OECD Education Working Papers

This series is designed to make available to a wider readership selected studies drawing on the work of the OECD Directorate for Education. Authorship is usually collective, but principal writers are named. The papers are generally available only in their original language (English or French) with a short summary available in the other.

English, French

Learning in rural schools

Insights from PISA, TALIS and the literature

Based on a review of previous research, the paper describes the distinctive characteristics of rural areas and communities and the factors typically associated with shaping students’ learning experience in rural contexts. Data from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015 and the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2013 are analysed to examine differences in learning outcomes and education expectations between rural and urban students and to assess the extent to which challenges and opportunities in the provision of rural education are commonplace across OECD member and partner countries. To our surprise, some of the perceived challenges of providing rural education, such as an inadequate infrastructure or a lack of quality teachers, are far from universal. Rural-urban gaps in academic performance generally disappear after accounting for socio-economic status and rural students are less likely to expect completing a university degree than city students, but this gap in expectations persists even when rural students have a similar socio economic status, on average across OECD countries. This highlights the importance of raising aspirations and creating opportunities for rural students. The paper concludes with ideas for policy and country experiences that governments may consider to ensure high quality learning for students in rural contexts.


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