Limits Tips.   Of course, not with the intention to deprive youngsters of all the fun, but just to ensure that the final rewards will fully outweigh any eventual risks.

OECD work on New Millenium Learners
Activities: Centre for Eduational Research and Innovation (CERI)
Photo Credit: © Eric Audras/Onoky/Corbis

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Older, wiser, better: ageing workforce and fast-track societies

by Julie Harris,
Consultant, Directorate for Education
Simple fact: older workers are leaving the labour force earlier than they did in the 60s and 70s. The retirement age declined steadily across OECD countries from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Over the past decade this drop has levelled off, with some countries experiencing a slight upturn. Despite this, apart from Japan and Korea, it is still significantly lower than in the 1960s and 1970s.

At the same time retirement age has been declining, life expectancy has been increasing. In many OECD countries, workers who retire can expect to live another two decades.

If this situation does not change, there will be twice the number of retirees per worker in OECD countries by 2050. You don't need to be an economist to understand that such an eventuality would pose a serious threat to living standards and tear deeply into the fabric of the social safety net.

So, what to do? How can governments move to remedy this situation? And what can companies do to better take advantage of senior employees' skills?

The OECD Skills Strategy states that both governments and companies should work to discourage early retirement. To keep older workers in the labour market, many countries have eliminated early retirement schemes, increased the official pensionable age and corrected distorted financial incentives to retire early. To tackle demand-side barriers to employing older workers, some countries have tried to balance labour costs with productivity by reducing employers’ social security contributions or providing wage subsidies for older workers. Lifelong learning and targeted training, especially in mid-career, can improve employability in later life as well and discourage early withdrawal from the labour market. A rise in the pensionable age also lengthens the period of time over which employers could recover training costs; hence, an attractive incentive to motivate more employers and older employees to invest in training.

Anne-Sophie Parent, Secretary General of AGE Platform Europe, an NGO that promotes the interests of people over 50 across Europe, is convinced that scrapping the mandatory retirement age is key to increasing the employability of older workers. This fixed age, she explains, is like the expiry date on a pot of yoghurt: the closer it gets, the more you're inclined to think of it as no good.

According to the OECD, employees between 25 and 54 are twice as likely to take part in job training as those over 55, confirming employers’ unwillingness to invest in senior staff. Removing the mandatory age would help make employers see older employees as valuable, she argues, giving them an incentive to invest in their skills through training.
Participation in job-related training over the last month, by age group, 2009
(As a percentage of the employed in the age group)
If doing away with the mandatory age is crucial, governments must also address certain significant workplace problems to help older workers get a foothold in the job market. Rodolphe Delacroix, Senior Consultant at consulting firm Towers Watson, cites the case of Finland, which pushed back the average retirement age three years by tackling work-related stress, strenuousness of work and work-life balance.

Delacroix adds that governments can use social and fiscal incentives to entice companies to hire people over 50 and set up progressive retirement plans that allow older employees to reduce their working hours over a number of years. These could replace early retirement plans, which have been the norm in countries such as France.

Companies, for their part, must make career planning an integral part of their human resources policy early on, he maintains. They need to manage the end of employees' careers well to ensure that knowledge and skills are passed on to younger employees.

Older workers are perfectly positioned to help countries maximise the use of skills, as outlined in the OECD Skills Strategy. They can develop relevant skills of younger workers, supply their skills to the labour market and put them to effective use. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how they can't be a boon to our crisis-ridden economies.

OECD Employment Outlook
Ageing and Employment Policies
Ageing and Skills: A Review and Analysis of Skill Gain and Skill Loss Over the Lifespan and Over Time
Data visualisation: Labour force participation by gender and age, 2010
Live Longer, Work Longer: Statistics on average effective age of retirement
Learn more about ageing societies on:
Photo credit: Young and old businessman / Shutterstock
Chart source:  Calculations based on the EU-LFS.
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