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What is a school?

Posted by 440443 Mar 30, 2010


Learning does not occur in a vacuum.  But are traditional school buildings necessary?  Alastair Blyth, policy analyst at the OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments (CELE), explains how the financial crisis may lead us to change our ideas about what a school is and where effective learning takes place.




The 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti on 12 January 2010 damaged or destroyed 80% of educational infrastructure, killing 4000 students and 700 teachers in their schools[1]. The 8.8 magnitude earthquake and tsunami, which struck Chile on February 27 and occurred during the school vacation period, was the 5th strongest in the country’s history[2]. Education Minister Joaquin Lavin recently reported that earthquake damage to Chile’s schools is estimated at USD 2.1 billion, out of a total damage to infrastructure of up to USD 30 billion.[3]








Media reports comparing the two tragedies have noted that school buildings in Chile were much less badly affected because building codes were well developed and enforced, and lessons from past earthquakes have been learned.[4] In the future, as urban centres develop and populations grow, earthquakes will exact an even heavier toll on school children and schools, which are often used as emergency shelters. Work conducted in this area by the OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments (CELE), in collaboration with California-based NGO GeoHazards International, also shows that school buildings do not collapse due to lack of scientific understanding, but poor construction. And that is due in part to failure by governments to define and implement effective school earthquake safety programmes. Such programmes - which are described in the OECD Recommendation Concerning Guidelines on Earthquake Safety in Schools - are characterised by a means to establish clear lines of accountability; to develop and enforce modern building codes; to encourage community awareness and participation; to specify levels of seismic resistance in schools; to train professionals, builders and technicians; and to ensure independent oversight and long-term policy commitment by governments.




Good governance and building code enforcement will reduce the seismic vulnerability of schools and other public buildings, particularly in the health sector. In the wake of these terrible events, as children and families struggle to get on with their lives and reconstruction commences, governments must not underestimate the importance of developing systematic and enforceable school seismic safety programmes to mitigate the negative impact of future tragedies.



A UNESCO Forum on Haiti took place this week on the theme: "Rebuilding the social, cultural and intellectual fabric of Haiti", 24 March 2010

1. “In ruined Haiti schools, educators see opportunity”, Associated Press, 1 March 2010
2.  “Chile's earthquake-delayed school year begins”, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 8 March 2010
“Quake repairs on Chile’s educational infrastructure estimated at $2.1B”, Wall Street Journal, 12 March 2010

4.  “Chile and Haiti – A tale of two earthquakes”, Time, 28 February 2010; “Chile-Haiti earthquake comparison: Chile was more prepared”, Huffington Post, 27 February 2010



New OECD report on Higher Education in Egypt finds a mismatch between the needs of the job market and the education provided by the higher education system




Egypt’s higher education system is no longer meeting the needs of a relatively youthful population and diverse economy. This was one of the main findings of the a recent review of Higher Education in Egypt, published by the OECD in partnership with the World Bank Human Development Department of the Middle East and North Africa Region.









The review highlights the striking mismatch between the skills of college graduates and the needs of the job market in Egypt. This has consequences for the business sector, which has identified an inadequately trained workforce as the third most serious problem facing businesses in Egypt, after access to finance and bureaucratic inefficiency.









During times of economic crisis, education and technological advancement are vital. In comparison with other countries in the region, public spending on higher education in Egypt is relatively high. The Government of Egypt, along with relevant stakeholders, have been taking concrete steps to improve the higher education system as announced yesterday at The Declaration Conference on Higher Education in Egypt held at Cairo University.









The main issue, however, is the need for serious structural reform. A change in institutional culture, an increase in the capacity of the system, and an increase of resources to improve infrastructure are all needed to ensure a dynamic economy which is fit for the future. The next step is to provide greater autonomy to higher education institutions, particularly in matters of student selection, program design, and staff management. Successful reform of higher education must also be linked to ongoing improvement of primary and secondary schooling.


Without major reforms to its higher education system, the future economic and social progress of Egypt is jeopardised , and the relationship between qualified graduates and a dynamic job market will continue to remain a story of missed connections.





Want to know more? Curious about other countries? Check out OECD’s work on education in non-member economies

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