Backpacks and belonging: What school can mean to immigrant students

by Marilyn Achiron 
Editor, Education and Skills Directorate

How school systems respond to immigration has an enormous impact on the economic and social well-being of all members of the communities they serve, whether they have an immigrant background or not. Immigrant Students at School: Easing the Journey towards Integration reveals some of the difficulties immigrant students encounter – and some of the contributions they offer – as they settle into their new communities and new schools.

Results from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) indicate that students with an immigrant background tend to perform worse in school than students without an immigrant background. Several factors are associated with this disparity, including the concentration of disadvantage in the schools immigrant students attend, language barriers and certain school policies, like grade repetition and tracking, that can hinder immigrant students’ progress through school.

But successful integration is measured in more than academic achievement; immigrant students’ well-being and hopes for the future are just as telling. This report examines not only immigrant students’ aspirations and sense of belonging at school, but also recent trends in Europeans’ receptiveness to welcoming immigrants into their own countries – the context that could make all the difference in how well immigrant students integrate into their new communities. The report includes a special section on refugees and education, and an extensive discussion on education policy responses to immigration.


A watershed for Scottish education

by David Istance 
Senior Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

This is a watershed moment for Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence, say some of the country’s education stakeholders. They’re talking about the ambitious education reforms that were rolled out in Scotland’s schools five years ago. What better time for a review of the reforms? Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective, published today, provides just that.

So what kind of watershed has Scotland’s education reform programme reached?

First, the programme is at a “watershed” as a statement of fact: the main curriculum programme has now been implemented, and the overhaul of teachers’ education and qualifications is nearly complete. This is watershed meaning “key transition moment”.

Second, it can be seen as a “watershed” as so much of the hard work of redesign has been accomplished and essential building blocks have been put in place. This is about unleashing the full potential of the Curriculum for Excellence after a 13-year gestation period. Hence the very positive sense of watershed as “take-off point”.

But “watershed” may mean something altogether less inspiring: concerns over achievement levels and rumblings over the new teachers’ qualifications combined with a febrile political environment might yet unpick key elements of the Curriculum for Excellence despite its longevity. This would be the more ominous meaning of watershed as “make-or-break moment”.

The recommendations contained in this new review might influence which kind of watershed this turns out to be for the Curriculum for Excellence: will it be key transition moment, take-off point, or make-or-break moment?

The OECD report notches up many points to admire in Scottish schooling, not least among them enviable levels of consensus, clear enthusiasm (including among young people for learning), and political patience. But for the full potential to be realised, the OECD review team believes some key changes will be needed.

There should be a more ambitious theory of change and a more robust evidence base available right across the system, especially about learning outcomes and progress. The Curriculum for Excellence needs to be understood less as a curriculum programme to be managed from the centre and more as a dynamic, highly equitable curriculum being built continuously in schools, networks and communities. And the success of that implementation process needs to be closely evaluated.

There is a key role for a strengthened “middle”, covering local authorities, networks and collaboratives of schools, teachers and communities, and teachers’ and head teachers’ associations. As local authorities assume more prominent system leadership in a reinforced “middle”, the shortcomings of those authorities falling behind in performance and expertise will need to be addressed. Learner engagement is a prerequisite of powerful learning and improved outcomes, and that argues for innovating learning environments, especially in secondary schools, beginning in the most deprived areas.

All this should contribute to creating a new narrative for the Curriculum for Excellence, the OECD review report argues, and this will be an essential ingredient if the existing watershed moment is to become “take-off point”.

Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective
Photo credit: Education Scotland

Learning about learning assessments

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
Claudia Costin
Senior Director, Education Global Practice, World Bank 

How do large-scale student assessments, like PISA, actually work? What are the key ingredients that are necessary to produce a reliable, policy relevant assessment of what children and young people know and can do with what they know? A new report commissioned by the OECD and the World Bank offers a behind-the-scenes look at how some of the largest of these assessments are developed and implemented, particularly in developing countries.

A Review of International Large-Scale Assessments in Education: Assessing Component Skills and Collecting Contextual Data provides an overview of the main international, regional, national and household-based large-scale assessments of learning. The report shows how the major large-scale assessments have several things in common that contribute to their reliability and relevance. For example, they each produce clear frameworks to describe the philosophy, content, test design and response styles of their tests. These frameworks not only guide the creation of items (questions or tasks in a test paper) for the test, but also act as a way of communicating information about the assessment to the broader community.

The mode of delivery for most of the large-scale assessments is paper and pencil, but there is a shift towards computer-based assessment and this will undoubtedly be the main mode of delivery in the future as it increases efficiency and reduces data error. All of the assessments covered by the report collect contextual information that can be related to the test scores and help to inform policy choices. The reviewed surveys devote considerable time and resources to coder training and coding itself –this is the process of marking students’ responses with codes once tests are complete, including the steps taken to confirm that coding is being undertaken with acceptable reliability. In one or two cases, methods and approaches have been developed to include out-of-school children in learning assessments.

The report gives particular emphasis to learning from large-scale assessments in developing countries and makes recommendations in the following areas for the benefit of the OECD’s PISA for Development project: assessment frameworks; scoring; modes of delivery; collection of contextual information; methods and approaches to include out-of-school children in learning assessments; and analysis, reporting and use of the data collected.

The report also reveals some little known facts about the major large-scale assessments. Did you know that an assessment used in French-speaking mainly African countries uses questionnaires to collect information on whether students are working outside of school? Analysis of the results helps countries to determine whether working hinders students’ learning. And did you know that a large-scale assessment in Latin America routinely collects information on food, transportation, medical and clothing programmes and relates the data to student test scores? Or that a regional assessment in southern and eastern Africa finds that the active involvement of relevant government staff in research is one of the most important factors in converting analysis of the results of assessments into policies and changed practice?

Initially commissioned to provide recommendations for designing the PISA for Development project, the report is a valuable reference for policymakers, development organisations and other stakeholders with an interest in developing or participating in large-scale learning assessments.

A Review of International Large-Scale Assessments in Education: Assessing Component Skills and Collecting Contextual Data
The Experience of Middle-Income Countries Participating in PISA 2000-2015
Towards the development of contextual questionnaires for the PISA for development study
PISA for Development Technical Strand C: Incorporating out-of-school 15-year-olds in the assessment
PISA in Low and Middle Income Countries
For more on PISA for Development, visit:
Photo credit: © epicurean / iStockphoto

What students don’t want to be when they grow up

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Education and Skills Directorate

Who wants to be a teacher? As this month’s PISA in Focus shows, in many countries the teaching profession is having a hard time making itself an attractive career choice – particularly among boys and among the highest-performing students.

PISA 2006 asked students from the 60 participating countries and economies what occupation they expected to be working in when they are 30 years old. Some 44% of 15-year-olds in OECD countries reported that they expect to work in high-status occupations that generally require a university degree; but only 5% of those students reported that they expect to work as teachers, one of those professional careers.

The numbers are even more revealing when considering the profile of the students who reported that they expect to work as teachers. If you read our report on gender equality in education published earlier this year, you may remember that girls tend to favour “nurturance-oriented” careers more than boys do – and teaching is one of those careers. In almost every OECD country, more girls (6%) than boys (3%) reported that they expect to work as teachers. This statistic is particularly worrying when you recall that the majority of overall low achievers in school are boys, who could benefit from the presence of more male role models at school.

PISA in Focus also reveals that the highest-performing students in reading and mathematics do not necessarily aim to become teachers. For example, in Argentina, Australia, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal and Turkey, students who aspire to become teachers score significantly lower in reading and mathematics than students who expect to work in professions other than teaching.

While PISA can’t follow these students into adulthood, the Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) gathers information on the literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills of adults. The 2012 survey found that, in many countries, teachers have poorer literacy and, in particular, poorer numeracy skills than individuals who work in other professions. In Japan, however, not only do teachers have the highest numeracy skills among teachers working in all other countries that participated in the survey, they are also as proficient in numeracy as Japanese adults who work in other professions.

But maybe in this instance, as in so many others, it would be wise to “follow the money”. According to Education at a Glance, teachers earn significantly less, on average, than similar educated workers in other fields earn. For example, lower secondary teachers earn 86% and upper secondary teachers earn 91% of what tertiary-educated full-time workers in other fields earn. Which is not to say that students are only concerned about the size of their prospective bank accounts; in fact, many 15-year-olds probably don’t know how much their teachers earn. But pay is often a reflection of how socially valued different jobs are. Adolescents might be more inclined to aspire to become teachers if they see that their own teachers are highly valued members of society.

Photo credit: Question mark on green blackboard / chalkboard. Nice chalk and texture @Shutterstock

Opening up to Open Educational Resources

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

Technology has a profound impact on our lives. A few days ago, an inmate who spent 44 years
behind bars was released from prison and could not believe what he saw on the streets: people with wires in their ears using strange devices to talk to invisible friends. Maybe his confrontation with the modern world would have been less of a surprise if he had visited a school first.

Technology has indeed entered the classroom; but it has not yet changed the ways we teach and learn to the same extent that it has transformed our way of communicating in the outside world. In our private lives we freely share experiences, thoughts and feelings with friends all over the world; but in classrooms we tend to stick to the traditional carriers of knowledge – textbooks, which are certified for use by the bureaucracy and well-aligned to a prescribed curriculum.

But maybe this is about to change. Technology could give education access to the nearly unlimited teaching and learning materials available on the Internet, which are often in much nicer and pedagogically better-designed formats than can be developed by individual teachers. “Open Educational Resources”, or OER as we call them, are not new, but we are now seeing a real breakthrough in availability, usability and quality. In 2007, the OECD analysed the emergence of OER in its book, Giving knowledge for Free. A new publication, Open Educational Resources: A Catalyst for Innovation, supported by a generous grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, takes stock of where we are in 2015.

The most immediate benefit of OER is the open (through open licenses) and free (in most cases at no cost) access to quality teaching and learning materials, often in multimedia formats. OER provide an alternative to costly textbooks and, hence, might lead to significant savings for both schools and learners. International organisations, such as UNESCO, and national governments, such as the federal government in the United States, see an enormous opportunity in OER to widen access to high-quality teaching and learning resources in poor countries or among disadvantaged communities of learners.

A few years ago, the development of free and accessible resources was stymied, partly because of some resistance among education publishers and ill-adapted intellectual property regulations. But over the past few years we’ve seen OER mainstreamed into several education systems.

But OER has an even much richer potential. As the title of the new book suggests, OER is also a catalyst for innovation in education. For example, we know from the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) how important teacher collaboration is for the development of professional practice, efficacy and job satisfaction. We also know how difficult it is to convince teachers to work together, even within the same school. One of the most interesting characteristics of OER is that, if licensed properly, they invite users to continuously improve and update educational resources. OER enables teachers to engage in communities of practice not only for exchanging resources, but also for modifying and developing resources collaboratively. Teachers willing and able to enrich their teaching practices beyond the prescribed curriculum and available textbooks will find OER to be a fantastic way to connect to colleagues all over the world to jointly develop new resources. The OER depositories are full of resources that have been developed by inspired teachers working together.

Some people and organisations fear that technology will lead to the de-skilling and disempowerment of teachers. Yes, there is a risk that the availability of an infinite wealth of information on the Internet may deprive teachers of their authority as being the possessors of knowledge, or that it may engender a laissez-faire attitude among teachers. But the professional responsibility of teachers goes well beyond asking students to look for information in Wikipedia. OER invite teachers to reinvent their professional responsibilities and add to their pedagogical expertise and experience to enable students to turn information and knowledge into real learning.

The potential of OER to catalyse change and innovation in education is not yet well understood by many governments. But that is changing, too. A small survey, the results of which appear in the book, found that most governments are now considering various policies to support the production and use of OER, such as indirectly or directly funding them, developing codes of practice or guidelines for the production or use of OER, launching information campaigns aimed at schools, legislating the use of OER, supporting the development of OER repositories and/or encouraging research into OER. In the end, perhaps OER will be one of the most significant and substantive ways that technology will transform teaching and learning.

Photo credit: © vege –