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Recent graduates face a dismal job market, however, the fastest growing job sectors don’t require a college degree. Many young people might be asking themselves:


Was it worth it?


For decades, economists have populated many a journal article on the effects of a college degree on wages. Countless studies have shown that an increased level of education has a positive effect on earnings. The big question is why? Is a college degree just a signal to employers that shows a person is willing to work hard in any context? You might not need to quote Nietzsche while making a spreadsheet, but hopefully you approach the project with the same attention to detail you did for a philosophy paper at University. Another argument claims that education has an important effect on productivity. With the additional education you receive, you learn skills that make you a more valuable employee. This is especially true for more technical fields such as engineering or molecular biology.


The verdict is still out on how and to what extent a college degree is just a signal for employers or if a diploma actually improves the quality and quantity of a person’s work, but what if a college degree is no longer useful at all?


Following the economic crisis, many graduates might ask themselves this question when they see the most recent US Bureau of Labor Statistics projection that 7 out of 10 employment sectors that will see the largest gain over the next decade won’t require much more than some on-the-job training. The OECD’s recent reviews on vocational education and training identify specific occupational skills needed in OECD countries such as healthcare, jobs in technology and traditional trades such as electricians and plumbers. Vocational education – the kind that isn’t provided by a Harvard or a Cambridge - has a big part to play in supplying these skills.


Most people (or most college graduates) would argue that much of the value of a college degree isn’t what you learn in class, but the people you meet and the experiences you gain along the way: Time to explore career possibilities. Lifelong friends and networks. Inspiration from a professor. The ability to eat pasta 6 days in a row.


Cheap living standards aside, these experiences help us gain the social and emotional skills that are becoming increasingly important in a globalized world. But are these skills worth the mountains of debt some students are faced with upon graduation?


Let us know your thoughts: Was your college degree worthwhile?


Read more about the OECD’s work in vocational education.

Recently the Children’s Defense Fund released the State of America’s Children © 2010. This annual report is eagerly anticipated by many advocates as it gives a factual account of everyday life for the underrepresented children across our country.  This report provides information that should make us collectively hang our heads in shame and then mount a campaign that will not stop until we see dramatic improvement in national and state policies for young children. Consider the following:

  • Between 2002 and 2007, income of the wealthiest one percent of U.S. households grew more than 10 times as fast as income of the bottom 90 percent.
  • The income share for the wealthiest 10 percent of households was the highest ever recorded.
  • A record high 39.7 million people – about half of them children – received food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in February 2010.
  • In 2008, as the recession was just beginning, 14.1 million children were poor, an increase of 2.5 million children (1.6 million of them in extreme poverty) since 2000.
  • More than 5.6 million children are in families living at half the poverty level or less.
  • Nearly 70 percent of poor children live in families where at least one family member works.
  • Close to 20 percent of grandparents raising children live in poverty.


This information is just the tip of an enormous upside down waffle cone in a Baskin Robbins container covered with pretty sprinkles and whipped cream. What we don’t yet know is the full impact of the recession on families as it appears to be prolonged and deeper than once thought and we certainly we have no sense of how the Gulf oil spill is going to break the backs of families who were just beginning to see a brighter economic day after Hurricane Katrina. What we do know is that we cannot be fooled by the sparkles of big talk during election campaigns with only air like that in whipped cream to back up the promises.  Advocates have their work cut out for them, but action steps can be taken:

  • Challenge candidates about the state of children in your state or community. Do your homework and be ready, become the “expert” and push for an answer. If they have none offer to help them develop a position.
  • Build coalitions that will spread the word and the share the heavy lifting. Being a successful advocate means being a team player.
  • Talk to program managers and field workers about the real situations facing families. They can put faces on data and help to build a campaign about neighbors, not numbers.


Use this has a starting point to get engaged and make it your business to speak for children. If you don’t who will?


Cathy Grace, Ed.D.Director, Early Childhood Policy, Children’s Defense Fund

Give peace a chance!

Posted by Lynda HAWE Jun 18, 2010

It was good to see that the Vision of Humanity 2010 rankings are out!


This year 149 nations of the world have been ranked by their peacefulness and the results have stimulated some very interesting analysis. Discover the thermal maps, and download the Results Report and the Discussion Paper


There are the 23 indicators that make up the Global Peace Index. Countries are scored on these indicators on a range from 1 to 5 where 1 = most peaceful. As well as the related indicators against which the Global Peace Index has been tested, in an attempt to identify the 'drivers' of peace.  They include levels of democracy, transparency and education.

Today the problems we are facing are global in nature. They include climate change, ever decreasing biodiversity, full use of the fresh water on the planet and underpinning all these – overpopulation.  Without peace we will be unable to achieve the levels of cooperation, inclusiveness and social equity required to begin solving these challenges, let alone empower the international institutions needed to regulate them. 


Martin Luther King Jr. emphasised that a critical intellect requires moral development.  “Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.” Martin Luther King Jr. The Purpose of Education Morehouse College, 1948


Which is why indicators on Education, such as shown here,  are so important for us to understand, compare and share.


? Education spending
? Primary school enrolment
? Secondary school enrolment
? Higher education enrolment
? Mean years of schooling
? Adult literacy rate

Educating for critical thinking and democracy would include questioning policy that deprives or denies any individual or group of any of their fundamental human rights.  A positive learning environment is in a safe and peaceful environment where individuals feel accepted and respected and where learning is the main focus. 


Give Peace A Chance!

That children are influenced by their physical environment should be no surprise. It can have a significant effect on the way that they perceive the world as well as their behaviour. Whether we realise it or not we all consciously or sub-consciously react to the physical environment around us. Put a small table in the middle of a large, and otherwise empty, room and people will congregate near it. Provide a very small cosy space, tucked away to the side of a room and young children will gather in it.





For early childhood care the role of the physical environment, both inside and outside, is to support the activities and needs of the users. This demands a deep understanding of what makes an effective place for children, but also the adults too. Children need a safe and secure environment, but one that allows them to interact, and perhaps allows them some independence. To this extent such environments need to be challenging.



As children explore their environments using all their senses, the attention to light, colour, acoustics, touch and feed of materials as well as smell are clearly critical. Whilst the types of space provided are important such as activity areas, baby changing spaces, storage and so on are important, as well as the amount of area dedicated to each and on what basis that calculation is made, there are also some more general principles that are worth attention too.




This list and the examples given are not exclusive, but they do provide a flavour of what the research is suggesting.




Location. For example whether the pre-school or daycare centre is close to or connected with a primary school which may allow for the delivery of integrated services such as child health care or support for families, easy access for parents with children in both school and daycare, or as some experts argue a gradual introduction and familiarisation with school routines for younger children.




Accessibility. Not only should the entrance be easily identifiable, but critically they should be designed to enable parents with other small children and with buggies to quickly and easily get into the building. Often this does not happen.




Scale. Whilst acknowledging that adults use these buildings too, they are for children which means that the size and in particular the height of objects is important. Not only does this apply to the furniture but critically to those elements that are fixed, for example window cills that are low enough to allow views out, reception desks part of which are lowered to enable a child to see over, a sink that is low enough for a child to use but high enough to discourage them to climb in easily.




Visibility. It is important to enable children to see what is going on around them so that they feel connected but independent. It offers a sense of security that they know that there is an adult there. It is also important that they have the sense of being able to move easily between different activities and have a clear view of where they can go and how to get there.




Remember too that these places are work environments for adults. There has been much concern about how to reduce the stress on teachers and carers in their work environment. Often, managing the buildings better is one part of the solution. Essentially the buildings have to be easy and intuitive to use, they must enable the teachers and carers to carry out their work with as little stress placed on them by the environment as possible. Often it is the simple things that get in the way such as windows that are hard to open, sinks that are in the wrong place, and not enough storage, or a degrading building because it is difficult to maintain.



Find out more on the OECD's Centre for Effective Learning Environments (CELE) website



President Obama has sparked a fresh debate in the US over how to advance parenting practices and lift the quality of preschool – pledging about $10 billion in new funding. While the US still lags behind much of Europe in terms of organized programs for young children, our debate speaks to global themes:

  1. how government actors conceive of “right ways” of raising young children,
  2. how pluralistic societies struggle with varying forms of child socialization and learning, and
  3. what’s the central state’s role vis-à-vis community organizations which have long pioneered and run innovative – yet sometimes low-quality – programs.


The word “systems” has become omnipresent in policy discussions over early childhood in OECD countries and the US. Central governments – until recently – have been eager to rationalize institutions, from postal services to the public schools. So, it’s predictable that extend preschool down from kindergarten, or creating a national pre-kindergarten system would somehow feel progressive politically.


But in the U.S. context, the pushback on systematizing early childhood programs has come from the political Right and Left in recent years. Our nation’s 130,000 preschools or child-care centers were created historically by grassroots community groups, not school authorities.


Even the federal Head Start program is run through contracts with local agencies. So, handing over this sector to school authorities raises concerns over homogenizing programs, regardless of our society’s colorful diversity. With the press on to raise test scores, some evidence shows how preschool classrooms reorient their activities to “drill and kill” preliteracy skills. How teacher unions might alter the community spirit of preschools also worries some.

Mr. Obama has already pumped another $3 billion into Head Start and Early Head Start, a smaller national program that focuses on prenatal care and improving parenting practices. The latter focus is now being expanded under Mr. Obama’s massive health-care reforms, which includes a new, larger home-visiting program to enrich parenting. So, the Obama Administration is favoring organizational diversity at the grassroots, with some tighter accountability for results, not handing-off the sector to school authorities.


Part of this debate focuses on how parents and government actors tacitly or explicitly hope to raise young children. As central governments struggle to show voters tangible results – school accountability and the focus on test scores has intensified in the US and much of Europe. In turn, early childhood programs are pushed to get kids ready for school, meaning instructing the basic elements of oral and written language. This might be sound political strategy, but how do different groups of parents view this focus? Is this what they want to emphasize in the upbringing of their young children?


In some states, like California and Texas, about one half of all births are to parents of Latino descent, many of whom speak Spanish at home. This creates a new generation of questions around how government defines “good parenting practices” for home interventions, or what language should be dominant inside preschool classrooms? As in Europe, the U.S. aims to integrate children of immigrants into good schools and good jobs. But how to do that without carelessly eroding the cultural and familial bedrock of children? How do we define preschool quality in ways that offer politicians attractive proposals and speak to the diversity of families being served?


Mediocre results from high-visibility programs – like Head Start – create new challenges for government. Results out in January showed that a small gain for graduates of Head Start preschool observed earlier in kindergarten essentially disappears by first grade. This occurs in part because children in the control group (in this experimental study) found their way into quality preschools outside Head Start. Still these findings are disappointing for the Head Start program, which costs taxpayers about $8 billion annually.


Together, these issues prompt new questions for the central state. Certainly government must find ways of distributing public resources to young children for whom the benefits are well documented: offspring of low-income parents. But how do policy leaders mindfully help local ethnic and linguistic communities advance their own socialization goals, so as not to undercut the authority of parents inside already fractured neighborhoods? How does the state nurture a panoply of responsive programs across a kaleidoscopic array of families? And how within a diverse array of local organizations, does government lift quality to improve child development?


These are the pressing issues being debated in the USA more determined dialogue with OECD countries would benefit all societies.


Bruce Fuller
Professor, Education and Public Policy
University of California, Berkeley
Author, Standardized Childhood (Stanford University Press)

The importance of the brain in learning, education, and (even) football


Although the camaraderie and shared spirit surrounding this year’s World Cup is inspiring, I can’t help but wonder what all the fuss is about when many of the games end in a tie. The phenomenon caused a diplomatic quandary on Saturday, when no real resolution was reached to a wager between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron over the USA-England game. The president had bet the best beer in America on an American win. Does he now send a mediocre lager? International affairs scholars can debate.

Speaking of equal goals, however, the World Cup is a great opportunity to reflect on how much players focus on training the brain and how much educators focus on training the body. For most people, sports and education are mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, with tight education budgets, one tends to win out at the expense of another.

Recently, a leading South African sports scientist, Tim Noakes, spoke at the Second World Conference on Soccer and Sciences about the importance of studying the brain’s role in athletic training. Some would argue that the goalie Robert Green could have surely used more of this type of training on Saturday (Go England!). More and more studies have shown that the brain plays just as critical a role in sports as the lungs, muscles and heart do.

Equally (like a tie game), studies have shown that exercise and aerobic activity can have a positive impact on cognition, which can enhance learning in children and adults. By understanding how physical activity affects learning outcomes, policymakers, administrators and educators can better structure educational programmes. We may find out that football games might do more for kids learning abilities in the long run than hours of math homework (as many kids might already know).

Since 1999, the OECD’s Center for Research and Innovation (CERI) has been working on a “Brain and Learning” project which reviews potential implications of recent findings in brain research for policymakers. It might not explain why so many people can get so passionate over a 0-0 outcome, but it does help bridge the gap between neuroscience, learning, and education. A win-win outcome.


Read more about the CERI’s Brain and Learning project.

OECD experts explain why professional development matters for child outcomes at OECD-Japan seminar

Pre-school and day care centres can provide an excellent environment for children to learn. But this result can’t be achieved without highly competent staff


Evidence shows that three major factors matter for quality early childhood education and care:

  • the characteristics of the staff
  • their pedagogical approach and attitudes, and
  • a well-developed curriculum to guide activities.


When all these factors are working together effectively, then children will experience better educational and socio-emotional outcomes.

But in many countries, there’s still a quite large gap between the skills of the current early childhood education and care workforce and the skills needed to deliver the outcomes that parents and communities want for their children and the outcomes that policymakers want for society at large.

Well-designed professional development programmes to upgrade the skills of those already working in early childhood education and care services can help to bridge the gap. Strengthening pedagogical approaches and developing the techniques for implementing the curriculum are the priority areas because improvements in these two areas are very important for better child outcomes. High quality early childhood education and care is a good investment that pays dividends for society at large. And investment in professional development is a key channel for improving the quality of early childhood education and care.


Download presentations from the Japan/OECD Seminar:

By Deborah Roseveare, Head, Education and Training Policy Division, OECD Directorate for Education

By Miho Taguma, Policy Analyst, Project Leader of the OECD Network on Early Childhood Education and Care

México ¡bravo!

Posted by Lynda HAWE Jun 3, 2010 week we had a very encouraging and uplifting visit form the Mexican Fundación Proacceso Eco A.C.







Fundación Proacceso Eco works to change and improve the personal, social and economic development of members of low-income communities in Mexico. Using innovative education platforms that operate information and communication technology, they are doing very interesting and ground-breaking work.  They believe it is possible to stimulate economic growth and bridge the digital divide in Mexico through the development of computer and Internet skills, productivity skills and professional skills, and in turn improve the quality of life for the program’s participants.



After their first year in operation they have proven to be already very successful with now over 50,000 users.  The technical training and e-learning courses fit all ages and levels of education. They have 45% of youth taking courses such as in computer literacy, English fluency and 55% of adults with teaching lessons including Microfinance, Basic Accounting and English etc. and are also developing and implementing new e-learning platforms.

So having big expansion plans for the coming years to increase rapidly the number of centres, luckily they are of the  environmentally friendly kind, as they build modular type of block buildings made from recyclable materials. The technological infrastructure is Open Source software  They believe in a philosophy of sharing computers so 100 people per computer, but what is really interesting is that way that they review and monitor all the students’ progress and evaluate their results as well as offering personalised support.



They were pleased to learn about joint initiative “Calidad Educativa/Quality Education" between the OECD Directorate for Education and the Mexican Secretariat of Public Education, Secretaría de Educación Pública - SEP, which aims at improving the quality of education in Mexico. Read more here. 






Among other interesting and innovative aspects of their work is the fact that they have put in place a very solid tracking system might be of interest for some of our future CERI (Centre for Educational Research and Innovation) research projects on Innovation Strategy for Education and the New Millennium Learners.





One of the Fundación Proacceso’s financial and technical sponsors is ENOVA, and Jorge Camil, Coordinator of Technology and Education of Enova was here at the 2010 OECD Forum, watch his short YouTube video here..



The Director Aleph Torres  President, Fundación Proacceso, Mexico was also a discussant at the OECD Forum in the session on Thursday 27 May 2010 Matching skills to jobs  11:30–13:15: You may review the Webcast here




These young and dynamic entrepreneurs are putting policy into practical and positive practice. They are reaching out to the areas that need education and making sure that they are meeting the needs of the local people. We thank them for showing us a concrete example of how progress is really made.



Gracias Fundación Proacceso Eco, you are an inspiration

Showing and Telling

Posted by Cassandra Davis Jun 1, 2010

OECD seminar on early childhood education and care on 7-8 June 2010 in Japan explores issues in professional development


Maybe you’re young enough to remember it. Maybe your kids or grandkids are in it. Regardless of whether you were in preschool, day care, or stayed home with parents or caretakers, our youngest years are our most formative. It’s therefore interesting to observe how early childhood activities vary across cultures. In the US, children are often asked to bring a personal item to “show and tell” the class about that gives insight into the individual. In Japan, however, they often participate in “oyugi”, which involves dancing and singing together as a group, and saying “itadakimasu” together as a group before eating bento boxes for lunch.

Whether these different activities are enough to explain the US’ individualist culture and Japan’s culture of collective harmony is separate topic of discussion (a potential dissertation topic for aspiring academics) but regardless of the country in which you live, the quality of early childhood education and care matters.


An OECD seminar in Japan next week will address the issue of professional development in early childhood education and care. Just as preschool activities vary across countries, so do systems of professional training and development. Policy makers, teachers, administrators, and parents from all over East Asia and Europe will come together to discuss their respective professional and leadership development programs as well as “show and tell” others about best practices.


Investing in early education and care is one of the most effective ways to increase long-term education outcomes. As we move out of the economic crisis, effective education investments are increasingly critical. But as we might have learned when we were in preschool “anything worth doing is worth doing well.” Whether it’s leading the class in song, or helping a child feel comfortable speaking about something personal, teachers help shape the quality of education.




Therefore, investing in quality training programs that provide teachers and administrators with the tools necessary to provide high-quality care for early learners should be a lesson worth remembering.




Read more about the OECD Seminar in Japan next week.

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