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 PedrĂ³. 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: http://www.skills.oecd.org
Photo credit: Young and old businessman / Shutterstock
Chart source:  Calculations based on the EU-LFS.
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“Creativity” is spelled with a “why”

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education
Here’s a science experiment for you: Take a standard-issue van. Equip it with household items – coat hangers, balls of string, maybe even a few potatoes – with which you could demonstrate certain basic scientific principles. Find someone who knows how to drive the van and teach that person some of those basic principles of science (or find someone who knows those basic principles and teach that person how to drive the van…). Send driver and van out into remote, disadvantaged villages. Observe how children react.

While waiting to amass the funds he needed to realise his dream of building a school in the Himalayas to develop creative leaders, Ramji Raghavan performed that little experiment – and discovered a way to ignite creativity. Thirteen years after the first van was sent out into rural India in 1999, the Agastya International Foundation, chaired by Raghavan, now dispatches 62 vans, most focusing on general science, but two specialising in ecology and one in the arts, across nine states in India, runs a Creativity Lab in the state of Andhra Pradesh, and reaches more than a million children – and their parents – each year.

“Creative people tend to be very good observers,” Raghavan noted during a recent visit to the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. “They are aware; they are able to associate different pieces of information, integrate them and apply them. These skills are all predicated on curiosity. But how do you spark curiosity?”

Raghavan, who was a banker in his early career (“when it was still a somewhat honourable profession”), found the answer to his question in hands-on, experiential learning. “People tend to remember things when they are personally engaged,” he says. That’s why the Agastya project also selects students with particular aptitude and interest and has them teach other children. Not only do these young teachers retain more of what they learn – some have even won special awards in national science competitions – but, through teaching, they also begin to develop other positive attitudes and behaviour – including, for example, empathy. “They begin to realise,” says Raghavan, “how difficult it is to teach.”

These unintended outcomes “can be more important than the original goal,” says Raghavan. “These children learn different ways of thinking and looking at the world.” For Raghavan, those different ways of thinking also need to be adopted by traditional teachers and schools. “We need a shift from ‘yes’ to ‘why?’ in school systems,” he says, “from looking to observing; from being passive to exploring; from textbook-bound to hands-on; from fear to confidence.”

Although the school in the Himalayas is still a dream, Raghavan has managed to change the reality for millions of young Indians who live a little closer to sea level. “There are magical moments in all our lives,” he says. “We may have found a way to deliver these kinds of transformational moments on a mass scale.”
Visit the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
See related blog posts:
The “extra” in extracurricular activities
Skills revolution will come from the grassroots
Photo credit: Mobile Lab / © Stephan Vincent-Lancrin
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The “extra” in extracurricular activities

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education
It may be tempting for school systems that are trying to reduce expenses to trim the “extras” from their budgets, including school-sponsored extracurricular activities. But are these activities just a luxury that schools can no longer afford? The latest issue of PISA in Focus makes the case that the availability of extracurricular activities at school is positively related both to student performance and to students’ attitudes towards learning.

As part of the PISA 2006 survey, which focused on student performance in science, school principals were asked about the kinds of extracurricular activities they offered their students. On average across OECD countries, 89% of students attend schools whose principals reported that science-related field trips were commonly offered, 56% of students attend schools that hold science competitions, 48% of students are in schools that encourage involvement in extracurricular science projects, 42% are in schools that organise science fairs, and 41% are in schools that have science clubs.

While the types of science-related extracurricular activities vary across countries, their relationship with better student performance is consistent throughout. In 22 of 31 OECD countries and 14 of 17 partner countries and economies, students in schools that offer more science-related extracurricular activities tend to perform better in science than do students in schools that offer fewer such activities. And in 21 OECD countries and 12 partner countries and economies, this positive relationship holds even after accounting for students’ socio-economic background. However, in two countries, the relationship is very different:  in the United States, students in schools that offer fewer of these kinds of science-related activities tend to perform better in science, after accounting for students’ socio-economic backgrounds; while in Montenegro, the relationship is negative both before and after accounting for students’ backgrounds.

And there’s more at play than test scores: PISA also found a link between the availability of school-sponsored extracurricular activities and students’ belief in their ability to handle science-related tasks, known as self-efficacy, and their enjoyment of learning science. In 22 OECD countries, 7 partner countries and 1 partner economy, students in schools that offer more of these kinds of activities tend to have higher levels of self-efficacy in science; and in 20 OECD countries, 2 partner countries and 1 partner economy, they also enjoy learning science more. In no country or economy is there a negative relationship between science-related extracurricular activities and positive attitudes towards learning science.

These findings from PISA can’t determine conclusively whether being exposed to science-related extracurricular activities enhances students’ attitudes towards science or whether students with more positive attitudes towards science are attracted to schools that offer more of such activities; both could be true. But what these results do show is that these kinds of activities are positively related not only to student performance, but also to students’ attitudes towards learning and their belief in their own abilities. With that in mind, school leaders should carefully weigh the benefits of these “extras” against their cost when making tough budgetary decisions.

For more information:
on PISA: www.pisa.oecd.org
PISA in Focus: Link latest issue "Are students more engaged when schools offer extracurricular activities?"
Photo credit: Teen science experiment / Shutterstock

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