Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Good fences make good neighbours

by Oscar Valiente
Consultant, OECD Directorate for Education

‘Good fences make good neighbors’ says Robert Frost’s protagonist in ‘’Mending wall’. Frost himself was not so sure. Barriers in education – like barriers between people - are not what cities and regions need in our time: rather what they need is better collaboration between the vocational and the university sectors for social and economic development. A very good example of this is the area of lifelong learning. Lifelong learning does not fit well with a system based on barriers and divisions even when they are pragmatic and blurred. Learners need to move from one sector to another in different moments of their life and tertiary education systems don’t always allow that.

Vocational and the university sectors can collaborate through updating and upgrading workers’ skills in firms, sharing business links for apprenticeships and internships, establishing dual programmes with the business sector, to name but a few. The range of possibilities for collaboration is very large and it goes from lifelong learning and skills development to creating partnerships to boost innovation in their cities and regions.

Institutional divisions between vocational and university education are unlikely to disappear, but the OECD through its reviews on Higher Education for Regional and City development provides international evidence of increased blurring of the boundaries.  Last week we jointly hosted an International Seminar on the “Collaboration between Vocational and University Education for Regional Development”  in San Sebastian  in Spain.  During the seminar we had the opportunity to see that some experts still claim a clear separation between institutions providing vocational skills and institutions providing academic knowledge, which has been traditionally the role of universities. In contrast, and during the same seminar, practitioners, policymakers and the business sector pushed universities to play other roles and to collaborate with other stakeholders.

Universities today need to be prepared to leave the ivory tower. The capacity to compete in the global knowledge economy depends on whether countries and regions can collaborate together meet the demand for high-level skills. There is room for the pines as well as for the apple orchard.


Photo: OECD/IMHE International Seminar “Collaboration between Vocational and University Education: Building Partnerships for Regional Development.” Left to right: Bernard HUGONNIER, Deputy-Director for Education, OECD; Isabel CELAÁ, Basque Minister of Education, Universities and Research, Basque Country; Iñaki GOIRIZELAIA, Rector of the University of the Basque Country, ES; Màrius RUBIRALTA, General Secretary for Universities, Ministry of Education, ES; Cristina URIARTE, University of the Basque Country, ES.  Credit: UPV/EHU University of Basque Country.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What’s in children's school bags?

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Indicators and Analysis Division, Directorate for Education

The textbook in your or your child’s backpack: who decided it was the best one to use? And does it matter to your or your child’s success in school if that decision is taken by your school or by your government? The latest edition of PISA in Focus looks into how those issues relate to learning outcomes.

For example, school systems that grant individual schools autonomy in defining curricula, which can include determining which courses are offered, the content of those courses and the textbooks used to teach that material, tend to show better student performance overall, even after accounting for national income. Data from PISA 2009 show that the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the partner economy Macao-China grant their schools the greatest autonomy in these matters, while schools in Greece, Turkey and the partner countries Jordan and Tunisia have the least autonomy in these matters.

Within countries, though, the relationship isn’t as clear-cut, as school systems may grant individual schools more or less autonomy for a wide variety of reasons. So just because a school might have the responsibility of creating its own curriculum and choosing its own textbooks does not automatically mean that its students will perform better on PISA reading tests than students in a school that doesn’t.

A closer look at PISA results reveals another interesting twist in the school autonomy-student performance tale: while there is no clear relationship between autonomy in resource allocation (how a school raises and spends its money) and performance, there is a positive, albeit weak, relationship between the two in those school systems where most schools post student achievement data publicly. In these instances, it’s the combination of the school system’s accountability policies (in this case, having schools publicly disclose information about student performance) and school autonomy that is associated with slightly better student performance. Some 37% of students across OECD countries attend schools whose principals reported that they make achievement data available to the public; in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the partner countries Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, more than 80% of students attend schools that do so.

So while the analyses of PISA results can’t offer a simple equation, like school autonomy + accountability = better student outcomes, they can suggest the ways in which schools are governed, and the policies they put in practice, that are most strongly associated with better student performance. In effect, that textbook in your or your child’s backpack embodies a set of policies that could weigh a student down or help him or her soar.

For more on PISA, go to the website: http://www.pisa.oecd.org/

Photo credit: © Exactostock / SuperStock

Friday, October 14, 2011

Chinese lessons

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

While in China last month for the launch of the first Chinese edition of Education at a Glance, I had the privilege of spending half a day in one of the experimental schools in Shanghai that is developing and piloting the next generation of the provinces educational reforms. Shanghai, among today’s top performers in PISA serves, in turn, as a pilot for China’s educational future.

The previous wave of reforms in Shanghai had focused on professionalising education and disseminating good practice through a system of empowered and networked schools. Those established the capacity of the education system to attracted the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and the most capable school leaders to the most disadvantaged schools. The new reforms are now intended to produce innovative approaches to pedagogy and personalised learning experiences. The aim is to offer a more flexible curriculum while avoiding the pitfalls that are familiar to students and teachers in the West. Students in our countries, for example, can sometimes feel overwhelmed and lost amid a great selection of courses and may opt for courses that either do not make use of or hone their talents or that help them to avoid demanding work.

This includes an intensive process of individual career counselling, where students can express and explore their interests in projects. Teams of teachers then match these student wish-lists against professional assessments of students’ strengths. This is all done systematically and is carefully monitored to determine whether and how the process can work on a far larger scale. For example, the experimental school I visited is required to replicate its efforts in seven of its empowered schools.

The Chinese are investing substantial resources in these reforms and are prepared to invest even more later on when they are disseminated more broadly throughout the education system. This investment, and the ways in which students expressed themselves and discussed their ideas about their education, were very different from what I had seen and heard in Chinese schools before. What is evident now is that the Chinese system is well beyond playing catch-up with world-class standards; quite simply, China is designing its own educational future.

If I had any doubts that China is “going global” at breakneck speed, they were dispelled when, on my way to the municipal office, I encountered a group of pre-school children who all wanted to speak with me in English. When I asked my hosts about this later, they said that their vision was to prepare every pupil for a global economy. They seem well on their way to achieving this goal.

More about Education at a Glance: www.oecd.org/edu/eag2011
How China is winning the school race, by Yojana Sharma, BBC News, 11 October 2011
Chinese students learn from PISA, OECD Insights

Photo: Andreas Schleicher with schoolchildren in Shanghai, PRISMA Film

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Making bullying prevention a priority in Finnish schools

by Christina Salmivalli
Professor of Psychology at the University of Turku, Finland

Worldwide, an average of 10% of children and youth are targets of on-going negative treatment by their peers at school. 

Bullying is aggressive, harmful behavior which is targeted repeatedly at one and the same individual. Apart from its repeated nature, bullying can be differentiated from occasional conflicts or fights in another respect as well: it occurs between children who are unequal in their strength, power, or social status (for instance, a physically stronger or older child harassing a younger/weaker peer; several children mocking one target; a self-confident child attacking someone who is very shy and socially anxious and thus finds it difficult to stand up for him/herself; or a highly popular child harassing someone who is viewed negatively in the peer group). Due to such inequalities, bullying has also been called systematic abuse of power. Bullying often takes place in the school context, not because that would be an environment that especially invites, or creates bullying problems, but simply because that’s where children spend a lot of time together: as coming to school is not voluntary, you cannot stay away even if you are not treated well.

According to PISA studies, Finnish 15-year-olds are among the best in reading literacy, mathematical literacy, problem solving, and scientific literacy . However, in Finland, as in many other countries worldwide, bullying has been a concern for several decades.  Early attempts to reduce bullying included awareness-raising and legal requirements for schools to develop antibullying policies. These actions were not, however, enough to change the prevalence rates of children and youth who were bullying others or themselves victimized.

In 2006, The Finnish Ministry of Education made a contract with the University of Turku concerning the development and evaluation of a national antibullying program that would provide educators concrete tools to address bullying. The KiVa Antibullying Program was developed and evaluated in a stringent study including 134 schools representing all provinces of Finland. The findings were strikingly positive, showing that KiVa not only reduced bullying and victimization significantly, but also improved school liking, academic motivation, and academic performance, and reduced anxiety and depression among students. KiVa is now implemented in 90% of Finnish schools providing comprehensive education. Feedback from schools has been extremely positive, and KiVa seems to be effective in reducing not only traditional, but also more modern forms of bullying such as ‘cyberbullying’ occurring via modern communication technologies, such as mobile phones or the Internet.

KiVa has received a lot of international attention. In 2009, the program won the European Crime Prevention Award. As the program developers have received numerous requests about implementing KiVa abroad, the University of Turku now sells licences to international partners wishing to disseminate the program in their countries. Evaluation studies testing the effectiveness of the program are starting in the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States. 

Reducing bullying is an important goal in itself,, but it also has numerous beneficial effects on the general well-being, school liking, and academic motivation of all students. The Finnish example shows how joint efforts from the part of politicians, researchers, and schools can lead to significant improvements in the everyday lives of numerous children and youth.

About the author
Christina Salmivalli has been conducting school based bullying research for over 20 years and is a leading international researcher in this area. She is the principal investigator in the project developing and evaluating the national KiVa Antibullying Program in Finland. She has published numerous international research articles, reviews, and book chapters on the topic of school bullying, and she has been leading several large-scale projects funded by Finnish and European funding organizations.

Photo credit: A1 Media/Mika Kurkilahti. © KiVa project.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Celebrating teachers and new ones at that!

by Julie Belanger
Analyst, OECD, Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

World Teachers' Day, held every year on 5 October, was started by UNESCO in 1994. Today, 18 years later (long enough for a generation to have started and completed school), we join our colleagues in celebrating teachers the world over.

The aim of World Teachers' Day is to mobilise support for teachers to ensure that the needs of future generations will continue to be met.

Of all the school factors that can influence students’ achievement, teachers in the classroom have by far the biggest impact. Recruiting, retaining, and developing effective teachers is therefore critical to the needs of future students and a priority in all school systems world wide. Our OECD programme, Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) helps to inform these policy priorities by examining the ways in which teachers’ work is recognised, appraised and rewarded.

TALIS also assesses the degree to which teachers’ professional development needs are being met. It provides insights into the beliefs and attitudes about teaching that teachers bring to the classroom and the pedagogical practices they adopt.

Recognising the important role that school leadership plays in fostering an effective teaching and learning environment, TALIS describes the role of school leaders and examines the support that they give their teachers.

The first cycle of TALIS (TALIS 2008) was so successful with data gathered for 24 countries across four continents that a second cycle is currently under preparation (TALIS 2013). More than 30 countries have now joined the programme (and still counting!), including Australia, Belgium Fl., Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada (Alberta), Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, UAE (Abu Dhabi), United Kingdom (England) and the United States.

But back to teachers, we are excited about a forthcoming report on the working lives of lower-secondary teachers in the first two years of their careers (new teachers). This report comes out of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2008. It takes a look at:
  • The importance of new teachers
  • The schools where new teachers work
  • Support and development initiatives for new teachers
  • The work of new teachers
  • Effectiveness of new teachers, and
  • Policy implications
With a focus on differences between the experiences of new and experienced teachers, the report helps readers understand the unique challenges new teachers face and grasp important policy implications.

A report for teachers, parents and policy makers alike, we look forward to sharing it with you in the weeks to come. Bookmark it here and follow us on twitter at @OECD_Edu to find out when it is released.

Happy World Teachers' Day, everyone!

Related links
Experience of New Teachers, to be released soon
OECD work on education

Photo credits: © Mike Kemp/Rubberball Productions/Getty Images
© Laurence Mouton/PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections/Inmagine ltb.