What does age have to do with skills proficiency? Adult Skills in focus, issue No.3 by Marco Paccagnella
Quel rapport entre l’âge et les compétences?
Age, Ageing and Skills: Results from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills
Photo Credit: © OECD
by Dirk Van Damme
Head of the Innovation and Measuring Division, Directorate for Education and Skills
If one were to ask ministers of education what they consider to be the most important factor determining the quality of their education systems, the odds are high that they would refer to the quality of the teaching work force. The saying goes that the quality of an education system can never exceed that of its teachers. Ensuring that the most talented candidates are attracted to the teaching profession is now widely recognised to be the most effective strategy to improve education.
But how does one assess how teachers compare to the rest of the working population? We still lack reliable, robust and comparable measures of some of the essential elements of teachers’ knowledge and skills. A new tool developed by the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, known as the Innovative Teaching for Effective Learning (ITEL) assessment, focuses on teachers’ pedagogical knowledge. It will provide comparative measures of some core elements of the knowledge and skills that we expect from teachers. In the meantime, the results of the Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), provide some insights into the skills of countries’ workforces – including teachers – in key areas, such as numeracy, literacy and problem solving. These data make it possible to compare the skills of teachers with those of other college and university graduates and with the working population as a whole.
A recent OECD report, prepared for the International Summit on the Teaching Profession, held earlier this year in Berlin, found that teachers’ skills in numeracy tend to be similar to those of other tertiary-educated professionals. The Survey of Adult Skills also assessed adults’ proficiency in problem-solving in technology-rich environments. The most recent Education Indicators in Focus brief compares teachers’ ICT and problem-solving skills with those of the working population as a whole and with other tertiary-educated professionals. The chart above confirms that, as with numeracy skills, teachers’ problem-solving skills using ICT more or less match those of other tertiary-educated professionals. On average, 51% of teachers, compared to 31% of the adult population as a whole, demonstrated good problem-solving and ICT skills (proficiency was characterised as “good” when adults demonstrated a high level of problem-solving competence and at least a basic level of ICT skills). But on average, the share of other tertiary-educated professionals who demonstrated “good” ICT skills was 3 percentage points larger than that of teachers. In only four countries/subnational entities (Canada, England/Northern Ireland, Japan and Korea) did teachers outperform their tertiary-educated peers. In many other countries and subnational entities (Denmark, Estonia, Flanders [Belgium], Ireland and Poland) teachers’ problem-solving and ICT skills were significantly weaker than those of other tertiary-educated professionals.
Age could be part of the explanation. After accounting for age, teachers are 4 percentage points more likely than other tertiary-educated adults to have good problem-solving skills using ICT. This finding reinforces the conclusion, consistently noted in Education at a Glance, that policy makers need to take seriously the implications of an ageing teaching force.
When only one in two teachers – and, in several countries, even fewer – are capable of solving problems using ICT, then it is not unreasonable to question their capacity to address complex issues in their professional environment. For example, if teachers lack these skills, they cannot be expected to move away from a routine-based professional practice, controlled by bureaucratic procedures, to a much more autonomous professional culture. And the use of technology to improve teaching and learning environments will depend on teachers’ skills to use ICT creatively and to its fullest potential.
The recent sobering findings from PISA about the role of computers in improving learning outcomes might be partly attributed to a lack of excellence in ICT skills among teachers. But the age gradient in problem-solving and ICT skills is also good news: younger generations of teachers seem to be closing the skills gap. New generations of teachers who are better trained and who participate in professional development activities throughout their careers will probably be able to adopt innovative practices that are more suited to 21st-century learning environments. Governments should not blame older teachers for having poor problem-solving and ICT skills; equally, they cannot afford to miss the opportunity to fill the teaching posts left vacant by retirees with younger, more tech-savvy problem solvers.
Teachers’ ICT and problem-solving skills: Competencies and needs. Education Indicators in Focus, issue No.40, by Elian Bogers, Gabriele Marconi and Simon Normandeau.
Compétences en TIC et en résolution de problèmes : où en sont les enseignants ? Les indicateurs de l'éducation à la loupe issue No. 40 (French version)
Innovative Teaching for Effective Learning – Teacher Knowledge Survey
Teaching Excellence through Professional Learning and Policy Reform
Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators
Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection
Chart source: OECD Education database, www.oecd.org/site/piaac/publicdataandanalysis.htm.
by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills
Press release: Colombia should improve equity and quality of education
Reviews of National Policies for Education: Education in Colombia
PISA 2012 Results
A silent revolution in Colombia, by Andreas Schleicher
Photo Credit: @Mineducacion
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills
While poor literacy skills severely limit people’s access to better-paying and more rewarding jobs, data from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills also shows that individuals with poor literacy skills are far more likely than those with advanced literacy skills to report poor health, to believe that they have little impact on political processes, and not to participate in associative or volunteer activities.
Among 80 countries with comparable data, Ghana has the lowest enrolment rate in secondary schools (46%) and also the lowest achievement levels among those 15-year-olds who are in school (291 PISA points, on average). While it is difficult for Ghana to meet the goal of universal basic skills for its 15-year-olds any time soon, if it did, it would see a gain over the lifetime of children born today that, in present value terms, is 38 times its current GDP. This is equivalent of tripling Ghana’s discounted future GDP every four years during the working life of those students with improved skills.
One might be tempted to think that high-income countries have all the means to eliminate extreme underperformance in education; but the data show otherwise. For example, 24% of 15-year-olds in the United States cannot complete even basic Level 1 PISA tasks. The fact that the 10% most disadvantaged children in Shanghai outperform the 10% most advantaged children in parts of Europe and the United States reminds us that poverty isn’t destiny. If the United States were to ensure that all of its 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.
But can countries really improve their populations’ literacy quickly? PISA shows that top performers in education, such as Hong Kong and Shanghai in China, and Singapore, were able to further extend their lead in literacy skills over the past few years; and countries like Peru, Qatar, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates achieved major improvements from previously low levels of literacy performance. Even those who claim that student performance mainly reflects social and cultural factors must concede that improvements in education are possible. A culture of education isn’t just inherited, it is created by what we do.
So what we can learn from the world’s education leaders? The first lesson from PISA is that the leaders in high-performing school systems seem to have convinced their citizens to make choices that value education more than other things. Chinese parents and grandparents tend to invest their last renminbi in their children’s education. By contrast, in much of Europe and North America, governments have started to borrow the money of their children to finance their consumption today. The debt they have incurred puts a brake on economic and social progress.
But valuing education is just part of the equation. Another part is believing in the success of every child. Top school systems expect every child to achieve and accept no excuse for failure. They realise that ordinary students have extraordinary talents, and they embrace diversity with differentiated instructional practices.
And nowhere does the quality of a school system exceed the quality of its teachers. Top school systems pay attention to how they select and train their staff. They attract the right talent and they work to improve the performance of struggling teachers.
High performers have also adopted professional forms of work organisation in their schools. They encourage their teachers to use innovative pedagogies, improve their own performance and that of their colleagues, and work together to define good practice. They grow and distribute leadership throughout the school system.
Perhaps most impressive, school systems as diverse as those in Finland and Shanghai attract the strongest principals to the toughest schools and the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms so that every student benefits from excellent teaching and school leadership.
But it is far too easy to assign the task of improving literacy skills just to schools. When formal schooling begins, many parents believe that their role as educators has ended. But literacy is a shared responsibility of parents, schools, teachers and other members of society. Results from PISA offer comfort to parents who are concerned that they don’t have enough time or the requisite academic knowledge to help their children succeed in school. The simple question, “How was school, today?”, asked by parents the world over has as great an impact on children’s literacy skills as a family’s wealth. PISA results show that reading to children when they are very young is strongly related to how well those children read and how much they enjoy reading later on. In short, many types of parental involvement that are associated with better literacy skills require relatively little time and no specialised knowledge. What counts is genuine interest and active engagement.
Adult Skills in Focus No. 2: What does low proficiency in literacy really mean? by Miloš Kankaraš
Les Compétences des Adultes á la loupe No. 2: Qu’entend-on réellement par faibles compétences en littératie ?
Education Working Paper No. 131: Adults with Low Proficiency in Literacy or Numeracy
OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)
Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
International Literacy Association
Photo credit: Pupils in classroom at the elementary school @Shutterstock