“Digital literacy will probably be the only kind of literacy there is”

Interview with Matthew D’Ancona, political columnist for the Guardian and the New York Times
by Marilyn Achiron, Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

“Learning how to navigate the web with discernment is the most pressing cultural mission of our age.” So asserts Matthew D’Ancona, political columnist for the Guardian and the New York Times, in his timely and passionately argued new book, Post-Truth: The War on Truth and How to Fight Back. D’Ancona writes that he sees his book as an exploration of “the declining value of truth as society’s reserve currency” and asks: “So what happens when lies not only proliferate but also seem to matter less – or even not at all?” We met with D’Ancona in June, when he spoke at the OECD Forum in Paris.

Marilyn Achiron: How can schools help educate young people to be able to tell fact from fiction when they’re using the Internet?

Matthew D’Ancona: It’s a bit like be given a car without being taught to drive, isn’t it? Kids have access to digital devices from a very early age. You can be sure that, in a classroom of 7- or 8-year-olds, a good few of them will already have access to the Internet; perhaps more, and perhaps younger. I think digital literacy should be taught as a separate subject, and I would teach it from the age of 5. At the moment, it’s basically left to parents to decide how they police their children on line. But we’re living in a transitional era, where a lot of parents don’t know what is on line. Many of them may have become comfortable with e-mail and perhaps even have a Facebook page, but perhaps they don’t understand how deep and wide the Internet is. So there is a definite role for formal education in this. And to me, it’s a no-brainer. One of the basic tasks of education in any system is to teach children how to read a text. First, how to read it, and then, as they grow older, how to understand it.

At the moment, schools treat the Internet as if it was just another tool, as a means of writing essays on their laptops or going to Google. But there’s very little attempt to encourage kids to say: “When I go to this website or access social media, how can I be sure that it’s reliable?” I think it should be instilled in kids from a very early age that the Internet is an unbelievably powerful tool and it can be powerful in the best possible ways; but it can also be a kind of engine of falsehood. I don’t think you can expect children to know that instinctively any more than you can expect them to understand Shakespeare or Proust instinctively. It’s something that is taught; it’s a skill. The difficulty is, at the moment, there isn’t a very large cohort of teachers who have those skills. So one of things governments will have to do is legislate and devote resources to training teachers how to do this…We are preparing our children for a future where digital literacy will probably be the only kind of literacy there is.

MA: We seem to be living in a culture of lying. People lie on social media, they lie on their CVs…

MD’A: It’s become easier to lie. Anonymity and physical distance have enabled people to lie. It’s extremely easy on social media to create an entirely illusory self. And people find a kind of therapeutic value in that. Of course it’s enormously dangerous. At its extreme version, it can be used for the most appalling manipulations of children, for instance.

MA: Is it because parents and teachers are not teaching the value of the truth anymore?

MD’A: I don’t think teachers have failed; I just think the task has become infinitely more difficult. It goes back to the whole question of digital literacy. It is terrifying to me that Holocaust denial has become so prevalent again. When you look back at the past 30 years, there was the famous trial of David Irving that was meant to be the great drawing-of-a-line under that: Holocaust denial had been taken to court and destroyed. But it’s still around – and, arguably, reaching more peole than ever because [David Irving] is now an online icon for these people. That’s another reality: with the Internet, nothing is settled; you have to be permanently vigilent.

I think that what will happen, as in years past, is that we’ll see almost a consumerist approach to information, which I think is very sensible. We’ll opt more and more for Kitemarks* and validations: “this website is realiable; you can trust this”. In the UK, you have Which?, the consumer association; for restaurants, you have the Michelin guide. It’s not difficult to establish trusted forms of vetting. I think that bigger and more adventurous examples of that, crowdfunded or even possibly even publicly funded, will be essential, so that there is a Kitemark on the top of websites saying “this website has been judged”…. But this requires people to take the time; and the problem is where 10 or 20 years ago you’d be talking about hundreds of media brands, you’re now talking about millions of webpages. That’s the difficulty. But you have to start somewhere, and I think the good can drive out the bad.

Links
OECD Forum 2017
Schools should teach pupils how to spot 'fake news', by Sean Coughlan, BBC, 18 March 2017.

* The British Standards Institution’s Kitemark is a “quality mark [that] confirms that a product or service has been thoroughly tested and checked, time and again, and proven to meet a recognised industry standard or need. It’s a voluntary mark manufacturers and service industries use to demonstrate safety, reliability and quality”.

Photo credit: @shutterstock 

People on the move: growing mobility, increasing diversity

by Marc Fuster
Consultant, Directorate for Education and Skills

In August 2015, a newspaper published a story about Sam Cookney’s commute to work. Pretty boring, one would think, as long commutes are nothing new for most of us. However, Sam’s story is not so common. He works in London and commutes, several times per month, from Barcelona!

International human mobility is on the rise. Increasing numbers of people are regularly coming and going across borders, and societies are growing increasingly diverse as a result. This raises some important questions. How can we ensure public services are accessible to a more diverse population? How can we ensure that respectful communication across languages and cultures is supported in society? A new Trends Shaping Education Spotlight discusses how education can be harnessed to tackle these questions and other implications of increasing mobility and diversity.

We know that students thrive in learning environments that are supportive of their needs regardless of their linguistic, cultural and ethnic background. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has consistently shown that on average students from migrant backgrounds tend to have lower levels of educational achievement in reading, maths and science. Data from PISA 2015 illustrates the achievement gap in science is above 50 score points on average across OECD countries, although in some countries, such as Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand, no substantial differences are observed.  As argued by the OECD elsewhere, proficiency in the language of instruction at school is crucial for migrant students’ academic performance and social integration.

In addition to academic outcomes, attributes such as tolerance, global-mindedness, and skills in collaborative problem solving and communication are of growing importance for individuals to live and work effectively in multicultural settings. All students need opportunities to develop and practice global competence, which refers to the acquisition of in-depth knowledge and understanding of global and intercultural issues; the ability to learn from and live with people from diverse backgrounds; and the attitudes and values that support respectful interactions with others.

Therefore, improving the capacity of teachers to work effectively in diverse classrooms is necessary to respond to student’s needs and facilitate the development of global competence. Teachers need to be able to assess students’ prior knowledge and skills, master different instructional approaches, and increase their knowledge of second language development to better support the learning of all pupils. There is a need for professional development in this area: about 13% of participants in the 2013 OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) reported a high level of need for professional development in teaching in multicultural or multilingual settings.

Beyond the classroom, schools can contribute to building an environment that reflects and celebrates diversity by adapting certain cultural and organisational elements. Ensuring equal opportunities for participation in school activities for all students is central to building a culture of non-discrimination. Another approach is to ensure diversity in the schools’ staff composition.

Furthermore, many families need support in navigating education system structures to find and harness opportunities to support the development of their children. They may want their children to access mother tongue education programmes, for example, which are available in different forms across many OECD countries. Parents may even directly contribute to these initiatives by undertaking teaching or learning support roles. Actively involving them and the wider community can make a difference.

Finally, education systems need to be flexible to adapt to multiple migration processes and circumstances. This includes voluntary, more temporary migration of workers and students, but also forced mobility resulting from political and environmental conflicts. Education systems need to be responsive and equipped to address the needs of children arriving later than the academic year starts, young adults changing countries in various stages of their education, or those that have left their countries under the most adverse conditions, such as natural disasters, war or persecution.

Perhaps, not many people will voluntarily commute 1200 km as Sam does. Nevertheless, mobility- and diversity-proofing our education systems should be one of our top priorities if we want to give our children an equal opportunity to reach their full potential in our new diverse world.

Links
Trends Shaping Education 2016
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) 
Immigrant Students at School: Easing the Journey towards Integration
Language in a Better World: Learning for Better Cultural Understanding
Educating Teachers for Diversity: Meeting the Challenge

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Can bullying be stopped?

by Mario Piacentini
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

The latest PISA in Focus tells some basic facts about bullying. First, bullying is widespread. Second, all types of students – boys and girls, rich and poor – face some risk of being bullied. Third, bullying is strongly associated with low performance and psychological distress. Fourth, the quality of the school climate is related to the incidence of bullying at school.

Reports of bullying are alarmingly high in almost every country. Some 4% of students across OECD countries reported that they are hit or pushed around by other students at least a few times per month. Another 8% of students reported they are hit or pushed a few times per year. Around 8% of students reported that they are frequently the object of nasty rumours in school. Physical bullying is less common among girls, but girls are more often victims of more subtle forms of harassment, such as nasty rumours, that can be just as harmful as more visible types of violence. Recently arrived immigrant students are often the target of bullies.

Bullied students are more likely to underperform at school, and schools where bullying is more frequent perform at much lower levels in PISA than schools where bullying is less frequent, even after accounting for other student characteristics, such as socio-economic status. As in general for analysis based on PISA data, we cannot really talk about a causal impact. However, results from PISA confirm a rich body of evidence showing that the stress experienced by victims of physical or relational bullying can lead to anxiety, and in some cases depression, and makes it very hard for victims to concentrate on school tasks and perform well at school.
 
The basic message is clear: we must do more to reduce bullying in schools. With cyberbullying on the rise, action is more urgent today than it has ever been. But can bullying be stopped? Evidence shows that it is possible to considerably reduce the incidence of bullying. PISA data suggest that environmental factors, such as the attitudes and behaviour of the teaching staff, can influence the extent to which bullying problems will manifest themselves in school. Schools where teachers can keep the class quiet when they teach, and where students perceive they are treated fairly by their teachers, have a lower incidence of bullying than schools with a poor disciplinary climate and negative teacher-student relations. Reducing the incidence of bullying is thus easier in a school environment characterised by warmth, attention and interest from adults; firm limits on unacceptable behavior; and adults who act as authorities and positive role models.

Creating a school culture that helps curb bullying requires a whole-school approach, with co-ordinated engagement among school staff, students and parents. Several of the anti-bullying programmes that have proved to be successful (such as the KiVA initiative in Finland or the School Learning Environment Plan in the Spanish province of Castilla y Leon) include training for teachers on how to handle bullying behaviour and its associated group processes, anonymous surveys of students to monitor the prevalence of bullying, and strategies to provide information to and engage with parents. Programmes also need to be long-term, and frequently monitored and evaluated to be effective.

Bullying will not disappear any time soon; but with a joint effort by schools, parents and students, going to school can become a healthier and happier experience. Public policy can support the implementation of anti-bullying programmes at schools and facilitate more research and evaluations to increase the effectiveness of these programmes.

Links
PISA in Focus No. 74: How much of a problem is bullying at school? 
PISA 2015 Results (Volume III) – Students' Well-Being
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
Follow the conversation on twitter: #OECDPISA

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Do countries pay their teachers enough?

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

Teachers enter the profession for a variety of reasons. Intrinsic motivations that have to do with the nature of the job and the intangible rewards associated with being an effective teacher play an important role. Yet when comparing a teaching career with similarly rewarding professions, the primary and secondary working conditions and material benefits probably come into play as well. To improve the quality of the candidates for teacher-training programmes and to keep them motivated to enter – and stay – in the profession, it is essential to offer competitive pay.
For many years Education at a Glance has been tracking and monitoring the salaries of teachers, comparing them across countries and over time. A new Education Indicators in Focus brief has brought together the available data in order to chart the evolution of teachers’ salaries over the past ten years. The data clearly show that, in several countries, teachers’ salaries have suffered from the impact of the financial and economic crisis that started in 2008, and from austerity policies and fiscal constraints in recent years. In one-third of the countries with available data, mainly European countries, teachers’ statutory salaries decreased in real terms between 2005 and 2014. But in countries with no similar decreases, teachers’ salaries also did not keep up with pay rises in other professions or public services. In countries with severe budgetary difficulties, it was expected that funding for education would be reduced too; but in doing so governments might have put the long-term quality of the teaching profession at risk.
In troubled labour markets teachers might put job stability and security, or secondary benefits and working conditions first, while accepting less-favourable salaries. At the same time, high-potential graduates might look for better opportunities outside the teaching profession. Lowering salaries in the context of economic downturn and increasing unemployment thus might have an impact on the quality of the candidates seeking to enter the teaching profession and those teachers who are deciding whether or not to remain in the profession. And that could have long-term consequences for the education system in general and for students in particular.
The interesting question is how teachers’ salaries now compare with those of similarly educated professionals. The chart above compares the average actual salaries of teachers in different levels of education against the average salary of a tertiary-educated 25-64 year-old professional who works full time. The data is from 2014, when the worst of the economic downturn was over and recovery had kicked off. The data can be influenced by the differences in teachers’ ages, since in most countries teachers’ salaries increase almost automatically with seniority; but they do provide a fairly accurate basis for comparison. 
The conclusion is straightforward: in the large majority of countries actual teachers’ salaries lose out against those of competing professions. On average across OECD countries, pre-primary teachers’ actual salaries amount to only 74% of the earnings of a tertiary-educated worker. Primary teachers are paid 81% of these benchmark earnings, lower secondary teachers 85% and upper secondary teachers 89%. In only five countries do the salaries of the best-paid teachers exceed those of other professionals.
The chart also shows that the differences in teachers’ pay related to which level of education they teach are significant. In many countries teachers in lower levels of education are paid less than those in upper secondary education. This can be partly explained by differences in the length and qualification level of initial teacher-education programmes or differences in how salaries evolve over the different levels of education. And the gaps are large, adding to the lack of competitiveness of the salaries of teachers in lower levels of education. In recent years, the gaps have narrowed, mainly because of increases in teachers’ salaries at these levels of education; but they are still wider than the pay gap between tertiary-educated professionals and upper secondary teachers.  
In many countries, policies that affect teachers have been given high priority in education policy development – and rightly so: governments realise that to achieve high quality, efficiency and equity in education, improving the quality of the profession is key. Countries also want to improve the attractiveness of the teaching profession, and the quality of teacher education and professional development. The definition of “teacher” is slowly evolving too: a teacher is increasingly seen as an autonomous professional capable of making decisions in varied and complex conditions. But it is hard to see how policies that aim to upgrade the teaching profession – essentially, recognising teachers as the professionals they are – can succeed without raising teachers’ pay at the same time. Governments should not expect that prospective and current teachers will remain content with just the intangible incentives and rewards that traditionally come with teaching. Like every other professional, teachers deserve to be paid a salary that is commensurate with their training and experience. The war for talent is also fought with money.
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Chart source: OECD, Table D3.2a. See Annex 3 for notes (http://www.oecd.org/education/education-at-a-glance-19991487.htm)