Are schools ready to join the technological revolution?

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

When it comes to technology, education seems stuck in the age of chalkboards. But at an international conference on technology in education, held in Qingdao, China, last week, I got the feeling that educators and education ministers might finally be ready to join the technological revolution.

Right now, at a moment when information and communication technologies are changing the way we live in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, only around 37% of schools in Europe have high-end equipment and high-speed Internet connectivity, a figure which ranges from 5% in Poland to virtually 100% in Norway. But when asked, between 80% and 90% of school principals say that their schools are adequately equipped when it comes to computers and Internet connectivity – even principals in the many countries where the equipment is clearly substandard. So is technology not that important? Or are school leaders not aware of the potential of ICT to transform learning?

The situation is even more puzzling than that. PISA measured students’ digital literacy and the frequency and intensity with which students use computers at school (look out for the PISA report on digital technology in education to be published in September). One might think that the more students use computers at school, the better their digital skills. But in fact, the relationship is not so simple. Students who use computers moderately at school have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who rarely use computers; but students who use computers frequently at school do a lot worse, even after accounting for their socio-economic status and other background factors.

Put these data together and one can draw two conclusions:

One is that building deep, conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking requires intensive teacher-student interactions, and technology just distracts from this valuable human engagement.

Another is that we haven’t yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; that adding 21st-century technologies to 20th-century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching. If students use smartphones to copy and paste prefabricated answers to questions, that’s surely not going to help them to become smarter. If we want students to become smarter than a smartphone, we need to think harder about the pedagogies we’re using to teach them.

Technology can amplify great teaching, but great technology cannot replace poor teaching. We also know from our TALIS survey that even in the best-performing school systems, teachers cite improving their ICT skills as the second most important priority for their professional development.

What can we take away from all this?

First, education is a personalised service, so technology can only go so far in improving learning outcomes.

Second, the impact of technology on education delivery remains suboptimal because we tend to overestimate the digital skills of both teachers and students, because of often naïve policy design and implementation strategies, because of a poor understanding of pedagogy, and because of the generally poor quality of educational software and courseware. Few children would choose to play a computer game of the same quality as the software that finds its way into many classrooms around the world.

What could we gain if we fixed these problems?

The most obvious gain would be to dramatically expand access to content. Why should students be limited to a textbook that was printed two years ago, and maybe designed ten years ago, when they could have access to the world’s best and most up-to-date textbook? Equally important, technology allows teachers and students to access specialised materials well beyond textbooks, in multiple formats, with little time and space constraints, as we saw at the Qingdao conference.

Second, technology provides great platforms for collaboration in knowledge creation, where teachers can share and enrich teaching materials. It can also make feedback to students, teachers and parents faster and more granular.

Third, technologies can support new, inquiry-based pedagogies that focus on learners as active participants. For example, we can enhance experiential learning, with remote and virtual labs, we can pursue project-based, hands-on and collaborative learning, and we could deliver more formative, real-time assessments. The conference in Qingdao displayed some interesting developments to that end, including highly interactive, non-linear courseware, based on state-of-the-art instructional design, sophisticated software for experimentation and simulation, social media to support learning and teaching communities, and using games for instruction.

But if we continue to dump technology on schools in a fragmented way, we won’t be able to deliver on any of these promises technology holds. Countries need to have a clear plan and build teachers’ capacity to make that happen; and policy makers need to become better at building support for this agenda.

Given the uncertainties that accompany all change, educators will always opt to maintain the status quo. If we want to mobilise support for more technology-rich schools, we need to become better at communicating the need and building support for change. We need to invest in capacity development and change-management skills, develop sound evidence and feed this evidence back to institutions, and back all that up with sustainable financing. Last but not least, it is vital that teachers become active agents for change, not just in implementing technological innovations, but in designing them too.

International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Post-2015 Education
PISA in Focus brief: Are boys and girls ready for the digital age?

Photo Credit: Digital classroom / @Shutterstock

Young people are our future: invest in their skills

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

More than 35 million 16-29 year-olds across OECD countries are neither employed nor in education or training (NEET) – and around half of all NEETs are out of school and not looking for work. These young people are likely to have dropped off the radar of their country’s education, social and labour market systems.

The OECD Skills Outlook 2015: Youth, Skills and Employability, launched today, asserts that this unacceptable waste of human potential stems partly from the fact that too many young people leave education without having acquired the right skills (according to the 2013 Survey of Adult Skills, 10% of new graduates have poor literacy skills and 14% have poor numeracy skills); and that not enough young people have experience in the world of work (less than 50% of students in vocational education and training programmes, and less than 40% of students in academic programmes in the 22 OECD countries and regions covered by the Survey of Adult Skills participate in any kind of work-based learning).

But even young people with strong skills have trouble finding work. Many firms find it too expensive to hire individuals with no labour market experience. In fact, young people are twice as likely as prime-age workers to be unemployed.

And those young people who have managed to gain a foothold in the labour market often must overcome institutionalised obstacles, including regulations that make it costly for firms to convert fixed-term contracts into permanent contracts, in order to develop their skills and advance in their careers.

As the Skills Outlook makes clear, youth unemployment and underemployment have adverse and long-lasting consequences for both the individuals and the countries involved. Struggling students need to be identified early and given the appropriate support so that they acquire at least basic skills; regulations need to be adjusted to reduce the cost to employers of hiring young people with little work experience; and employers and educators need to agree on the meaning of education qualifications to reduce the incidence of skills mismatch on the job. Only through a concerted effort – by education providers, the labour market, tax and social institutions, employer and employee organisations, and parents and young people themselves –will young people be able to improve their employability and make a smoother and faster transition from the classroom to the workplace.
OECD Press Release: Governments must step up efforts to tackle youth unemployment, says OECD
OECD Skills Outlook 2015: Youth, Skills and Employability

Thrown in at the deep end: support for teachers’ first years

by Katarzyna Kubacka
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

The first day at work can be stressful for anyone. But what if that day involves teaching in front of a classroom filled with disruptive students? This may not be the reality for every new teacher, but as the new Teaching in Focus brief “Supporting new teachers” shows, it is the case for many.

TALIS 2013 finds that in many countries, new teachers (with less than five years’ teaching experience) are more likely to work in challenging schools than more experienced teachers. This means that they may be teaching in schools where more than 10% of students have special needs; or they may be located in a rural area, where schools often have fewer resources than urban schools.

Research shows that new teachers often lack the necessary skills to keep order in a classroom. As a result they spend less time teaching and more time managing students’ behaviour, which leads to their classrooms having a poorer climate than those of their more experienced colleagues. Teachers’ confidence in their abilities as teachers (i.e. their self-efficacy) also tends to increase with experience. Therefore, for many new teachers, their ability and confidence are outmatched by the difficult working conditions in which they are placed. 

To help remedy this mismatch, education systems can support new teachers through induction or mentoring programmes. Induction programmes are formal and informal activities that have been completed during a teacher’s first regular position, while mentoring programmes involve more experienced teachers mentoring their colleagues. Both induction and mentoring programmes can be an important link between teachers’ pre-service training and the day-to-day practice of classroom teaching. The added benefit of mentoring programmes is that they can strengthen collaboration between teachers and, thus, improve school climate.

Across most TALIS countries, the majority of teachers have access to formal or informal induction or mentoring programmes. However, TALIS 2013 shows large differences between countries in terms of programs’ availability: 44% of teachers work in schools where principals report access to formal induction programmes for all new teachers; 22% working in schools where such programmes are available to teachers new to teaching only; 76% of teachers work in schools with access to informal induction.

In most countries, fewer teachers report participation in induction and mentoring programmes than principals report the existence of such programmes. For example, in the Netherlands, 71% of all teachers work in schools with reported mentoring programmes, while only 17% report having a mentor. This suggests that many systems should carefully investigate the barriers to teachers’ and consider creating incentives for participation in such programmes. To illustrate, in many countries the lack of participation might be due to programs’ costs or teachers’ other work commitments.

Investing in teachers’ first years of work is not only about making the workplace easier for new teachers.  Such support also has long-term effects, as TALIS shows that those who participate in induction programmes are more likely to become mentors and participate in professional development later on in their careers. Hence, if teachers are helped to manage those first days, weeks, and years as a teacher, they will go on to help others, creating a virtuous cycle of teacher learning and peer collaboration.

Teaching in Focus No. 11: Supporting new teachers
TALIS 2013 Results
Photo source: Businesswoman is making speech at conference room/ @Shutterstock

Are efficient schools more inclusive?

by Tommaso Agasisti
Thomas J. Alexander Fellow, Directorate for Education and Skills

Distribution of efficiency scores by country
Click here for full size

Analysing the efficiency of education systems and organisations is at the forefront of today’s policy and academic debate. Various factors make efficiency more important than ever: declining public budgets, rising competition across public services for limited public expenditures, increasing demand for transparency in information about the costs and results of schools’ activities. From this perspective, fiscal consolidation in many countries depends on the ability of governments to proactively use information concerning the efficiency of public spending. When focussing on education, providing clear quantitative information about the efficiency of educational institutions has become more important than ever.

In the working paper, we propose an innovative use of PISA data for measuring the efficiency of schools in an international comparison; more specifically, we compare the efficiency scores of more than 8 600 schools in 30 countries using PISA 2012 data. The study deals with the following key research questions:

a)    How relevant are the differences in the efficiency of schools across the selected 30 countries? Are these differences driven more by between-schools or between-countries variance?
b)    Which factors are associated with schools’ efficiency scores? And, are these factors common across all countries?
c)    Is there a trade-off between efficiency and equity at school level?

All three questions can have policy and managerial implications, and each of them also opens the door to potential benchmarking exercises that can prompt school principals to look at the most efficient schools in the world, investigating the drivers of their performances.

Using a non-parametric technique, called Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA), that measures efficiency scores from 0 to 1 (where 1 is maximum efficiency level observed in the sample), we find that efficiency scores vary widely both between and within countries. When considering all schools together – so allowing for the existence of an international common benchmark – we find that on average schools can raise their scores by 27%, ranging across countries from 15% for schools in Singapore to more than 33% for those in Slovenia. The Figure 1 highlights how dispersed efficiency scores are within countries; these efficiency scores of schools within countries encompass the entire range of the international distribution of efficiency, underlying the fact that country average efficiency scores mask substantial internal variation.

When we compare each school with those operating in the same country, the average improvement in output is estimated at 15%, ranging from 6%, on average, among schools in Ireland to 22% among those in Slovenia. This result suggests that it could be necessary to consider an international benchmark for efficiency analysis; indeed, the room for improvement is much larger when considering in the sample institutions from various contexts. International benchmarking exercises are really options for opening the mind to more ambitious performance goals – and at lower cost.  

We also investigate if are there factors at the school and country levels that are associated with efficiency. These second-stage variables have been classified in three main groups: students’ characteristics, other than socio-economic status, general characteristics of the schools, and schools’ practices and processes. This last group of variables can help policy makers and school managers to act for improving institutions’ efficiency. The results reveal that the characteristics of the student intake in each school (i.e. the proportion of girls and immigrants, the diversity of socio-economic background, etc.) explain most of the variation in efficiency across schools; however, school-related factors (i.e. practices such as extracurricular activities, principals’ leadership style, etc.) also play a role in describing differences in efficiency across schools.

In the last part of the study, we discuss how we find no evidence of a trade-off between efficiency and equity; in other words, more efficient schools tend to be more inclusive. Efficiency scores are related to greater inclusion, as measured by the percentage of students in the school who score above proficiency Level 2, the baseline level of performance in PISA.

Limitations on methods and data sources imply that the estimated efficiency scores are only proxies for true efficiency. Most importantly, they do not provide precise measures of efficiency at the school level and any attempt to use these measures to rank schools would be ill conceived. Yet, these estimates provide a clear picture of the distribution of schools’ efficiency scores across and within countries. 

We hope that this contribution can help to direct researchers’ attention towards this topic, to explore further the factors that affect efficiency in education.

The Efficiency of Secondary Schools in an International Perspective
PISA 2012 Key Findings
Thomas J. Alexander Fellowship
Photo source: Authors’ elaborations on PISA 2012 data,

Education post-2015

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Knowledge capital and economic growth rates across countries*

Next week, UNESCO will convene the world’s educational leaders in Incheon to set the agenda for educational development over the next 15 years. Those who think that’s mainly an agenda for the developing world should read our new report Universal basic skills – what countries stand to gain. The report shows the scale of the effort that is ahead even for many of the wealthiest nations to develop the essential skills that can transform lives, generate prosperity and promote social inclusion. And with a new global metric of the quality of learning outcomes, the report demonstrates that the world is no longer divided between rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly educated ones.

Importantly, the post-2015 agenda is no longer just about providing more people with more years of schooling, but about making sure that individuals acquire a solid foundation of knowledge in key disciplines, that they develop creative, critical thinking and collaborative skills, and that they build character attributes, such as mindfulness, curiosity, courage and resilience.

The first thing the report shows is that the quality of schooling in a country is a powerful predictor of the wealth that countries will produce in the long run. Or, put the other way around, the economic output that is lost because of poor education policies and practices leaves many countries in what amounts to a permanent state of economic recession – and one that can be larger and deeper than the one that resulted from the financial crisis at the beginning of the millennium, out of which many countries are still struggling to climb.

Among the countries compared, Ghana has the lowest enrolment rate in secondary schools (46%) and also the lowest achievement levels for those 15-year-olds who are in school (291 PISA points). While it is difficult for Ghana to meet the goal of universal basic skills any time soon, if it did, it would see a gain over the lifetime of its children born today that, in present value terms, is 38 times its current GDP. This is equivalent to tripling Ghana’s discounted future GDP every four years during the working life of those students with improved skills. For lower-middle income countries, the discounted present value of future gains would still be 13 times current GDP and would average out to a 28% higher GDP over the next 80 years. And for upper-middle income countries, which generally show higher levels of learning outcomes, it would average out to a 16% higher GDP.

The goal of universal basic skills also has meaning for high-income countries, most notably the oil-producing countries. Many of them have succeeded in converting their natural capital into physical capital and consumption today; but they have failed to convert their natural capital into the human capital that can generate the economic and social outcomes to sustain their future. The report shows that the high-income non-OECD countries, as a group, would see an added economic value equivalent to almost five times the value of their current GDP  if they equipped all students with at least basic skills. So there is an important message for countries rich in natural resources: the wealth that lies hidden in the undeveloped skills of their populations is far greater than what they now reap by extracting wealth from national resources. And there is more: PISA shows a significantly negative relationship between the money countries earn from their natural resources and the knowledge and skills of their school population. So PISA and oil don’t mix easily.

One interpretation is that in countries with little in the way of natural resources education is highly valued, and produces strong outcomes, at least partly because the public at large has understood that the country must live by its knowledge and skills, and that these depend on the quality of education. In other words, the value that a country places on education may depend, at least in part, on a country’s view of how knowledge and skills fit into the way it makes its living.

One might be tempted to think that high-income countries have had all the means to eliminate extreme underperformance in education and should already have achieved the education post-2015 goal and targets. But the report shows otherwise. For example, 24% of 15-year-olds in the United States do not successfully complete even the basic Level 1 PISA tasks. If the United States were to ensure that all students meet the goal of universal basic skills, the economic gains could reach over USD 27 trillion in additional income for the American economy over the working life of these students. So even high-income OECD countries would gain significantly from bringing all students up to basic skills by 2030. For this group of countries, average future GDP would be 3.5% higher than it would be otherwise. That is close to what these countries currently spend on their schools. In other words, the economic gains that would accrue solely from eliminating extreme underperformance in high-income OECD countries by 2030 would be sufficient to pay for the primary and secondary education of all students.

The message of these rather complex analyses is simple: there is no shortcut to improved learning outcomes in a post-2015 world economy where knowledge and skills have become the global currency, the key to better jobs and better lives. And there is no central bank that prints this currency. We cannot inherit this currency, and we cannot produce it through speculation; we can only develop it through sustained effort and investment in people.

That raises the question of whether the improvements in learning outcomes suggested in this report are realistic – and how they can be achieved by 2030. The answer to the first question is unambiguously positive. PISA shows that top performers in education, such as Shanghai in China, Korea and Singapore, were able to further extend their lead over the past years, and countries like Brazil, Mexico, Tunisia and Turkey achieved major improvements from previously low levels of performance – all at a speed that exceeds, by a large margin, the improvements described in this report. So the world is full of examples of improvements in education, and there is no time to lose. Without the right skills, people end up on the margins of the society, technological progress doesn’t translate into economic growth, and countries face an uphill struggle to remain ahead in this hyper-connected world. Ultimately in this scenario, the social glue that holds our societies together will disintegrate. The world has become indifferent to past reputations and unforgiving of frailty. Success will go to those individuals, institutions and countries that are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. The task for governments is to help their citizens rise to this challenge by ensuring that by 2030 all of their people are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need for further education, work and life.

Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain
UNESCO World education Forum, 19-22 May 2015, Incheon, Korea
The World Bank Education for Global Development: A blog about the power of investing in people
PISA 2012 Key Findings
Follow on twitter: #UniversalBasicSkills
Chart Source: Hanushek and Woessmann (2015)
*Added-variable plot of a regression of the average annual rate of growth (in%) of real per capita GDP from 1960 to 2000 on average test scores on international student achievement tests, average years of schooling in 1960, and initial level of real per capita GDP in 1960 (mean of unconditional variables added to each axis).
Note by Turkey: The information in this document with reference to “Cyprus” relates to the southern part of the Island. There is no single authority representing both Turkish and Greek Cypriot people on the Island. Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Until a lasting and equitable solution is found within the context of the United Nations, Turkey shall preserve its position concerning the “Cyprus issue”. 
Note by all the European Union member States of the OECD and the European Union: The Republic of Cyprus is recognised by all members of the United Nations with the exception of Turkey. The information in this document relates to the area under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.