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Myself, along with many educators and education policymakers, were pleased to receive news that Korea had topped the OECD’s Digital Reading Assessment (DRA).  We were even more encouraged by the results showing a significant percentage of students proficient at the highest scale of digital reading, and the small proportion of low-performing students.

I am confident that the results reflect our policy efforts which are aimed to enhance the digital infrastructure of schools and apply it in real life and teaching.  At the same time, it led me to think about how we should teach and nurture the talents and dreams of our children who apparently are more familiar with and ready to learn through the digital environment than we have been aware of.

It is fortunate that this year, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has been preparing the “Promotion Strategy for Smart Education” to respond to the changing environment, by focusing on customized learning and teaching.  Coincidentally, this plan has been made known to the world simultaneously with the announcement of the DRA results.  Smart Education is a customized learning system that enhances the capacity of learners in the 21st century, by moving away from uniform to individualized education, from standardized to diversified knowledge, and from admission-oriented to creativity-based learning.  Smart Education will become a momentum for the innovation of the overall education system, including its environment, contents, teaching method, and evaluation.

The Korean government is implementing Smart Education by establishing wireless networks in all schools to allow students to learn whenever and wherever as well as an education information system that can run in PCs, laptops, smart tabs, tablet PCs, and smart TVs.  The government will also support a nationwide open content market containing a variety of learning materials so that users may have access to high-quality educational information at a low cost.

Smart Education will change how we perceive textbooks.  The transfer from the traditional paper textbooks to digital textbooks will allow students to leave behind their heavy backpacks and explore the world beyond the classroom.  Having proven the potential through trial runs since 2007, the Korean government will continue its development to distribute digital textbooks to elementary schools from 2014 and ultimately to middle, and high schools by 2015.  The development standard and utility platform will be available to the private sector, thereby promoting the participation of companies and the blooming of smart education industries.

Digital textbooks – rich in content – are directly linked to the promotion of online classes.   Online classes not only help students to make up for absences, but also facilitate studies of those who may be taking leave due to disabilities or health related issues.  Moreover, online classes will secure students’ rights to select their learning subjects, even for students in rural areas who were previously deprived of this right due to lack of subject teachers.


The potential of our children is limitless. Smart Education is the best choice for Korea’s education to fulfill the hopes and dreams of all students in the 21st century.

Mr. Ju-Ho Lee, Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Korea


Download: PISA 2009 Results: Students Online



Posted by 498371 Jul 20, 2011

A test the whole world can take…


It’s a breathtaking concept – but for the OECD it’s a very real way of finding out how well-prepared today’s students are to participate fully in society. If you’ve never heard of the Programme for International Student Assessment – PISA – and you’ve got about 12 minutes to spare, grab a comfortable chair. PISA – Measuring student success around the world is a playful primer on the world’s most comprehensive and rigorous survey of student performance.


This video will help you to understand why the OECD’s number-crunchers trigger such intense debate about the state of education around the world every time they release the results of the latest PISA survey. You’ll discover some interesting facts about how 15-year-olds learn and how the best education systems teach them. And you can even test your own ability to calculate the number of ingredients required to create the perfect pizza.


So take this animated tour of PISA. You’ll learn a lot—and you won’t be tested on any of it!


Grade repetition is an education policy that elicits strong feelings among educators, psychologists and parents.


But does this policy achieve its ultimate aim: to offer better – and more equitable – opportunities for education?


Not according to the most recent PISA results. As the latest issue of PISA in Focus notes, countries where students repeat grades more frequently tend to have worse performance results overall, and students’ socio-economic backgrounds have a greater impact on their results. The same is true in countries where weak or disruptive students are transferred to other schools.


More than a quarter of 15-year-olds in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain reported that they had repeated a grade at some point during their school careers. But more than 97% of students in Finland reported that they had never repeated a grade, and in Japan and Korea, grade repetition is virtually non-existent – and these three countries are among the highest performers in the PISA tests.


Not only do PISA results show that countries with high rates of grade repetition are also those that show poorer student performance, but the policy of having students repeat grades can be costly for countries. For example, in Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain, the cost of using grade repetition for one age group is equivalent to 10% or more of the annual national expenditure on primary- and secondary-school education; and the social cost per student can be as high as USD 11 000 or more. Imagine the teaching staff and educational resources that could be bought with that amount of money and used to help students individually and prevent them from falling behind...


School systems that transfer students more frequently because of low academic achievement, behavioural problems or special learning needs also tend to show a stronger relationship between students’ socio-economic background and their performance in school, and a wider gap in performance among schools. This suggests that transferring students tends to be associated with socio-economic segregation in school systems, where students from advantaged backgrounds end up in better-performing schools while students from disadvantaged backgrounds end up in poorer-performing schools.


Which brings us back to the rationale that should underlie every education policy: Does it ensure that students are offered the best possible and most equitable opportunities for education? The results from PISA speak for themselves.

It is not easy to keep adolescents motivated and engaged in school, when they have new interests and are going through important physical and social changes. Yet this is what lower secondary education needs to do. This level of education is when students need to consolidate the skills from primary education that allow them to continue either to academic or vocational education. It is also when the process of disengaging and dropping out can start if students are not well supported.


But across OECD countries, there is still not much evidence on what really works: How can lower secondary succeed in raising student skills and in preventing drop out? How should teachers be best prepared to teach adolescent students? How can schools ensure that students are engaged and motivated? Should lower secondary be provided in separate schools or remain with primary or with upper secondary education?


These are the questions Norway was looking into when we started working hand in hand with them to support their reform. The new report Improving Lower Secondary Education in Norway presents analysis and recommendations focused on improving teaching practice, making schools effectively respond to adolescent needs, ensuring smooth transitions from primary and into upper secondary – all in a framework of ensuring implementation in a decentralised environment.


But a vital aspect of our work with Norway has also been our continuous consultation with key stakeholders to ensure their engagement in the policy implementation process.


We started piloting this innovative approach towards improving schools in Mexico and have consolidated it with Norway. The external OECD analysis and the engaged consultation between OECD and stakeholders leads to greater take up later when the reform is to be implemented. This process is greatly enhanced with participation in the OECD Seminar for Leaders in Education Improvement. For Norway, this tailored seminar combined a 4 day visit to the Ontario school system with high calibre speakers from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and team work among participants.


It was challenging for us to organise: we had to find an education system that was relevant to Norway’s key challenges and had valuable policy lessons. Ontario was an excellent model. We then worked with Harvard Graduate School of Education professors and with a local partner (the University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)) to shape and deliver the Seminar.


Participants worked hard every day and finished the Seminar with the initial design of an action plan for their lower secondary reform. They pointed as most valuable:

  • the possibility to learn from another education system by actually visiting schools and meeting policy makers;
  • the opportunity for a group representing the different policy levels in Norway to meet away to from the daily pressures with time to think through together on the actions, priorities and processes needed to make reform happen.


From our experience with Mexico and Norway, the improving schools process, which includes analysis, recommendations and consultation, is often “transformational” for participants. The long term impact is important: looking and reflecting together as a team can ensure that joint ownership is developed on the policy reform. In Norway, the report Improving Lower Secondary Education in Norway and the OECD Seminar have contributed to the implementation of a reform that by targeting lower secondary, will contribute to improve overall student achievement. We are proud of the results.


Full information on the report "Improving Lower Secondary Education in Norway"

OECD Seminar for Norwegian Leaders in Education Improvement

More information on the review methodology is available on our site:


Although Korea is a great success story for economic development, it faces major challenges ahead to sustain growth and social cohesion. It's got a lot to do with demographics and the Global Green Growth Summit held in Seoul last week heard about how early childhood education and care can play a key role.


Did you know that Korea’s population will go from one of the youngest populations in OECD today to the second oldest by 2050? And the fertility rate is very low. Why? One factor is the high cost of education and another is the trade-offs that Korean women confront between career and family responsibilities.


So making available affordable high-quality early childhood education and care is essential so that women can continue to work, confident that their children are being well looked after in a strong early learning environment.


And more family-friendly employment policies would also help. There is a tremendous untapped potential for Korea’s future development by enabling women to play a stronger role in the economy.


But of course, access to affordable high-quality early childhood education isn’t just for children of working parents. All children need to have the opportunity to experience a high quality early learning environment, regardless of their family income and circumstances, to foster economic growth and social cohesion.  


Korea is working to improve affordability of early childhood education and care by moving towards making it free for five year olds and increasing means-tested subsidies for younger children. And to harmonise quality, it is introducing a common curriculum for all 5 year-olds in kindergarten and in day-care. These are steps in the right direction, but Korea needs to go further still so that all children can attend high-quality early childhood education or childcare services, regardless of their familiy's financial resources.      


To learn more about the challenges Korea faces and the OECD’s recommendations, see A framework for growth and social cohesion in Korea.  


It’s been quite the week for e-education news: On Monday, US publisher McGraw-Hill launched its first all-digital, cloud-based textbook for primary and secondary school students while UK publisher Pearson announced a cloud-based digital programme for mathematics and reading at the primary and lower secondary levels; on Tuesday the OECD published the results of the first-ever international survey of digital literacy among 15-year-olds; and later in the week, a non-profit education organisation in the United States reported the results of a poll showing that some 40% of US middle- and high-school students think that online learning has become an essential part of schooling.


Up until now, most e-textbooks at all levels of education were simply PDF versions of print books. Not only was there was little or no added value, in many cases, e-textbooks were less useful to students, as it was difficult to highlight chunks of text or scribble margin notes to help with studying. Not surprisingly, these e-books held little appeal for students. In fact, a recent study by the non-profit arm of the Pearson Foundation shows that 55% of university students prefer print over digital textbooks.


A new generation of e-textbooks offers more than a digital version of the print book. They come with all kinds of extras, including presentations, assessments and animation clips, making the learning experience more interactive, engaging and user-friendly. And they’re accessible from any device with a browser.


While these developments in education publishing could go a long way towards improving students' digital literacy, there is a risk that they could deepen the so-called "digital divide" if access to essential hardware isn’t assured. Among many other findings, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey noted that the computer-to-student ratio in schools rose, on average, over the past decade in countries that participated in the survey. But that's not saying that everyone has access to a computer at school. And that divide is not only between those students who do and don't have access to a computer or hand-held device, but also between those who can easily navigate through the digital environment – because they have had more opportunities to explore that environment – and those who can't. Educators must take care that they are providing equal opportunities to all students to use and benefit from these new learning platforms.

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