Education provides individuals with knowledge and competencies to participate effectively in society and to break the cycle of disadvantage. Still, in 2008 one-fourth of the OECD population had only a basic education and in most of the regions in Mexico and Portugal, and in some regions in Chile and Spain, this proportion was as high as 50%.
Large regional differences in education attainment within a country are generally found in countries with a high proportion of adults with only basic education attainment. This is the case of France, Greece, Mexico, Portugal and Spain. However, in Germany, Korea and the United States the share of population with only basic education is lower than the OECD average, but regional differences are higher (Figure 24.1).
In the knowledge-based economy the demand for skills is increasing and a high school diploma has become the minimum level to participate in the job market. On average, 80% of an age cohort in 2008 is estimated to complete upper secondary education in OECD countries (Education at a Glance 2010). However, the number of young adults (aged 18-24) who have not completed upper secondary education and are not enrolled in training - the early school leavers - is high in some countries such as, Portugal, Spain and -Turkey. Opportunities within countries also seem to be very different: the difference between regions in the share of early school leavers is high in Italy, Greece and the United Kingdom, besides Portugal, Spain and Turkey (Figure 24.2).
Regional inequalities in education attainment persist also for higher levels of education; the most in Canada (mostly due to the unequal distribution of population in the country), Chile, Portugal and Finland. The Gini index of regional labour force with at least upper education has decreased only in half of the OECD countries over the past ten years (Figure 24.3).
Educational attainment and graduation rates alone do not capture the quality of educational outcomes. Monitoring the outcomes of education in different regions can give insight of where/ how to intervene. Countries that have undertaken the OECD PISA survey at the regional level show that regional disparities in learning outcomes also persist in unitary educational systems (OECD PISA 2009 Results: Annex B2 - Results for regions within countries). Even when taking into account the different socio-economic backgrounds of students, the location of schools still matter: in the OECD area, students in city schools outperform rural areas by more than 20 score points, or the equivalent of almost one year of education (Figure 24.4).
The educational attainment rate is defined as the proportion of labour force with a certain level of education. The international standard classification for education (ISCED 97) is used to define the levels of education. Pre-primary, primary and lower secondary education comprises the 3 lowest ISCED levels: 0, 1 and 2. For simplicity, here it is referred as basic education (or lower secondary education). Upper secondary education comprises ISCED levels 3-4, while tertiary education levels 5-6.
The population aged 18-24 that has at most attained a lower secondary diploma and is not following any training is defined as early school leavers.
The Gini index is a measure of inequality among all regions of a given country (see Annex C for the formula). The index takes on values between 0 and 1, with zero interpreted as no disparity. It assigns equal weight to each region regardless of its size; therefore differences in the value of the index among countries may be partially due to differences in the average size of regions in each country.
The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) assesses 15-year-old students' ability to use their knowledge and skills.