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The next time you’re about to coax, cajole, bribe or otherwise attempt to disconnect your child from the computer or smartphone, take a few deep breaths and consider this fact: students who are unfamiliar with online activities, like searching for information and chatting, are less proficient in digital reading.


So what? you may ask. Well, with everything from school courses to job applications to tax forms to train tickets now on line, knowing how to navigate through and read digital texts is essential for anyone who wants to participate fully in the information-based society. Increasingly, it’s a basic skill required for landing a job.


In 2009, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) conducted a groundbreaking survey of digital literacy among 15-year-old students. The results are sometimes surprising.


For example, access to computers both at home and at school has expanded substantially over the past decade: the proportion of students in OECD countries who reported having access to the Internet at home doubled from 45% to 89% between 2000 and 2009. Yet the PISA survey found that many young people who were born in the digital age, the so-called “digital natives”, have trouble navigating through and reading digital texts. In some countries, more than a quarter of students scored below the baseline level of proficiency in the PISA digital reading assessment. While many of these students can locate simple pieces of information in a short block of hypertext and can scroll across web pages (as long as they are given explicit directions), their lack of mastery of this form of reading may prevent them from fully exploiting the educational, employment and social opportunities available through the Internet.


The PISA results show a strong correlation between print and digital reading proficiency. While that may not be too surprising, what also emerged from the assessment is the finding that the gender gap in reading performance, which is notably wide in print reading, is narrower in digital reading. Girls outperform boys in digital reading by an average of 24 score points on the PISA digital reading scale, compared to an average of 38 score points—or one full year of formal education—on the print reading scale. What accounts for the difference in the gender gap? Analysis of the results suggests that boys may be more interested in the kinds of texts available on the Internet than in those that are found in print; or that boys may feel more comfortable using digital technologies than girls. Since, on average, boys have shown poorer performance in print reading than girls in all the PISA surveys conducted since 2000, this finding about digital reading might be useful in developing strategies to get boys interested in reading. The more interested and enthusiastic boys are, they more they’ll read and, ultimately, the better readers they’ll become.


PISA also finds that spending unlimited hours in front of the computer doesn’t automatically make a student a better digital reader: students who use home computers for schoolwork or leisure activities moderately frequently attain higher scores in digital reading than both rare and intensive users.


What these PISA results show should make both students and their parents very happy: browsing the Internet and chatting on line is associated with a greater ability to read and navigate through digital texts—but only when students engage in these activities in moderation. What’s the right balance of online and off-line activities? We’ll leave that for you and your child to work out…

Educationtoday turns 2  tomorrow, 25 June 2011. How did that happen? With close to 800 content items, including over 100 blogposts, we’re feeling a bit nostalgic, excited and grateful, as many of us feel on birthdays and anniversaries. We could not have done this without you – our wider education community – not to mention the wider community of social media and online collaboration leaders who have helped us along the way!

So what have we done over the past two years? And what was the impact?


To answer these questions, we carried out an evaluation of educationtoday earlier this year. The evaluation drew on interviews with OECD staff, twitter followers, education journalists and many others and took a hard look at the quantitative data (numbers of views, comments, tweets, tweetreach, etc.). This process has been as useful as the results (it gave us an excuse to talk to key stakeholders and listen to their feedback!). The final evaluation report is now available.


So how well did we do? We reached some of our goals, and fell short of others, but educationtoday is now recognized as a reliable clearinghouse on education and the crisis. Here are some of the numbers:

  • Educationtoday hosts more than 650 documents relevant to education and more than 100 blog posts by education leaders and OECD staff.
  • To date, we’ve had 135,000 visitors from 192 countries.
  • 12 Twitter followers grew to 4,600 followers in just two years.
  • More than 30 “wiki crisis” pages outline how the crisis has affected countries’ education systems.
  • The “Raise Your Hand” online tool to vote for the top five ideas in education garnered 27,000 votes from 92 countries and over 300 original ideas.
  • Our most popular blog raised important issues about new technology in the classroom.

And these are just the highlights.


Jessica Weddle, an OECD consultant who worked on building educationtoday’s presence in the education community since its humble beginnings, commented on the progress:


“Our online tools made OECD research on education policy more accessible, accountable, and responsive to people concerned about education. After the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment PISA results were released, the tweet traffic allowed us to quickly see which data areas generated the most interest. We enjoy participating in the online conversation about education around the world, and it’s great to see how far we’ve come.”


But evaluation is rare in social media – as we are all trying to figure out how to balance qualitative data with quantitative data. Which numbers do you look at? What does it mean if you have a fair amount of views, but not many comments? Does more mean more – as in more twitter followers – or does less mean more – with fewer, high quality comments? Is there a balance in the middle?


So during the evaluation process, we brought together social media experts from both sides of the Atlantic for a collaborative brainstorm about what makes social media sites successful (or not). In the spirit of sharing and being social, we’ve provided the highlights of what we’ve learned (a lot!).  See the

Social media tips for peers.


Before we blow out the candles, what is your wish for educationtoday for 2011-12? What would you love to see more of going forward? More blogs, discussions, articles? Less? Let us know!


And be sure to follow us on Twitter @OECD_Edu. See you there!

In early June I attended the OECD seminar for Norwegian leaders in education improvement in Ontario with around 30 of the most important stakeholders in the Norwegian education system. The seminar was the last part of the OECD-Norway review to give input to the reform of lower secondary education in Norway. Our main goal is to improve lower secondary education in Norway by making the instruction and teaching more engaging, practical and varied. We want the lower secondary students to feel that the education and training they receive is relevant to them.

In the process of developing the white paper, the OECD has helped us identify our strengths and weaknesses in lower secondary education. We have a comprehensive education system that emphasises equity and inclusion and PISA results for 15-year-old students are high and have improved since 2006. Our system is a good one, but we want to get better!


There is a lot of knowledge on what is needed in the classrooms in order to engage all students in learning. The main question is how to make sure it happens for every child in every school. In their report “Improving lower secondary schools in Norway” the OECD points out the lack of a clear strategy to improve the quality of instruction. The OECD advises us to pay more attention to the capacity to deliver reform across the levels of governance. If we want to increase student motivation, we need to look closer at how we implement the policies.


This is where Ontario, Canada comes in. Since 2003 the education authorities in Ontario have worked systematically towards increasing student learning, closing the gap between students and increasing public confidence in their school system. The results are impressive. Ontario has succeeded in raising the level of student literacy and numeracy and their graduation rates in high schools have gone up.


The OECD seminar organized in cooperation with Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Ontario Institute for studies in education (OISE), gave us a rich understanding of how they were able to deliver reform to their 5000 schools in Ontario. The Seminar combined excellent lectures by some of the leading educational researchers in the world, with first-hand accounts from central actors in the administration in Ontario, and we visited schools and talked to students, teachers and school leaders and saw for ourselves the impact of policies in schools and classrooms. We also had time to discuss and reach conclusions among ourselves during team work sessions.


One of the most important lessons we take back from the seminar is the importance of having few and lasting goals which are clearly formulated and communicated. It seemed to me like teachers and school leaders in Ontario worked with these goals in mind every day. I was also impressed by the support system developed in Ontario which is “light on judgment and heavy on support”. Rather than putting up league tables and punishing schools, Ontario has developed policies to create and spread good instructional practices across classrooms and schools. By supporting teachers’ professionalism with literacy coaches, networks and different support materials, Ontario has succeeded in spreading high quality instruction across the system.


As a minister it’s a luxury to spend four whole days in the company of key Norwegian education actors, supported by experts from the OECD and Harvard. The Norwegian delegation included representatives from all levels in the Norwegian education system, from the Ministry to teachers. The time allocated to work in smaller groups allowed us to get started on our own strategy.


The seminar is the starting point of a process which will be undertaken in partnership with the most important stakeholders in Norway. We are now working with our own strategy inspired by the OECD Seminar and the Ontario experience. Some things are different in Norway, but the main lessons are valid and very useful. As it was formulated by one of our working groups during the seminar: You don’t have to be bad to get better!


Kristin Halvorsen, Minister of Education, Norway


Watch interview with Kristin Halvorsen


For more information:

Making a successful transition from secondary school on to tertiary studies and to employment often isn’t easy for young people. The setting is different, students are expected to take charge of their own learning style and in so many different ways, it’s a whole different world from being in school.


Now take a moment to consider how many extra obstacles young people with disabilities have to face. Will they be able to get around easily? What support services are available and if they don’t ask about them, will anyone make an effort to tell them or will they just be left to figure it out as best they can? And how well do secondary schools prepare them for taking their next steps? These developmentally disabled D.C. students graduating last week after a year in Project SEARCH can tell you their stories.


Here are some of the things that can help. First of all, secondary schools can make a point of preparing students with disabilities to succeed at the next level, by encouraging students to plan for their future, by helping them build skills and develop greater autonomy to cope with new environments, and by building transitions into individual education plans.


Tertiary institutions can also play their part by redefining their admission strategies to be more inclusive and making sure that their admissions and student support services work hand-in-hand. And a key challenge for tertiary education is to focus on preparing students with disabilities to enter the labour market – building in work experience along the way – as the SEARCH project does.   


And everyone wins if the secondary schools, tertiary institutions, local employers and disability services are all working together to promote educational and employment success for these students.


But as the OECD’s new publication Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in Tertiary Education and Employment says, despite the progress that has been made, it’s still harder for young adults with disabilities than it is for other young people. Students with disabilities deserve better.

Pointers for Policy Development on Inclusion of Students with Disabilities



Progress is...

Posted by 498371 Jun 7, 2011

…education for all. A simple concept; and for 25-year-old Javier Elías, a winning one: Elías was awarded first place in the OECD’s 50th Anniversary Video Competition for his two-minute part-animation, part live-action voyage around the world and back to his native Peru that concludes that progress is when “all children have the education they deserve.”


It’s a message that clearly comes from the heart. “Where I come from, if you don’t have money, you don’t get a good education,” Elías said during an interview at OECD headquarters. “You can see young children, as young as 4 or 5, asking for money or selling stuff instead of being educated,” he said. “So what are their options when they get older? They will feel angry with the society that kept them apart. Education is key for every type of progress. Transportation, economic progress will come along with education, because people will have more interest in society.”


Elías credits both his family and his formal education with nurturing his skills and his social awareness. “The first thing I learned from my parents is being responsible, doing the right things, knowing the right way to act. In school, you get to see yourself in others. You become best if you bring others along with you. It’s not a competition; it’s a ‘win and win’ business: when we all get to win, you get to win.”


The public apparently thinks so, too. Viewers voted Elías into first place after sampling the 20 videos that were short-listed, based on creativity, substance, production value and overall impact, and posted on the OECD’s website. As winner, Elías, who studied communications at the University of Lima and now has his own graphic design, photography and web-design business, was invited to Paris to attend the OECD Forum in May, where the top-voted videos were screened before an audience of government, civil society and media representatives from around the world.


Elías’s interest in video was born from his concern about the state of the world around him. “I’m not trying to solve the world’s problems,” he said, “but I am trying to bring attention to them, so people who can do something about it, do something. Let’s take the opportunity to become better. That’s a good thing. That’s what makes life interesting: nothing is completed…”



You can watch Elías's winning video here:



In Search of a Better Life

Posted by 565478 Jun 6, 2011

The OECD’s Better Life Index allows individuals to choose among a set of indicators, including education, that contribute most to their individual well-being


The tyranny of GDP as a measure of a country’s wealth has been steadily losing its grip over the years. The idea that countries should be evaluated by more than their brute economic output isn’t new. Nevertheless, critics have argued that alternatives, such as measuring happiness, are subjective and therefore could be manipulated by countries to suit their interests. For example, studies have shown that people who own dogs lead healthier lives. If a country had a high dog ownership rate, why wouldn’t a leader include that measure into the mix?


The OECD’s new Better Life Index (BLI) gives you (the thoughtful citizen) the ability to decide what parts of society you think contribute to a better life. (Sorry dog lovers, dog ownership is not included in the index). As you might have suspected, education is one of the most essential indicators that determine a country’s ranking. According to this category, Finland, Korea, and Canada top the charts (to learn more about these indicators, see the recent PISA results).


In his Strategic Orientation for 2011 and Beyond presented at the Ministerial Council Meeting, the OECD Secretary General stressed the importance of preparing the labour force for the jobs of the future through the OECD Skills Strategy. It’s not just about the jobs; it’s about preparing, training, and developing the workforce to work more productively, live more fulfilling lives and contribute to society. And with more education and employment, a country moves up the rankings on the better-life scale.


There has been lots of buzz about the BLI. A Huffington Post blog focused on the work-life balance indicator, which interestingly considers the employment rate of women with children. According to this indicator, Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland rank the highest. Another blog from 24/7 Wall St., criticised the indicator for not emphasising economic stability, measured by debt to GDP ratio. By adding this metric, Denmark and Canada top the list.


Whether you agree that the indicators are an accurate measure of what makes a “better life” or not, the launch of the BLI has helped shape the continuing debate on the way to measure and rank how happy countries make their citizens.


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