Have emerging Latin American countries chosen quantity over quality in education?

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

Developing human capital is an integral part of economic growth and social progress. Mature, developed economies in Europe, North America and Australasia expanded their education and skills systems mainly after the Second World War in a context of unbridled economic prosperity and the modernisation of their social and political institutions. The conditions were favourable for increasing the share of tertiary-educated workers, ensuring that upper secondary education gradually became the minimum level of educational achievement for large parts of the population, and for reducing the numbers of people without an upper secondary education. These countries also benefitted from the luxury of time. It took OECD countries 30 years, on average, to halve the share of people without an upper secondary education – from 32% among current 55-64 year-olds to 16% among 25-34 year-olds.

Conditions have not been as auspicious elsewhere. Consider Latin America. As shown in the chart above – taken from the most recent Education Indicators in Focus brief on educational attainment and investment in education in Ibero-American countries – the progress made in Chile, Colombia and Brazil between the two generations, separated by the same 30 years, is more than double the OECD average. In contrast, over 50% of 25-34 year-olds in both Costa Rica and Mexico lack an upper secondary education.

The chart also offers a comparison with Spain and Portugal, with which these Latin American countries share language, history and culture. Despite their location on the European continent and their integration in the European Union, both countries do not compare favourably with their counterparts in the Ibero-American world. Still, over the past 30 years, Portugal has made impressive progress in catching up to attainment levels observed in most other European countries.

These achievements are remarkable; but the obvious question is: has this change in educational attainment been matched with a similar rise in skills? Put another way: has the quality of education and learning outcomes been maintained during a time of massive expansion? As shown by the latest results from the Survey of Adult Skills for Chile – the only Ibero-American country that participated in the survey apart from Spain – 25-34 year-olds scored around 50 points higher in literacy then 55-64 year-olds did – a significant difference that is also larger than that observed in most other participating countries. However, the level of literacy proficiency remains relatively low. The younger cohort scored around 235 points, on average, on the literacy scale, while the OECD average score is around 280 points. Even with an educational attainment level close to the OECD average, the actual level of literacy skills among these younger adults is significantly lower than the OECD average. Chilean 16-24 year-olds who have upper secondary education or who are still in education scored around 235 points in literacy – which is far below all of the other participating countries and economies, except Jakarta in Indonesia.

Even if limited to one country, these data suggest that achieving impressive growth in educational attainment in emerging Latin American countries is not sufficient – and, in fact, can be deceptive. The real challenge is to improve the quality of education so that young people leave the system equipped with the skills that their economies and societies need to foster sustainable progress. The scores on the PISA 2015 reading assessment (which measures the skills of 15-year-olds) for Colombia (425 points), Mexico (423 points) and Brazil (407 points) – all well below the score for Chile (459 points) – suggest that the challenges implicit in maintaining quality are even greater among those other emerging Latin American countries.

The shift in focus from access and attainment to quality of learning embodied in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal for education, agreed upon by the whole world, is thus very timely and much needed. The emerging economies of the world, and the developing countries in their wake, should do more than just bridge the gap with the developed world in formal education levels; they should ensure that young adults emerge from their education systems with skills that matter. The price to be paid for neglecting this political imperative is disillusion among young people when their qualifications do not deliver on their promises, and ultimately stalled economic growth and thwarted social progress.

Education Indicators in Focus No. 50: Educational attainment and investment in education in Ibero-American countries
Skills in Ibero-America: Insights from PISA 2012
Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators
PISA 2015 Results

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Education
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Chart source: OECD, Education at a Glance (database), http://stats.oecd.org

Empowering teachers to improve equity and inspire learning

by Andreas Schleicher 
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Fáilte! Welcome to the International Summit on the Teaching Profession 

The expectations for teachers are high and rising each day. We expect teachers to have a deep understanding of what they teach and to keep up with the rapidly expanding knowledge base; to be passionate, compassionate and thoughtful; to make learning central and encourage students’ engagement and responsibility; to respond effectively to students of different needs, backgrounds and mother tongues, and to promote tolerance and social cohesion; to provide continual assessments of students and feedback; and to ensure that students feel valued and included and that learning is collaborative. We also expect teachers themselves to collaborate and work in teams, and with other schools and parents, to set common goals, and plan and monitor the attainment of goals collaboratively. And there is more to this: Successful learners generally had a teacher who was a mentor and took a real interest in their aspirations, who helped students understand who they are, discover what their passions are and where they can capitalise on their specific strength; who taught them how to love to learn and to build effective learning strategies as the foundation for lifelong learning.

All of this is easy to say, hard to do. But one thing is clear, where teachers are not part of the design of effective policies and practices, they won’t be effective in their implementation. Education needs to do more to create a teaching profession that owns its professional practice. When teachers feel a sense of ownership over their classrooms and their profession, when students feel a sense of ownership over their learning, that is when productive learning takes place. And when teachers assume that ownership, it is difficult to ask more of them than they ask of themselves. So the answer is to strengthen trust, transparency, professional autonomy and the collaborative culture of the profession all at the same time.

The International Summit on the Teaching Profession, which brings together Ministers and Union leaders of the best performing and most rapidly improving education systems each year, has proved the ideal platform to move the search for effective teacher policies and practices forward. And one of the secrets of the success of the Summit has been that it explores difficult and controversial issues on the basis of sound evidence, provided by the OECD as global leader for internationally comparable data and analysis.

The OECD’s most recent report, Empowering and Enabling Teachers to Improve Equity and Outcomes for All, supports these discussions by looking at how high-performing education systems learn to adapt, providing teachers with the necessary tools to help students develop new sets of skills in a rapidly changing landscape.

The 2017 International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP 2017)
ISTP Summit Background report: Empowering and Enabling Teachers to Improve Equity and Outcomes for All  by Montserrat Gomiendo, Deputy Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
29-31 March in Edinburgh, Scotland
Archived webinar – Empowering and Enabling Teachers to Improve Equity and Outcomes for All (with Andreas Schleicher, Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills, OECD)
Follow on Twitter #ISTP2017

How inequalities in acquiring skills evolve

by Francesca Borgonovi
Senior Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Since 2000, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has been a key source of information on how well societies and education systems have equipped 15-year-old students with the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. However important this information is, most 15-year-old students can expect to stay in education or training for at least another three to four years after they are eligible to sit the PISA test; those who go on to complete higher degrees are looking at around another ten years of study. The tendency to devote more and more years to the development of skills through formal schooling, further education and training implies that the effectiveness of education and training systems should not be judged solely on how well 15-year-old students have mastered certain skills.

PISA data reveal large disparities in achievement not only across countries, but also within countries across different subgroups of students. In particular, compared to other students, students from socio-economically disadvantaged households score lower in the three core subjects considered in PISA: reading, mathematics and science. However, PISA by itself cannot identify how disparities in achievement evolve between the teenage years and young adulthood.

A new OECD working paper released today combines data from PISA and the Survey of Adult Skills to identify how socio-economic disparities in achievement evolve as students make the transition from compulsory schooling into further education, training or the labour market. In most countries, the socio-economic disparities in literacy and numeracy observed among 15-year-old students not only persist in young adulthood, but tend to widen.

Further education and participation in the labour market are crucial for acquiring skills after compulsory schooling. But socio-economically disadvantaged young people are considerably less likely than their more advantaged peers to attend post-secondary education and training, and are more likely to drop out of education without a secondary level qualification. They are also more likely to be unemployed or out of the labour force and to work in jobs that require little advanced, on-the-job training or practice of higher-order thinking skills.

Although it is not possible to establish causality, the data suggest that, once compulsory schooling is over, the opportunities available to young people to develop their skills diverge – in ways that are largely related to socio-economic status.

Adult Skills in Focus No. 5: Do socio-economic disparities in skills grow between the teenage years and young adulthood?
OECD Working Paper No. 155: Youth in Transition: How does the Cohort Participating in PISA Fare in PIAAC
PISA 2015 Results
Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)

Chart Source: OECD Survey of Adult Skills (2012, 2015), www.oecd.org/skills/piaac/publicdataandanalysis ; OECD PISA (2000, 2003), www.oecd.org/pisa/data/database-pisa2000.htm ; www.oecd.org/pisa/data/database-pisa2003.htm

Finding and cultivating talented teachers: Insights from high-performing countries

by Esther Carvalhaes
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills 

Teachers are the backbone of any education system. After all, without qualified teachers, how can governments and schools secure each child’s right to quality education and build a society of educated citizens, capable of shaping their own future?  But selecting the right candidates to the profession – aspiring teachers who hold the promise of becoming great teachers – can often feel like an elusive task. The complications start with the very definition of what a good teacher is.

In a rapidly changing world, having a strong knowledge base in their subject area, good classroom management skills and a commitment to helping students learn may no longer be enough to meet the expanding role of teachers. Nowadays, teachers are expected to teach diverse groups of students, adapt to new technologies and curricular changes, and be attuned to the skills, values and attitudes that their students will need in the near future. The reality is: most teachers develop those skills on the job, which makes it harder to predict from the outset who has the potential to become an effective teacher.

But that does not deter some PISA high-performing countries from keeping a close eye on the pool of candidates entering the profession. As this month’s PISA in Focus shows, in Finland, Hong Kong (China), Macao (China) and Chinese Taipei, for example, those who wish to enter a teacher training programme must pass a competitive entry examination. In Japan, it is not enough to receive training from such programmes: graduates must pass a competitive examination before they start teaching. In Singapore, recruitment starts by looking at the best students from the secondary school graduating class; in addition, teaching graduates must complete a probation period in order to teach. Yet, some of these requirements are also found in low-performing countries, showing that selection mechanisms alone are not enough to ensure a qualified teaching force.

Certification requirements add another quality checkpoint to the profession. Research shows that students learn more from teachers who are certified in the subject they teach compared to those taught by uncertified teachers. In PISA 2015, countries that performed above the OECD average in science have a higher percentage of fully certified teachers (92%) compared to other countries (76%), on average. In OECD countries, even though almost all teachers are certified, a modest but positive association is observed between the proportion of fully qualified teachers and student performance.

High-performing countries also know that great teaching may only occur after a good deal of practice, allowing teachers to deepen their knowledge base and skills. This is why professional development is critical, particularly school-based activities. In high-performing countries, at least 80% of students are in schools that invite specialists to conduct teacher training, organise in-service workshops or where teachers co-operate with each other, while only 40% to 60% of students in Algeria, Brazil, Kosovo and Turkey are in such schools. Within countries, teacher collaboration clearly pays off: students in schools where teachers co-operate by exchanging ideas or materials score higher in science. It makes sense: rather than sitting through hours of mandatory lectures that are only weakly connected to their day-to-day practice, teachers benefit more from learning from each other and from sharing “tried and tested” techniques that work in their own contexts, as TALIS results also show.

These are some of the ways in which countries boost teacher quality: they strive to attract the best candidates to the profession, but also foster a culture of continuous learning by engaging teachers in professional development and in peer networks to strengthen their knowledge and maintain high standards of teaching. Together with the ability to take work-related decisions, these form the pillars of a professional teacher workforce.

PISA in Focus No. 70: What do we know about teachers’ selection and professional development in high-performing countries?
PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education
Teaching in Focus No. 14: Teacher Professionalism

The 2017 International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP 2017)
29-31 March in Edinburgh, Scotland
Join a public webinar on Wednesday, 29 March, 12:00pm Europe Summer Time (Paris, GMT +02:00) with Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Education and Skills Directorate.
Follow on Twitter #ISTP2017

photo credit:friendly senior high school teacher helping students in classroom @shutterstock

Why do so many women want to become teachers?

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

It is well known that the share of women in the teaching force is growing. According to the latest Education Indicators in Focus brief, the average share of female teachers across OECD countries increased from 61% in 2005 to 65% in 2010 and to 68% in 2014, in all education levels combined. Around 82% of primary school teachers and 63% of secondary school teachers are women. Some policy makers see this trend as a cause for concern, citing, among other things, that the lack of male teachers and role models might play a role in the decline of learning outcomes among young boys. But it seems fair to say that few people would be concerned about a similarly skewed gender imbalance in other professions if it benefited men.

The statistics on the age distribution of male and female teachers show that the gender imbalance in the teaching profession will increase even more in the years to come. At the lower secondary level, women make up 70% of teachers under the age of 30, while they account for 65% of those aged 50 and over. This pattern is observed in 22 out of 35 countries with available data. The larger proportion of women among young teachers raises concerns about future gender imbalances at the lower levels of education, where women already dominate the profession.

Gender imbalances among teachers have a lot to do with gender stereotyping, and the power and prestige connected with certain occupations within the profession. This is seen in the smaller shares of female teachers in the higher levels of education, in (perceived) more prestigious fields of study and in leadership positions. Women fill only 43% of the jobs in tertiary education. In secondary school, women are less frequently found teaching science, mathematics and technology classes. And, on average across OECD countries, 68% of lower secondary teachers are women, but only 45% are principals. This is particularly striking given that principals tend to be recruited from among the ranks of teachers – suggesting that female teachers are less likely to be promoted to principal than their male counterparts. So, the large share of women in the teaching profession is, itself, skewed towards specific jobs: those at the bottom of the education pyramid and the bottom of the hierarchy of power.

So why, then, do so many women want to become teachers? Gender imbalances in teaching are the result of women’s conscious and strategic choices as much as of labour market conditions, social norms and cultural messages. In many countries, women’s increased participation in the labour market coincided with the need for more trained teachers in expanding education systems. Countries where female labour participation in general is low, like Japan, also have the smallest shares of female teachers. In addition, stereotypical views of teaching as a profession that, at times, resembles parenting, probably play a role, especially with younger generations of women who apparently value motherhood more than their own baby boom mothers did. Labour provisions that allow teachers to work part time and to flexibly combine work, family life and the care of one’s own children also seem to be more appealing to women.

But less well-known is that the salaries of teachers, as measured against the average wages of other tertiary-educated workers, are much more attractive for women than for men. As shown in the chart above, on average across OECD countries, male primary school teachers earn 71% of the wages of other tertiary-educated men. But female teachers earn a significantly higher relative wage. Women in primary education earn over 90% of the salaries of other tertiary-educated female workers. While men and women doing the same teaching job in public schools earn nearly the same, the relative value of their earnings in the professional labour market is strikingly different. This is probably why more women are interested in teaching, especially at the lower levels of education.

Paradoxically, introducing a greater gender balance into the teaching profession depends on the extent to which and the speed with which other sectors reduce gender gaps in earnings. But the education sector could do much more to ensure that women are promoted into leadership positions, and to end the stereotyping that prevents women from breaking the glass ceiling in specific subject areas and in universities. It could also do more to attract young men into teaching by offering them better career prospects and labour conditions that can make teaching a more competitive career choice, even if teachers’ salaries still lag behind those of other professionals.

Education Indicators in Focus No. 49: Gender imbalances to the teaching profession
Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators
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Chart source: OECD (2016), Education at a Glance (database)