Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Inspiring education through great design

by Hannah von Ahlefeld
Analyst, OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments

In many parts of the world, schools have re-opened their doors after a long summer break. Like many parents, I was nervous about the first day of school. First impressions count. As we arrived, my kids remarked that the recently renovated Parisian suburb school looked attractive and welcoming. Inside the school, they noted the different learning spaces in the large open-plan classrooms. Students were moving quietly through the different activity areas, taking in their new surroundings and exchanging excited conversation with friends. “This looks like a fun place”, they remarked (concurring, exceptionally, and to my relief). “We like the brightly painted walls, and the cosy canteen and reading area. And we really love the pink toilets with the giant water fountain!”

OECD’s new publication Designing for Education: Compendium of Exemplary Educational Facilities 2011 is all about how design can create new and exciting opportunities for students, teachers, parents and communities. Opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of schools and promote environmental education. Opportunities to create a safe and secure environment for kids. Opportunities to inspire learning, improve the quality and inclusiveness of the learning environment, and bind schools and universities to their local communities. And opportunities to bring new technologies and dynamic pedagogies to the classroom.

The publication showcases over 60 exemplary schools and universities from 28 countries and includes examples of early childhood, primary, secondary, vocational and higher education facilities spanning countries in six continents, from India, Uruguay and Portugal, to Australia, United States and Burkina Faso. Published every five years, it reflects on what we have learned from the dynamic interplay between design and education over the last 40 years and on what could be possible in the next 40 years.

In these times of financial constraints, this publication is not a testament to iconic architecture or expensive state-of-the-art facilities. Investment in schools – through renovating, extending or constructing new schools - is a visible commitment to the community and a cost-effective way to revitalise local economies.

One of the best examples of this is Seven Fountains School in Kokstad, South Africa. This new school demonstrates the benefits of community involvement from the planning stage of the project. Local people were fully involved in the design and construction of the school, and they now make use of the facilities outside of school hours. There is a strong sense of community ownership, with high demand for places and no theft or vandalism of the property. Many of the design elements, such as the circular buildings and thatched roofs, reflect the local architecture. There are a variety of spaces for teaching and learning. Many classrooms have mezzanine or loft areas that provide breakaway spaces for creative teaching and for project work. Several features - such as sensors that measure room temperatures, light levels and energy consumption – act to reduce the environmental impact of the school, and they have been implemented at little or no extra cost.

To celebrate the launch of this publication, come along to the live webcast launch event and exhibition at the OECD Headquarters in Paris on the afternoon of 29 September 2011 or tune in to the webcast at http://webtv.oecd.org/.

Download a sneak preview of the Compendium
Full information on the Compendium: www.oecd.org/edu/facilities/compendiumlaunch
Website for the OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments
Follow us on twitter @ OECD_Edu  #CELE

Friday, September 23, 2011

Snowed under or crystal clear? Evaluating and assessing education outcomes in Norway

by Deborah Nusche and Claire Shewbridge
Policy Analysts,OECD Directorate for Education

Student tests, user surveys, data portals, inspection visits – educators in some countries may feel snowed under by measurement tools and not see how these should be useful for improvement. Yet, a winter visit to Norway revealed what can happen when a country sets out to build an evaluation and assessment system from scratch.

In 2004, Norway launched a national quality assessment system (NKVS) that aims to enhance student assessment, school evaluation and system evaluation in a connected way. A new OECD report takes stock of Norway’s progress and gives us the lowdown on what the country is doing well, and how it can get better.

The report is the outcome of an OECD review visit to Norway last December. In the midst of the Norwegian winter, the review team travelled to different regions of Norway to get behind formal descriptions of policies and explore the Norwegian approach in more depth. Beyond discussions with all the key stakeholder groups in Oslo, we visited municipalities and schools in different parts of the country to understand the perspectives of students, teachers and school leaders.

We were impressed by Norway’s drive to develop a nation-wide quality system while emphasising local ownership, trust in teachers’ professionalism and student voice and participation. In less than a decade, Norway has developed a range of tools intended to help schools and education authorities evaluate their performance and inform strategies for improvement. With the NKVS, Norway has a strong basis to develop a comprehensive national framework, while also giving local schools the ability to develop their own practices.

Moving forward, the OECD report identifies areas where Norway can make further progress. The following recommendations are helpful not just for Norway, but more generally to education policy makers everywhere:
  • Clearly communicate the distinct purposes of each element of the quality assessment system
  • Ensure that teacher appraisal is an important component of the framework
  • Develop a set of national reference points for evaluation and assessment, including:
  1. Guidance on expected learning outcomes
  2. A profile of what teachers should know and be able to do
  3. An agreed framework of process quality indicators for school evaluation
  • Invest in professional learning opportunities so all stakeholders can collect, analyse, and interpret evaluative information with a view to improve practices
The report also piggy backs on the OECD Improving Schools report which recommended that Norway “build a culture of evidence” and use this data strategically (a strategy that can be applied in many settings).  This most recent report picks up on this point and provides a more in-depth review of the national framework. 

We hope this report will help crystallise the great potential of the national quality assessment system so that all stakeholders can ski the slopes to improvement.

OECD Review of Evaluation and Assessment in Education: Norway
For more details on the OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education, go to the website:  www.oecd.org/edu/evaluationpolicy
Related blogs
"Australia’s challenge to balance accountability with improvement"
You don’t have to get bad to get better” by Norway’s Minister of Education, Kristen Halvorsen
Working together to improve lower secondary schools” by Beatriz Pont

Photo: OECD Review Team for Norway
from left to right: William Maxwell, Claire Shewbridge, Lorna Earl, Deborah Nusche

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Changing Landscape: University hotspots for science and technology

by Alessandra Colecchia
Head of Economic Analysis and Statistics at the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry

Where are all the hot spots for science education? You might guess the United States, where many of the esteemed Ivy Leagues call home. Indeed, 40 of the world’s top universities are in the US, excelling in a wide range of disciplines. Nevertheless, if you take a deeper look at the education landscape a more diverse picture emerges.

A recent OECD report, OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2011, showed some surprising results on trends in education, technology and science.  While the US remains the top performer in research and development (R&D), non-OECD countries are catching up fast, both in spending and number of researchers. In 2009, China became the second largest R&D performer. The UK plays a key role in top social science universities, with 16 of the top 50 universities, and higher education institutions in Asia are quickly becoming leading research institutions in the fields of science, engineering, and computer science.

The OECD report complements the recent research released last week from Education at a Glance. Among the vast amount of interesting facts on education around the world EAG showed that almost 50% of the world’s university grads come from only three countries: the US, China, and Japan. It also found that the largest numbers of international students worldwide are from China, India, and Korea. 

What does this mean and why is it important? As students and researchers become more mobile, new sets of elite universities outside of the US could materialize. Whether or not we call it the “Banyan” or “Bonsai” League is yet to be determined, but it is clear that OECD countries may no longer have the monopoly on scientific excellence in higher education.

Luckily for us, education is generally not a zero-sum game. When others gain important insights and breakthroughs in science and technology, the entire field benefits. So wherever you are in the world, you can wear your college sweatshirt with pride.

If you’re interested in the numbers, or just want to know more about how your country’s university is doing, check out the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2011.

Related links

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Education pays

Head of the Indicators and Analysis Division, OECD Directorate for Education

Today’s launch of Education at a Glance 2011 gives us a good opportunity to take stock of where education is today and where it might be headed. And as the OECD celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, this is also good moment to reflect on how education has evolved over the past half-century.

The first obvious development over the years has been the dramatic expansion of higher education around the world. In 1995, for example, the United States was the standard against which other countries measured their education output; today the US is considered an average performer because so many other countries have expanded higher education so much faster.

This expansion has had a significant impact on the global talent pool. Across 36 countries, some 39 million people near retirement age have university-level degrees; but among the age group now entering the work force, some 81 million people do. More countries are represented in this pool of highly educated adults, too. For example, China’s share has expanded from less than 7% among the older age group to 18% among those who have just entered the labour market – just 2 percentage points less than the US share of highly educated adults.

What’s driving this expansion? Higher education brings substantial economic benefits to both individuals and societies. On average across OECD countries, a person with a university-level education can expect to earn over 50% more than a person with an upper secondary education. Over his lifetime, a highly educated man in the OECD area can enjoy gross earnings of around USD 338,000 more than a man with a secondary school diploma. And the additional taxes and social contributions paid by graduates of higher education make investment in this level of education very profitable for the public, as well. 

In contrast, the penalties for not completing an upper secondary education can be severe – from substantially lower wages to a greater likelihood of being unemployed, particularly during tough economic times. On average across OECD countries, during the depths of the global downturn in 2008-09, unemployment rates among those with higher education have stayed at or below 4%, while unemployment rates among those with only lower secondary education breached the 10% level.

What emerges from all the data we offer in Education at a Glance – from tuition-fees policies to teachers’ salaries to what fields of education students choose to study – is the strong message that both public and private investment in education pays off, not just financially but also in the less-quantifiable ways that make societies great.

More about Education at a Glance
Go to the website: www.oecd.org/edu/eag2011
Follow us on twitter @ OECD_Edu  #OECDEAG
Download the stats, see EAG2011 navigator by country
Download the book

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ringing in a new (school) year

Early September marks the beginning of a new school year for children in the northern hemisphere (our friends in the southern hemisphere have been back to school for months now). It also marks the beginning for OECD educationtoday's new blog home here at oecdeducationtoday.blogspot.com.

Many of you know us at www.oecd.org/edu/educationtoday where for years now we have brought you the latest and greatest developments in education - in areas such as student performance, early childhood learning, online learning and more. Today, we are moving our blog to a new home, where we hope many more of you will find us, join us and tell us what you think.

We will continue to blog about hot topics in education around the globe and at OECD, bringing you an insider look at new findings in international student performance, skills, early childhood education, education innovation and more. Guest bloggers from within the OECD (including experts in the field) and from around the world (education ministers and education movers and shakers) will share their thoughts, listen to yours and respond to your questions and comments.

Next week look out for a post by Andreas Schleicher, all about OECD's Education at a Glance, our annual report on how countries around the world are measuring up inside and outside the classroom. You won't want to miss it!

There's nothing like having access to breaking and relevant thinking in your favourite field. Ours is education. You too? Sign up to receive our blogposts by email, join this site with Google Friend Connect, tweet out blogs you like (or those you don't) and keep coming back.

Now back to the pencil sharpeners, books and laptops ... a busy year lies ahead!
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Photo credit: © Creative Commons/Kaytee Riek