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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.


The OECD 50th Anniversary Forum was very good this week, and maybe their best annual meeting yet (in which I have attended), and I particularly enjoyed the interactive “Getting Ready for the Jobs of Tomorrow” brainstorm session, where we were able to work in groups, and to get down to the level of the individual. Because that is where the abstract notion of ‘skills’ really begins to matter. It’s not just about ‘skills for jobs’, it’s about ‘skills for an empowered life’ – including financial literacy, self-confidence and an entrepreneurial spirit.


And it is in this way, of course respecting the mostly government to government interface mission of OECD, that I would like to push the organizers to go a bit further in their planning.  As with all high-level forums such as this, with this level of senior leader engagement, it is expected that there must be a certain level of decorum and what I would call steady, analytical left brain thinking.  That said, we must all be careful not to venture too far into the analytical so that we forget we are ultimately talking about people, the citizens of the OECD member and non-member economies, that live with the outcomes we discuss.  And so, our approach must always be practical, focused not just on what we at Operation HOPE call the “Ph.D argument,” but the “Ph.Do outcomes” too.


It is for this reason that I am always honored to be invited to OECD meetings, and I try always to respond and participate. 

Because what you do matters.

Because I believe you invite me and Operation HOPE, in part, because of our on-the-ground impact with real people, and real communities, in real time (more than 1.5 million low wealth people served, more than 14,700 HOPE Corps volunteers, 5,000 partners from government, community and the private, the largest urban delivery system for financial literacy empowerment in the U.S., and several other countries, and having directed more than $1 billion in lending and investment capital in under-served neighborhoods since our founding 19 years ago.

Because we bring, maybe, a unique and fresh perspective.

Because we always have a way for OECD members to “ do something.”  Even today, OECD supported Operation HOPE as we formally introduced into the OECD member country community our new Wikia-HOPE Global Money Initiative (, which is the world’s first international financial literacy empowerment curriculum, free and online.  It is our strong hope that several new Wikia-HOPE country rollouts will happen, because we made strong relationships here at the OECD Forum.  After all, life is about relationships, and OECD helps to “reconnect our fractured world.”


And so, while there is much more I believe OECD can and will do, including always ensuring a level of “practicality and engagement” around all of its work, let me end by saying this also; “I like what you are doing, much more than what others are not doing, to make our world a better place.”


John Hope Bryant
Founder, Chairman & CEO, Operation HOPE
Founder, Chairman & CEO, Bryant Group Companies, Inc.
Member, U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability


Better skills for better lives

Posted by 64189 May 25, 2011

Everyone knows being skilled is an advantage: skilled workers are more productive and therefore tend to earn more and have better employment prospects. Greater productivity, in turn, is the foundation for sustainable economic growth in countries, and failure to ensure a good skills match has both short- term consequences (skills shortages) and becomes a longer-term drag on growth and equality of opportunities.


Most governments have got that message, and public spending on education and training alone represents 13% of total public expenditure in OECD countries. The trouble is that there is nothing automatic about these relationships: skilled workers do not automatically earn more; nor does having a highly skilled workforce guarantee sustained economic growth.


In some countries, up to 33% of workers consider themselves over-skilled for their current jobs, another 13% believe that they are not skilled enough. Indeed, even at the height of the crisis in 2009, more than 40% of employers in Australia, Japan, Mexico and Poland reported difficulties in finding workers with the appropriate skills. And a lot of people are out of the labour market not using their skills at all.


Success with converting skills into jobs and growth will depend on:

  • whether we have a sufficient understanding of which skills drive strong, sustainable and balanced economic outcomes;
  • whether the right mix of skills is being taught and learned in effective, equitable and efficient ways;
  • whether economies and labour-markets are able to fully utilise their skill potential; and
  • whether governments can build strong coalitions with the business sector and social investors to find sustainable approaches to who should pay for what, when and where.


So how can this be achieved? To provide practical answers, the OECD has set out to develop a Skills Strategy with the aim to:

  • mobilise and develop comprehensive intelligence on building, maintaining and improving skills;
  • help countries prioritise investment of scarce resources in education;
  • foster peer learning (skills systems differ but many challenges are common); and
  • contribute towards building strategic partnerships for the implementation of effective public policies in this area.


At a time of severe budget deficits and cutbacks in spending, the OECD will work hard with countries to identify and develop a set of good practices to make investing in learning cost-effective for individuals and their employers. This will involve not only identifying good practices in financing programmes to develop skills, but also examining the role of tax systems and other measures to encourage individuals and firms to invest in skills.


The idea is to develop a whole-of-government approach to formulating and implementing sound skills policies, involving ministries of education, migration, family, science and technology and employment. Trade unions, employer organisations, chambers of commerce, non-governmental organisations, universities and other interested partners will also be engaged. The end result will be a blueprint for designing and applying policies that make the most of each country’s human capital by nurturing – and using – the skills of its citizens to foster economic growth and social inclusion.


These are, of course, just words and the value of a Skills Strategy will ultimately depend on the extent to which policy recommendations can be backed up with sound data. But that is precisely where the strength of the OECD lies which, building on the success of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), has just launched  PIAAC, the world’s first comprehensive international assessment of adult competencies. PIAAC compiles and analyses data measuring skills and their utilisation. Through PIAAC we will be able to investigate such issues as the value of occupation-specific versus basic and generic skills, the extent and impact of a mismatch between available skills and those needed in the labour market, the need to improve skills among the unemployed to bring them back into the labour market, and the value skills provide for individuals and economies.


The OECD Skills Strategy is scheduled to be launched in early 2013. To see the action plan and follow up on its progress, please visit:

In the current push for involving stakeholders in vocational education and training, there is one group who are often forgotten – the students themselves. Amongst the business leaders, SME’s, parents, teachers and ‘wider society’, it can be easy to miss out those at the very centre of education. OBESSU believes it is vital that we directly involve VET students in the decision making process - after all, we are the experts in education.


After consultation with our 24 Member Organisations, OBESSU realised that whilst there are VET success stories, there are many common issues that affect VET students throughout Europe. These were especially relevant when it came to opportunities after education, the skills students felt their education gave them and access to the job market.


What does OBESSU see as the major issues affecting VET students?


Active stakeholder involvement and the social role of VET

Actively involving young people in VET is of paramount importance and is one the clearest ways to improve the desirability and attractiveness of a vocational education. We have found that through bad or lack of counselling, students who are labelled as ‘low achievers’ are often pushed into VET, whilst students labelled as ‘high achievers’ are discouraged from taking this route. It is vital when taking decisions regarding their education that all students are able to do so with information that is based on facts, figures and what is the best choice for them. OBESSU believes that this has a detrimental effect on youth unemployment, as school students leave education without a passion for the profession they have been pushed into.


Quality in VET

VET students are being left behind on several counts when it comes to quality in their education. Firstly, teachers must be both experts in their fields and in different pedagogical methods. Secondly, the learning environment must be up to date and in line with the technology used in the market.  Finally, a VET education must be seen by society, universities, employers etc as of equal value to a general education. OBESSU believes for this to happen, we must ensure that young people leave education not only with the necessary skills to practise a certain profession, but also with the expectation to continue learning and exploring. In short they must leave VET as innovative, entrepreneurial and questioning lifelong learners.


Representation in the workplace

School students can be amongst the best employees- enthusiastic, exciting and creative thinking. However, they can also be the most vulnerable; OBESSU is concerned about the lack of representation of VET students. Students must be informed of their rights in the workplace, there must be a clear back up plan for when things go wrong and students mustn’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to their employers.


So, in conclusion, what do we need? Well, along with the usual (but no less vital) demands for up to date technology, teachers who are experts in their fields and well trained pedagogically and a funding system that ensures no young person is left out. We also need to have an equal say in decision making in our education. We need decision makers to remember that ‘stakeholders’ doesn’t just include SME’s and corporations but most importantly- the students. Vocational Education and Training must remember that it is not just about the ‘end product’, but that the process to get there is as equally important. An education that involves, asks and listens to students is vitally important to improving the quality and attractiveness of VET.


Jessie Seal is the OBESSU Board Member with responsibility for vocational education and training (VET). Since leaving full time secondary education in summer 2009, Jessie worked running two different programmes for young people who were not in education, employment or training (NEETs)- ‘Young Advocates’ and ‘Real Talk’.  In June 2010, she was elected onto the Board of OBESSU and has taken over Chairing of the VET working group. Jessie plans to take up a University place in September to study International Development.


OBESSU – The Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions is a platform for cooperation between the national school student unions active in secondary VET and general secondary education in Europe. It was founded in April 1975 in Dublin, Ireland and brings together member and observer organisations from more than 25 European countries. All member-organisations are independent, national, representative and democratic school student organisations.


Download OBESSU’s position paper on the Copenhagen Process


Managing and matching skills

Posted by 565478 May 24, 2011

An adequate supply of the right kind of skills in the workforce is key to boosting economic growth, especially now in this post-crisis climate of high unemployment



You’ve seen it in the news. Young grads everywhere are having a hard time getting jobs. Seemingly at odds with this fact is the existence of a global skills shortage. A recent article in the Financial Times reported that 34% of employers worldwide reported a lack of qualified job applicants, up from 31% last year, and at the highest level since 2007. What is causing this labour-market mismatch and what can countries do about it?


Collaborating across directorates and programmes, the OECD is about to release a Skills Strategy in an effort to facilitate a cross-government approach to effective skills policies and address the global dimensions of the supply and demand for skills. We sat down with OECD Senior Analyst William Thorn to hear his thoughts on the strategy and his work on the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, PIAAC.


The new OECD Skills Strategy will build on existing OECD programmes. How does PIAAC fit in?


WT: PIAAC is an international assessment of the “foundation” skills of literacy, numeracy and problem solving – the cognitive skills that provide a basis for effective participation in a modern economy and society. At the same time as directly assessing these skills, PIAAC collects information on the use of these skills in the workplace and other settings, as well as on the use of other “generic” skills, such as communication skills and teamwork at work.  This is complemented by data on the background of respondents, their education and training, their labour-market situation, as well as their state of health and social participation.

Right now, 25 countries are implementing the assessment. When results become available in late 2013, PIAAC will represent a unique and comprehensive source of data regarding the skills of the working age population in participating countries as well as on questions of the development and maintenance of human capital over the lifecycle, and the impact of skills on labour-market and other outcomes.



How have policy makers benefited from the information gained from PIAAC in the past, and how do you foresee governments being able to use this data in the future in the context of a larger OECD Skills Strategy?


WT: Unfortunately, policy makers will have to wait a bit longer to make use of data from PIAAC as the assessment is just about to enter the data collection phase. Data from PIAAC will not be available for analysis until late in 2012 and an initial report on the findings from the assessment is planned to be released in October 2013. However, there have been two previous international surveys of adult skills with which the OECD has been associated – the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) and the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALL). Information from both these surveys has been influential in making governments aware of the fact that there are quite large proportions of the adult population in advanced countries that have poor literacy skills. In a number of countries, the results from IALS in the second half of the 1990s constituted something of a “policy shock” and led to the introduction of strategies for the improvement of adult literacy. More recently, in its most recent budget, the Australian government announced a Foundation Skills Package to tackle gaps in adult foundation skills largely in response the findings of the ALL survey.

When available, data from PIAAC will constitute a particularly rich evidence base for policy-relevant analysis both in terms of the breath of issues it covers and the number of countries participating. In particular, it will allow us to investigate the links between key cognitive skills and a range of demographic variables, economic and other outcomes as well as the use of skills in the workplace and other settings.



What makes PIACC unique?  


WT:  PIAAC has a number of innovative features. Firstly, it is a computer-based assessment. Apart from people who have little or no familiarity with computers, respondents take the test on a laptop computer. This is the first time that this has been done in the context of a large-scale testing programme. Secondly, the fact that the assessment is computer-based allows us to assess respondents’ capacity to read and solve problems within a digital environment, and their ability to negotiate the features that differentiate the digital world from the world of print, such as following hyper-text and searching through websites.  The experience of the PIAAC field trial has been that computer-based testing has had real benefits in terms of the quality of data and the speed of processing data. It has also demonstrated that we can get really interesting information regarding the cognitive skills needed to manage in digital environments.


Sounds very exciting - watch this space! And for more on PIAAC, see:


Talk about a skills strategy...

Posted by 498371 May 24, 2011

When your grandmother tries to give you advice, what’s your reaction? Do you giggle behind your hand? Do you gently tell her to mind her own business? Do you smile dismissively, turn and walk away?


What if your grandmother—or someone else’s grandmother, for that matter—came by to talk to you, perhaps over a steaming cup of tea, about solar-electrifying your village?


Well, grandmothers in developing countries around the world are doing just that: they are being trained—and are, in turn, training others—in using this renewable energy source to power their local villages. The project is part of India’s Barefoot College, which was founded by Sanjit Bunker Roy, one of the speakers at today’s OECD Forum session on Gender: Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship. What’s so special about grandmothers? “A grandmother loves to train and transfer her knowledge to others,” says Roy. Three grandmothers in Afghanistan, for example, trained 27 other grandmothers in solar-electrification and, as a result, 100 villages now use solar power to generate electricity. In India, dozens of grandmothers have solar-electrified hundreds of villages, which, in turn, has led to improvements in health and education outcomes. “The sky is the limit when you train a grandmother,” Roy says.

Speaking at today’s OECD Forum session on Gender: Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship, Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, made the point that despite girls’ achievements in secondary school and university, five years into their careers they are already earning 15% less than their male colleagues and their path to the top of their profession is stalled at the “sticky” mid-level while their male colleagues stride onwards and upwards.


What’s needed, she argued, is a “change of culture, a change of mind-set”.


Ah, but how to effect such a change: through targets and quotas? Through sanctions against companies that don’t practice equal opportunities for all their employees? Through better policies? How do young girls unlearn the lesson that many of them are learning today: that no matter how well they do in school, in the end, their success in education, and all their efforts to that end, probably will not be recognised or appreciated in the workplace?


What do you think?

As the OECD releases Towards a Skills Strategy, maybe you’re wondering how countries actually train electricians, plumbers, chefs, hotel staff or hairstylists.


Turns out they do it in different ways. Some countries provide vocational programmes in schools while others offer apprenticeships. Some encourage students to choose vocational options earlier and some later. But the core purpose of vocational education is to give young people practical skills that can be applied in the workplace.


The OECD’s work on Learning for Jobs took an in-depth look at how countries organise their vocational education systems so as to respond to the needs of the labour market. Here are just a few points that the OECD brought to light: 

  • Austria has well-structured apprenticeships that integrate learning in schools and workplace training.
  • China has a strong and simple model for upper secondary vocational education that maintains general academic skills and a commitment to workplace training and close relationships with employers.
  • The Czech Republic has a very impressive database on labour market outcomes of education.
  • Germany’s vocational education and training (VET) system is well-resourced, combining public and private funding and its well-developed VET research capacity supports continuous innovation and improvement in the VET system.
  • The Hungarian VET system can rely on a strong national qualifications framework.
  • The Korean government has recently created sector councils and Meister schools to strengthen employer involvement in VET.


Of course, countries always face challenges and for each of the countries it looked at, the OECD came up with several suggestions for improvement. For example, OECD recommended that: 

  • The Czech Republic introduce a standardised assessment covering the practical elements in technical programmes.
  • Ireland systematically identify the literacy and numeracy problems of those who come into contact with training services and provide basic skills support to those in need.
  • Mexico create quality standards for workplace training and a traineeship contract to expand workplace training and improve its quality.
  • Norway’s workplace supervisors and trainers of apprentices should receive some obligatory training.
  • Sweden publish information on the labour market outcomes of VET.
  • Texas (United States) ensure that career guidance receives sufficient separate attention and resources relative to other forms of school counselling.


If you’d like to know more about all the countries reviewed and the general policy lessons from the work, please read our Learning for Jobs: Pointers for Policy Development. And now, we're moving on to examine how countries develop higher level technical skills in our new project Skills beyond School. Take a look.

The decision of the OECD to develop a Skills Strategy, in order to support its member countries in establishing their national level strategies has been timely. In many countries the meaning of skills, the way of thinking about how they are produced and how they are used, and about the role they can play in social and economic development and national competitiveness is being re-thought. There is a growing need for sharing experiences in this area and there is also a need to find common answers to the emerging new questions related particularly with the new post-crisis social and economic conditions.


The document entitled “Towards an OECD Skills Strategy”, which is already containing the key elements of a possible strategy, was presented last month, among others, to the Governing Board of the OECD's Centre for Educational Research and Innovation( CERI). One of the questions raised by the members of this body was related with the term skills. Some of them proposed that we use the term competence instead of skills, because they found the meaning of skills too narrow, too much connected to specific jobs. This was an important warning. We should not forget that many people in many countries might have difficulties to understand the messages of the skills strategy if the meaning they give to the term skills is not broad enough. There is an important communication task here. For example, when talking about skills, many people do not think of complex, high level skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving; communication and collaboration or skills related with creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. It is important to make it clear: skills may range from the simplest to the most complex and many of them are horizontal or generic. Many skills require very high level general cognitive, social or interpersonal and intrapersonal capacities. This must be appropriately stressed in the OECD Skills Strategy.


The document “Towards an OECD Skills Strategy” points to six possible areas of actions (including effective implementation). One of them is about the use of skills. I think this is the area that should receive the highest attention from those within the education sector because this is what seems to be the most often neglected in discussions about skills within the sector. As a university professor, teaching and studying educational policy and development, I often experience that my colleagues and students have a high level knowledge about how skills are produced but they have relatively little understanding of how they are used in real life, particularity in different jobs and in different workplaces. We should think about skills always in two dimensions: from both the formation and the utilisation perspective. We should understand better the dynamic connection, the inseparability and the mutual impact of these two dimensions. The production or the formation of skills and the use of them should be seen as two sides of the same coin. Those who are in the skills production side (educators, human developers, training providers etc.) should learn more about the complex reality of workplaces in enterprises or public services. We should know more about, for example, high performance workplaces, learning organisations, knowledge organisations and complex innovation processes within work organisations: otherwise we cannot understand the potential of skills in producing value. We should understand better the nature of entrepreneurship and innovation because these are the most important channels for skills to create new jobs and new value-creation possibilities. Only a deeper understanding of work organisations, technological transformations and human resource management processes, and a better apprehension of the dynamics of creating and implementing workplace level development strategies can show us how we can, though developing skills, enhance development and foster competitiveness.


The shift from the supply side towards the demand side seems to be one of the most promising aspects of the emerging Skills Strategy of the OECD, and this is what perhaps will be the most challenging component for those who are on the supply side. Hopefully those who are within the education sector can draw inspiration from understanding better the world where skills are used.


Gábor Halász

Professor of Education,

ELTE University Budapest

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) Governing Board member


What’s going on in class?

Posted by 498371 May 20, 2011

Popular belief has it that every successive crop of students is less disciplined than the one before it, and that teachers are losing control over their classes.


Well, popular belief has it wrong: according to data gathered in the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey, most students in OECD countries enjoy orderly classrooms; and between 2000 and 2009 discipline in school did not deteriorate – in fact, in most countries it improved.


On average across OECD countries, the percentage of students who reported that their teachers do not have to wait a long time for their classmates to quieten down increased by six percentage points – up to 73% in 2009 from 67% in 2000. What difference does that make? It could make a lot of difference. Results from PISA 2009 show that disciplinary climate is strongly associated with student performance in school. Students who reported that their reading lessons are often interrupted perform less well than students who reported that there are few or no interruptions in class.


Classrooms in some countries have become significantly calmer over the past decade, especially in a few countries where, in 2000, nearly half of students reported unruly classes. For example, in 2000, between 51% and 54% of students in Chile, Greece and Italy reported that there was “never” or “almost never” noise and disorder during their lessons; by 2009, this proportion had increased to 63% in Chile, 58% in Greece and 68% in Italy.


Not only did students report better behaviour among their peers, more of them said that they enjoyed good student-teacher relations, too. And positive student-teacher relations help students to learn. Research shows that students learn more and have fewer disciplinary problems when they feel that their teachers take them seriously. Between 2000 and 2009, the increase in the proportion of students who reported that their teachers “really listen to what I have to say” was greater than 10 percentage points in Germany, Iceland, Japan, Korea and the partner country Albania. In 2000, three of these countries – Germany, Japan and Korea – showed the smallest proportion of students who reported that they had their teachers’ ear among all 26 OECD countries with comparable data.


During the same period, there was also an increase in the proportion of students who said that their teachers are willing to help them with their studies if they need it. This proportion rose by more than five percentage points in several of the 25 countries and economies with comparable data.


In sum, PISA offers no evidence to support the notion that a lack of classroom discipline is a growing problem or that students are becoming more and more disengaged from their classes. So much for conventional wisdom…


For a closer look at how classroom discipline has evolved over the past decade, see the latest issue of PISA in Focus.

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