Educating for Innovation and Innovation in Education

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

People have quite different views on the role that digital technology can and should play in schools. But we just can’t ignore how digital tools have so fundamentally transformed the world around schools. Students unable to navigate through our complex digital landscape are simply no longer able to participate in our social, economic and cultural life.

In the past, education was about teaching people something. Now, it’s about helping students develop a reliable compass and the navigation skills to find their own way through an increasingly uncertain, volatile and ambiguous world. These days, we no longer know exactly how things will unfold, often we are surprised and need to learn from the extraordinary, and sometimes we make mistakes along the way. And it will often be the mistakes and failures, when properly understood, that create the context for learning and growth.

A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would last for a lifetime of their students. Today, schools need to prepare students for more rapid economic and social change than ever before, for jobs that have not yet been created, to use technologies that have not yet been invented, and to solve social problems that we do not yet know will arise.

The dilemma for educators is that the kind of skills that are easiest to teach and easiest to test are also the skills that are easiest to digitise, automate and outsource. Half of the jobs that we know in OECD countries can already be carried out by digital technology. Put simply, the world no longer rewards people just for what they know – Google knows everything – but for what they can do with what they know. Because that’s the main differentiator today, education is becoming more about ways of thinking; involving creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and decision making; about ways of working, including communication and collaboration; about tools for working, and that includes not just the capacity to use technology but to recognise its potential for new ways of working; and, last but not least, it’s about the social and emotional skills that help people live and work together. Think about courage, integrity, curiosity, leadership, resilience or empathy.

All that demands new and innovative approaches to education where technology can no longer be on the margins of education but needs to be central to any solution.

I know teachers and school leaders are working hard to make this work. But our latest PISA results show that the reality in our schools lags considerably behind the promise of technology. In 2012, virtually all 15-year-old students in OECD countries had a computer at home, but less than three quarters used a computer or tablet at school, and in some countries it was fewer than half. In fact, the first thing we usually tell students entering their school is to turn off anything that has an on-or-off switch.

But far more importantly, even where computers are used in classrooms, their impact on student learning outcomes is mixed at best. Students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes. Imagine that, the more intensively students use computers at school, the less digital literate they seem to be, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.

And perhaps the most disappointing finding is that technology seems of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Put simply, ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and math seems still to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than subsidising access to high-tech devices and services.

So it’s clear that more of the same technology cannot be the answer. But it’s also clear that we need to get this right if we want to provide teachers with learning environments that support 21st-century pedagogies and, most importantly, if we want to provide children with the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world.

That’s why we have invited Education Ministers and industry leaders to come together in Israel for our second Global Summit on the Education Industry. Why Israel? Because it has such a vibrant startup culture in education where educators, entrepreneurs and policy makers aren’t afraid of each other but collaborate day after day for more innovative and productive educational solutions.

Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. Why should students be stuck with a textbook that was printed two years ago, and maybe designed ten years ago, when they can have access to the world’s best and most up-to-date information?

Technology also provides great platforms for collaboration in knowledge creation where teachers can share and enrich teaching materials. And indeed, if you look at the countries with the most technology-savvy students, they typically start with connecting teachers before pushing technology into classrooms.

But we also need to become much better at using technology to support new pedagogies that focus on learners as active participants with tools for inquiry-based pedagogies and collaborative workspaces. Technology is our best bet to enhance experiential learning, foster project-based and inquiry-based pedagogies, facilitate hands-on activities and cooperative learning, deliver formative real-time assessment and support learning and teaching communities. And there are plenty of good examples around, such as remote and virtual labs, highly interactive courseware that builds on state-of-the-art instructional design, sophisticated software for experimentation and simulation, social media and serious games.

And all of this is isn’t just about 21st-century learning. The teachers of today’s “connected” learners are confronted with lots of related issues, from information overload to plagiarism, from protecting children from online risks like fraud, violations of privacy up to setting an appropriate media diet. We expect schools to educate our children to become critical consumers of Internet services and electronic media, to help them make informed choices. And we expect schools to raise awareness about the risks that children face on line and how to avoid them.

To better deliver on the promises which technology holds, countries will need convincing strategies to build teachers’ capacity. And policy-makers need to become better at building support for this agenda. Those are precisely the topics that we want to discuss at this summit.

Given the uncertainties that accompany all change, teachers will always favour 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 of course back all that up with sustainable financing.

And none of this is going to work without teachers becoming active agents for change, not just in implementing technological innovations, but in designing them too. One thing is clear, technology can amplify great teaching, but great technology will never replace poor teaching.

This summit is a start for this and the OECD stands ready to support and facilitate the dialogue between Ministers and the Education Industry to take this discussion forward.

Innovating Education and Educating for Innovation: The Power of Digital Technologies and Skills
Global Education Industry Summit: September 26-27 2016, Israel
Photo credit: Innovation concept diagram illustration design over a white background @Shutterstock

Leaders for learning

by Montserrat Gomendio
Deputy Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

The success of the Olympic games this year has been thrilling to watch, with the coaches of different teams playing a widely recognised role. As leaders with a vision, coaches choose the members of their teams, assign roles, train and support athletes. In the same way, leaders in all fields are recognised as having a huge responsibility in the success or failure of their teams.

The role that is expected of school principals varies enormously, and the consequences of different leadership styles remain unclear. Should school leaders focus on administration, on curriculum and teaching related tasks, on the support and professional development of teachers, or on a combination of all of the above? What kind of training is needed to become a school principal? What type of decision making is more effective: a leader with the vision to integrate all actors or a distributed system in which most decisions are shared?

This is the school leader profile that the recent OECD report, School Leadership for Learning: Insights from TALIS 2013, using the results of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2013, has sought to identify.  

Using data about principals, the report examined how school leaders share instructional leadership (principals’ practices related to the improvement of teaching and learning within school) and distributed leadership (the ability of schools to incorporate different stakeholders into decision-making processes). Most principals engage in one form of instructional leadership, but about one third do not actively support these actions, highlighting that further stimulation of leadership for learning is needed. For distributed leadership, most systems incorporate teachers into school decision-making processes, but the opportunities offered to parents/guardians and students to actively participate in school decisions differ. Given the complexity and dynamics of educational change, these subtle differences in engaging additional stakeholders in the decision-making process could represent important differences in the quality of educational processes that take place within schools.

Leadership practices are related to building capacity for quality instruction, and the OECD report explores the relationship between instructional and distributed leadership and the establishment of professional learning communities; a structure that allows teachers to collaborate and engage in dialogue with the aim of improving their practice. Professional learning communities are measured through five indicators including teacher engagement in reflective dialogue, a shared sense of purpose, engagement in collaborative activity, among others.*

Principals who show greater instructional leadership work in schools where teachers are more engaged in reflective dialogue and collaboration in primary and lower secondary education. This may indicate that principals’ efforts to develop co-operation and promote a sense of responsibility in teachers affect teacher collaboration. Distributed leadership is also positively related to a shared sense of purpose in the school. This finding, which is seen across all educational levels, suggests that involving students and their parents/guardians, along with staff, creates a culture of shared responsibility for school issues.

Instructional and distributed leadership are related to the development of different indicators of professional learning communities. Some school leaders mainly rely on instructional leadership while only partly involving other stakeholders in decision-making processes, and some rely heavily on the participation of other stakeholders. The results of the School Leadership for Learning report show that combining instructional and distributed leadership, and using student outcomes to develop the school’s goals, programme and professional development plan, appears to be the most favourable approach to establishing a professional learning community within a school. For developing these communities, a more integrated role for the school leader seems appropriate.

The role of the school leader is essential for pupil and staff success, and although good practice exists, there is still room for improvement. This could be achieved through professional development activities that encourage principals to follow developments in their field, and help them to understand their role as a school leader. 

For more details about these results, please see the new Teaching in Focus brief: “School Leadership for developing Professional Learning Communities”.

School Leadership for Learning: Insights from TALIS 2013
Teaching in Focus No. 15: School Leadership for developing Professional Learning Communities, by Pablo Fraser
La direction d’établissement : un atout pour le développement des communautés d’apprentissage professionnel, par Pablo Fraser
TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning
For more on the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS):
Photo credit: Teacher Helping Pupils Studying At Desks In Classroom @Fotolia
*To observe the additional indicators of professional learning communities please refer to the School Leadership for Learning” report

Can OECD’s data guide the world towards better education systems?

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

What do we have to do to ensure that all children and adults around the world get the best possible education? This question is important not only for individuals’ futures, but also for the fate of the planet. The outcomes of education will determine whether mankind will be able to face the many challenges ahead, from climate change to migration, from peace to economic growth and social progress. At the same time, the question is also tremendously difficult to answer. Historically, education systems have developed at different paces, under varying social, religious and cultural conditions. In a diverse and fragmented world, there are many definitions of “good education”.

Therefore, it is a small wonder that the world has been able to agree on a shared vision for the future of education by negotiating an ambitious goal for education as one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), to be attained by 2030. Goal 4 of the SDGs aims to ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Compared with previous attempts to set goals and standards for education, the new education SDG focuses more on the quality and equity of learning outcome than on participation. It also charts a clear path for growth and progress for education systems in so-called developed countries.

The education SDG does not prescribe how to achieve quality and equity; it simply asserts the rationale behind the goal: to ensure that all human beings have the knowledge and skills to thrive in life and contribute to their societies.

It is critically important that the education SDG and its component ten targets are now translated into real policies. The risk is that some countries will see the goal as a beautiful narrative that has nothing to do with them. The OECD has learned, from its long history of offering policy advice, that peer pressure is most persuasive when it is based on comparable data. Over the years, the OECD and other international organisations have built an impressive database on education; now is the time to use that data to monitor progress towards our common goal for education.

Today, the OECD publishes its 2016 edition of Education at a Glance, the most comprehensive collection of statistical data and indicators on education available. From this year’s edition onwards, Education at a Glance will provide a platform for measuring countries’ progress towards the education SDG. Even if the international community has not yet fully agreed on the standards and benchmarks for assessing achievement, countries can begin measuring their progress now, since data on many aspects of the goal and its targets are already available.

For OECD countries, the data are sobering. Of the 35 OECD countries for which relevant data are available, only 12 have attained at least half of the targets; many still have a long way to go.

Sometimes the lip service paid to improving quality and equity in education stands in sharp contrast to the reality, as shown by the data. At the same time, data should not only be used to “name and shame” countries; data also point to good examples and the many cases of excellent practice. They can reveal hidden treasures of successful policies and practices in education. This year's Education at a Glance shows that only a handful of countries are on track on all targets towards the education SDG; but at the same time, it shows that all countries have excellent results on some of the targets. In other words, every country has something valuable to share with others. Through sharing best policies and best practices, identified through data, countries can move ever closer to attaining the ambitious goal that they have set for themselves. 

Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators
Regards sur l'éducation 2016: Les indicateurs de l'OCDE
Follow #OECDEAG 2016 on Twitter: @OECDEduSkills
Chart source: © OECD

What makes education governance and reform work beyond the drawing table?

by Florian Köster

Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD


Today’s education systems need to adapt practices to local diversity while ensuring common goals. Given the complexity of modern education systems, seemingly straightforward changes may result in unexpected consequences, making effective production, use and exchange of knowledge – policy-relevant know-how – across the system indispensable. Good governance requires opening up the knowledge system to a broad range of stakeholders. It needs to allow for competing know-how on all governance-levels and must create practices that manage to integrate different forms of knowledge.

Just published, Education Governance in Action: Lessons from Case Studies bridges theory and practice by connecting major themes in education governance to real-life reform efforts in various countries. The publication builds upon detailed case studies of education reform efforts in Flanders (Belgium), Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Sweden. The case studies are complemented by additional examples of efforts to restore and sustain trust in education systems. Together they provide a rich illustration of governance challenges – and successes – countries see today.


The volume highlights the interdependence between knowledge and governance and casts a spotlight on those processes with which governance systems struggle the most in the real-world implementation of education reforms: capacity building, accountability and strategic thinking.

In balancing local responsiveness with central goals, a dynamic and flexible knowledge system is only half of the equation. The other half pertains to governance processes. Successful governance and reform also relies on:

  • aligning responsibilities to avoid frictions between stakeholders and between policies;
  • implementing a constructive accountability system that guides stakeholders towards common goals while allowing responsible risk-taking in the quest to improve;
  • supporting actors in adapting policy and using evidence for innovation; and
  • building stable practices that enable continuous strategic thinking.

Aligning policies can increase their efficiency and effectiveness: Clear responsibilities from the beginning reduce future costs and potential side-stepping of responsibilities. If policies are aligned, stakeholders face fewer competing demands, in turn reducing confusion and improving efficiency. When communicated effectively, aligning responsibilities and policies can also send a strong positive signal of joint effort and collaboration.

A strong accountability system sets clear guidelines and expectations. However, there is a general tension that cannot be overlooked: accountability mechanisms that seek to minimise deviation and mistakes could have a negative impact on the trial and error required for innovation. In the mission to future-proof our education systems, constructive accountability mechanisms need to reconcile quality assurance across the system with the vitality needed for innovation. Actors need the trust and confidence to take the necessary leap of faith to do things differently in the search of improvement.

Supporting stakeholders in the implementation and adaptation of policies to the local situation is vital for lasting change. This includes building the capacity to gather and use evidence for local innovation as well as policy implementation. Without sustained support, incentives and guidelines, any policy risks being derailed in the day-to-day practice.

There is one last crucial element: keeping the long-term perspective in mind. Continuous strategic thinking is tough, particularly when current events overthrow priorities in the public opinion and political discussion. Nevertheless maintaining a long-term vision is a fundamental ingredient to effective governance. While the urgent undoubtedly needs to be addressed, it is essential that strategic thinking is not overshadowed by current urgencies. Here, consolidating change through efforts at multiple points and winning the support of a broad base of stakeholders is one of the most important aspects.
The search for effective and efficient education governance for today’s and tomorrow’s education systems will certainly continue in the years to come. Based on real-world examples, the volume suggests promising pathways to successfully adapt to today’s complex environment and to steer a clear course to the future of education governance.

Education Governance in Action: Lessons from Case Studies
Governing Education in a Complex World
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) webpage
Find out more on Governing Complex Education Systems (GCES)
Photo credit: flat 3d isometric design of e-learning concept@Shutterstock

Complex mathematics isn’t for everyone (but maybe it should be)

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

Put a complicated algebraic equation or geometry problem in front of a 15-year-old student (or, for that matter, just about anyone) and you can almost see the brain at work: I. Can’t. Do.This.

Most of us have found ourselves in this situation at one point or another. But many students, particularly students from disadvantaged backgrounds, have never seen these kinds of mathematics problems; their teachers have decided they’re not up to the challenge.  Some might call these students “lucky”; but this month’s PISA in Focus argues otherwise.

Results from PISA 2012 show that while weaker students report higher anxiety when confronted with complex mathematics problems, if their teachers work with them individually, without “dumbing down” the mathematics lesson, these students tend to develop more positive beliefs in their own abilities to solve mathematics problems.
PISA 2012 finds that, on average across OECD countries, about 70% of students attend schools where teachers believe that it is best to adapt academic standards to students’ capacities and needs. Teachers in disadvantaged schools are more likely than those in advantaged schools to agree that the content of instruction should be adapted to what students can do. In Germany, for example, 51% of principals of disadvantaged schools reported that teachers are willing to adapt their standards, while only 13% of principals of advantaged schools reported so.
Most of these teachers choose to adapt their instruction to their students’ abilities because they want to be sure that all students can follow the lessons. But differentiating course content, based on students’ abilities, could deny low achievers access to the same learning opportunities that their higher-achieving peers enjoy. And that, in turn, could lead to the same kind of segregation of low-performing students that is the usual result of early tracking or grade repetition.
The best way to avoid this outcome is to offer struggling students individual support so that they can “catch up” with the rest of the class – and gain some self-confidence along the way. If teachers believe that some differentiation is necessary, they can opt to use teaching methods that do not segregate weak students further, such as making students work in groups that are frequently reconfigured on the basis of students’ needs and progress.
We may not all be born mathematicians, but we all need to learn how to work hard and persevere to achieve our goals – whether those are solving difficult equations or writing a novel or repairing a car engine. We all need to be challenged – and we all, from time to time, need guidance and support from teachers who can help us meet those challenges.

PISA in Focus No. 65: Should all students be taught complex mathematics? by Mario Piacentini
Equations and Inequalities: Making Mathematics Accessible to All
Find out more about
Photo credit:  Male teacher writing various high school maths and science formula on whiteboard@Shutterstock