Table of Contents
Early Childhood Education and Care
Early childhood provision – pre-primary and childcare – has been a growing priority in many countries. Such priority is manifest by demanding parents, and it is also a phase of education and services increasingly recognised as important in its contribution to a wide range of social, economic and educational goals. At the same time, it is a sector with a complex diversity of players and partners and one with a significant lack of investment in many countries. A major OECD review in the field of early childhood published by OECD in 2006 – Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education and Care – was a follow-up to an earlier international review published in 2001. Its policy orientations are broadly focused on overcoming the under-developed status of the sector that remains typical of many countries.
Schooling – Investments, Organisation, and Learners
The period of compulsory education – primary, lower secondary and even the upper secondary cycle in some countries – is at the core of all education systems. Over recent years, there have been significant investments in this core phase of education, recognised as being fundamental for laying the foundation on which so many other social, economic and educational outcomes may follow. Teachers (and the educational workforce in general) are widely recognised as central to the success of schooling, a position reinforced by the major 2005 OECD study Teachers Matter: Attracting, Developing and Retaining Effective Teachers. OECD work has analysed with growing precision the characteristics of learners and the nature of school practices, including leadership. Policy orientations have stressed the need simultaneously to modernise, professionalise and innovate, while also placing reforms directed at effective learning – rather than changing only structures and administrative systems – at the core of schooling.
Transitions beyond Initial Education
OECD analyses have shed extensive light on the issues, arrangements, and policies surrounding the transitions beyond compulsory schooling. Extended education with at least completion of the upper secondary cycle is increasingly the norm right across the OECD countries. Alongside shared patterns are marked differences on such matters as the relative proportions who engage in general or vocational study, as well as the possibilities to combine education with employment. OECD studies on guidance, information systems and qualifications have shown that there is much scope for improving transitions. Vocational education and training have not been studied by OECD so extensively until recently and this is now being addressed. Policy orientations have stressed the need to improve the existence, diversity, relevance and transparency of different pathways, while protecting those left most vulnerable as others advance to further education and employment.
Countries share a very rapid expansion of higher or tertiary education which means that instead of this being an experience enjoyed by a privileged minority it has now become even the majority experience of each new cohort. There are other broad trends visible across the OECD – for instance, the growing international tertiary education market and the greater formalisation of quality assurance. There has been prominent OECD work on higher education latterly, with the Guidelines for Quality Provision in Cross-border Higher Education, a major review of tertiary education, and new work underway on assessment of higher education outcomes (AHELO). OECD policy orientations have included acceptance that students should contribute to the costs of their study (with appropriate safeguards), the need to develop e-learning and guidance systems, and reinforcement of the regional and innovation role of higher education institutions (HEIs).
Adult Education and Training – Participation and Provision
With agreement on the importance of lifelong learning in OECD and by countries, it is natural that adult participation in education and training has been a focus of statistical work and of programme and policy analysis. The international data show how, for many countries, participation in formal education remains a rare occurrence for older adults, with very wide differences between countries in engagement in non-formal organised learning. The Nordic countries are near the top of most comparisons of participation and engagement. The OECD has conducted international reviews – the most recent published in 2005 – bringing together the education and employment perspectives, of provision and policies for adult learning, with complementary studies on qualifications, ageing, and financing.
"Lifelong Learning" has been a defining goal for education and training policies for many years, emphasising the need for organised learning to take place over the whole lifespan and across the different main spheres that make up our lives ("life-wide"). OECD data confirm how extensive educational "careers" have become. There have been discrete studies which shed light on the nature of the challenge: the need to question the continued "front-end" expansion of education systems if lifelong learning is to be achieved; the room for considerable improvement in guidance systems; the importance of financing and qualification systems. Despite acknowledgement of its importance, holistic analyses of lifelong learning have been less a feature of OECD work in recent years and the relatively dated evidence base comparing countries in their implementation of this broad aim similarly underlines that implementation in countries is patchy and often disappointing.
Outcomes, Benefits and Returns
Very rich information on educational outcomes has been generated through OECD work, especially with the triennial PISA achievement surveys. These survey the achievements of 15-year-olds in different competence areas, together with a growing range of associated background information, and in many non-member countries as well as those of the OECD. These surveys reveal the wide differences between countries. In charting patterns, very large numbers still do not attain at levels that might be regarded as the minimum for 21st century knowledge economies. The strong OECD focus on outcomes is set to expand beyond teenage achievements as surveys of adult competences and outcomes from higher education are in development. There is also expanding analysis of returns to education within OECD, including outside the Directorate for Education. Findings confirm the positive returns to higher levels of educational attainment on a variety of measures, certainly for the individual, though with much more to be done to make educational benefits more transparent to learners themselves.
Equity and Equality of Opportunity
Analyses of developments and policies that influence equity have been an underlying priority in much of the OECD educational work. The persistent patterns of inequality have been highlighted, with the increasingly quality of international data permitting analyses relating to many pertinent groups of learners and their educational experiences. OECD analysis has shown that there need be no contradiction between equity and efficiency, and indeed has underlined how damaging to economic as well as social goals is the phenomenon of exclusion and widespread under-achievement. A major international review of equity in education, published in 2007, outlines ten broad policy directions around the design of provision, practices, and resourcing. The charting of the opportunities, outcomes and policies towards different population groups who may well be disadvantaged has been undertaken across the many sectors of education and training, including longstanding work on special educational needs.
Innovation and Knowledge Management
Recognition of the key role of research and knowledge management in educational practice and policy-making is in general recent. In many countries, there has been only weak capacity to develop and exploit the knowledge base on which improved practice and effective policies can be based. The volume of relevant educational R&D tends generally to be low, despite education being so explicitly about knowledge. Similarly, a great deal of educational change is still shaped by short-term considerations despite education’s fundamental long-term mission and nature. Educational R&D systems, knowledge management, futures thinking, and evidenceinformed policy and practice, have all been prominent aspects of the OECD work done primarily through the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation.
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