1. Overview

Education systems operate in a world that is constantly evolving towards new equilibria, yet short-term crises may disrupt, accelerate or divert longer-term evolutions. Balancing the important and the urgent thus emerges as the key everyday task of today’s education systems. To do so, successful education systems must harness the kinetic energy of the ever-changing world they inhabit, becoming more dynamic and agile to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse set of learners.

The important challenge of navigating the evolution from industrial to post-industrial societies and economies demands greater responsiveness from education systems to provide more individualised learning pathways. With more and more diverse populations and changing labour markets, the breadth of skills and knowledge that individuals require in order to be able to contribute fully to society also gains importance. In this context, education systems must strive to deliver educational experiences based on students’ hopes, needs, passions and capabilities (Schleicher, 2019[1]).

The urgent challenge posed by sudden changes in education systems’ capacity to deliver quality learning requires resilience—the ability to plan and prepare for, absorb, withstand, recover from and adapt to adverse events and disruptions. Resilience involves capitalising on available opportunities in a context of crisis for longer-term improvement (Hynes, Linkov and Trump, 2020[2]).

For education systems, bringing together the urgent and the important as a synergistic endeavour means adapting flexibly to constant change while progressing towards current and future priorities. It also means working to thrive through adversity rather than survive despite adversity by learning how to identify and capitalise upon any opportunities that crises, disruptions and longer-term evolutions may offer. These are the responsive and resilient mindsets that actors across the education system - learners, teachers, policy makers and other education partners - must now develop.

Indeed, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, now more than ever, people across the world are becoming aware that disruptions do not wait, regardless of whether societies and education systems are ready for them. At the same time, this crisis was just the latest in a history of national and international shocks – natural disasters, economic downturns, wars – and it will not be the last. Diversity, complexity and uncertainty constantly interconnect in the contexts and moments in which societies exist. These interconnections bring about changing scenarios and new opportunities for the people who live them, sometimes exacerbating or curtailing previous social, economic or political trends .

In policy fields, some literature has classified these high-impact, changing scenarios and potentialities as “black swans” (when unanticipated, such as the COVID-19 pandemic), “black jellyfish” (when incremental, such as increased life expectancy or human migration), “grey rhinos” (when highly anticipated, such as changes introduced by technology), or “black elephants” (when not seen or chosen to be ignored, such as climate change) (Tõnurist and Hanson, 2020[3]). This illustrates that change happens in a variety of forms and brings diverse impacts: policy makers’ actions to anticipate, prepare and adapt to such change thus need to become a more conscious, strategic endeavour.

In education, the need for policy makers to invest efforts in strengthening responsiveness and resilience among learners, learning environments and systems therefore becomes critical, both for present and future readiness. Only resilient education systems that plan for disruption, and withstand and recover from adverse events, will be able to fulfil the fundamental human right to education, whatever the circumstances, and foster the level of human capital required by successful economies in the short and longer term. At the same time, resilient education systems develop resilient individuals who adjust to everyday challenges, play an active role in their communities, and respond to an increasingly volatile, uncertain and ambiguous global landscape (Schleicher, 2018[4]).

Recent evidence collected by the OECD in collaboration with other international organisations further stresses this point. Although the pandemic meant disruptions in education delivery across all education systems, those that typically perform the highest in international tests such as the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were also the least affected by school closures in 2020. At the same time, school closures and the number of COVID-19 cases per million inhabitants appeared less related (Figure 1.1).

This suggests how critical it is for policy makers to be able to address the urgent and the important not as a tension, but as a synergistic effort. Policy makers’ efforts to build a responsive system that successfully meets the needs of all learners in times of “normality” can help them to become more resilient in times of crisis. In the same way, efforts to address emerging crises could be steps to develop more responsive systems in the longer term (OECD, 2021[5]).

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. Thus ensued a global and ubiquitous shock: the International Monetary Fund recognised the Great Lockdown in 2020 as the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression (Gopinath, 2020[6]). Education systems across the world also felt the force of the crisis as confinement measures triggered widespread closures, followed by some gradual re-opening and even re-closing of education institutions.

At almost two years into the pandemic, global economic prospects have improved compared to previous forecasts made in December 2020, with global gross domestic product (GDP) projected to grow by 5.7% in 2021 and then by 4.5% in 2022. According to the OECD, global GDP surpassed pre-pandemic levels by September 2021. Strong policy support, the deployment of effective vaccines, and the resumption of many economic activities in several countries and economies are some key factors identified for this positive development. At the same time, the pace of vaccination across them has varied, with new virus mutations posing a risk to recovery. Recovery also remains uneven across countries and economies, and with significant uncertainty for their people depending on the sector or demographic group (OECD, 2021[7]). At the beginning of the pandemic, almost 10 million more people had become unemployed, with growing inactivity rates and falling employment rates (OECD, 2021[8]). As months pass, although economic output has returned to pre-pandemic levels in some countries and economies, such as the United States, employment remains lower than before the pandemic. Other countries and economies, particularly in Europe, have managed to largely preserve employment, but output and total hours worked have not yet recovered fully (OECD, 2021[7]).

These macroeconomic data pointing to slow employment recovery echo many people’s perceived risk of social precariousness earlier on in the pandemic. In the 2020 OECD Risk that Matters Survey, conducted in 25 countries and economies, 70% of respondents reported being concerned about their economic and social well-being in the next couple of years (OECD, 2021[9]). Moreover, 37% of people said that their household had experienced at least one job-related disruption, such as a job loss, a job lay-off, a job retention scheme, reduced work hours, and/or a pay cut. Job disruptions were more pronounced among youths and parents with children at home. In addition, over 60% of people whose household lost a job since the start of the crisis expressed concerns about having the right skills and knowledge to work in a secure and well-paid job a decade from now. Among those who reported no household job loss, this share was only about 10 percentage points lower (OECD, 2021[10]), highlighting that skill readiness is a widespread concern. New scenarios unfolding from the pandemic bring very tangible challenges that governments, societies and individuals have started experiencing now and will potentially experience in the years to come.

However, this global pandemic has also brought about change and lessons that are worth deeper thought. Technology became a lifeline from the initial emergency period and beyond, helping societies navigate the pandemic and permeating people’s lives for work, family, or other community engagement more than ever before. Moreover, technology has very rapidly gained a more rightful place – although sometimes following a steep learning curve – as a support to educators and learners, contrary to some previous misgivings that it threatened to replace human processes.

Society has also come to better understand the broader value of education institutions and relationships. With institutional closures, education institutions are rapidly and clearly emerging as more than a space of simple transaction. They emerge as a rich environment of complex community relationships helping people of all ages, including education professionals, reach their potential as individuals and members of society. Likewise, in many countries and economies, the context of emergency has strengthened the social tissue underpinning communities and societies, as local and national actors are coming together to build bridges where existing structures could not function.

Education has therefore also been fertile land for transformation and new awareness during the pandemic. Reform in education may have happened less, but change has been happening more—in timelines, actions and mindsets. Looking towards 2022, as countries and economies focus on recovering from a profound global crisis and building a better normal, the moment is ripe to imagine a responsive and resilient future for education more fully, and to dare to make it a reality.

To achieve this, education policy makers must first maintain and extend the momentum of collective action seen in 2020 and 2021.They need not only a vision of what is possible, but also smart strategies that help translate that vision into action.

Change is like throwing a rock into a pond. The rock will eventually settle into the foundations, but not without making waves. With this in mind, developing a broader understanding of resilience among governments, societies and individuals becomes necessary. Resilience is not only about thriving despite undesired change, but thriving through intended, unintended, positive or negative change. Yet resilience in education can only be achieved if education systems are truly responsive to learners, institutions and system needs, and consistently able to meet them in times of both stability and change.

Strengthening the responsiveness and resilience of learners, broader learning environments (i.e. in education institutions and beyond, such as home, community or digital environments for learning) and education systems must therefore be a mutually reinforcing endeavour. An individual’s ability to adapt positively to adverse circumstances depends not only on personal characteristics, but also on factors in their social and physical environment, notably the availability (and responsiveness) of the services they need in order to sustain their well-being (Ungar, 2011[11]; OECD, 2018[12]). In this sense, the individual learners’ resilience depends on the resilience of the communities they live in, the schools they attend, and the education system as a whole. Education systems need to develop responsive policy eco-systems that promote resilience at different levels.

The Framework for Responsiveness and Resilience in Education Policy aims to support policy makers to do just that, balancing the important challenge of navigating the ongoing evolution from industrial to post-industrial societies and economies, and the urgent challenge of building greater resilience at learner, institutional and system levels in the face of ongoing disruption and change. It breaks down concepts of responsiveness and resilience across policy levels and into actionable components. It also aims to be a practical tool for policy makers, applicable to whatever type of changing scenario occurs, and whether facing black swans, black jellyfish, grey rhinos or black elephants.

The framework was developed through analysis of international evidence, including the broad knowledge base of the Education Policy Outlook, as well as an iterative and collaborative process with over 40 participating education systems and other relevant education actors to ensure relevance across education systems. One of the key outcomes from these exchanges is that, although responsiveness and resilience are part of ongoing conversations among education actors across many education systems, the framework can help to operationalise these concepts and how they interact, both in the current context and for the longer term. Furthermore, it can bring together elements that may differ in priority across education systems, supporting policy makers to maintain a wider view of potential areas of neglect or change needed.

To this end, building on international evidence and analysis, the framework endeavours to establish tangible and transferable definitions of resilient learners, resilient learning environments and resilient education systems. These definitions, which are the goals of the framework (Why?), are underpinned by policy components of responsiveness (What?), which define priority areas for education policy makers. Policy pointers for resilience (How?) then illustrate how policy makers can apply these components in ways that promote resilience at the learner, broader learning environment and system levels of the policy ecosystem. Finally, a transversal component looks into the people and the processes undertaken in order to reach a given purpose (Who?) (Figure 1.2).

As countries and economies strive to move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic at the moment of writing this report, it is hard to think of a time when the need for resilient learners has been any greater. In 2021, even an optimistic outlook for the next five years envisages great change ahead for today’s learners as, heeding the lessons of the pandemic, education systems work to capitalise on the full spectrum of modes of educational delivery, valuing people and processes over classrooms and devices (OECD, 2020[41]). In a less positive reading of the next few years, emerging crises and economic uncertainty endure, risking ongoing day-to-day disruption in students’ learning. Less hopeful still, a future that sees major economic crisis and further iterations of other more localised crises could also witness a strict prioritisation and stripping back of resources for education, meaning a decline in available supports to learners. Whatever the outlook, change is on the horizon for learners.

  • Why nurture resilient learners? Resilient learners can adapt to various tasks and environments, taking advantage of opportunities to reach their individual potential. Such learners have the capacity and agency to identify and capitalise on opportunities given to them by the system and to create their own. They are also able to move between learning tasks and environments, engaging pro-actively in efforts to enhance them. All resilient learners can eventually reach their potential regardless of background, interests or needs.

  • What policy components of responsiveness can nurture resilient learners? Policy makers can promote resilience at this level through promoting policy components of responsiveness that empower learners to confidently navigate their worlds while providing them with combined adaptive pedagogies for all, and sustained supports for the most vulnerable students.

  • How to apply these components so they translate into resilience? To be most effective in promoting resilience, these components need to favour policy approaches that foster learners’ agency and co-agency, encourage learners’ engagement and voice, and nurture positive climates and interactions for learning. Furthermore, it is important to apply these components in a way that makes personalised and flexible learning available to all learners while connecting and strengthening targeted supports for vulnerable learners, also for the longer term. This may be through multidimensional support that is open to different types of disadvantage, and that follows a longer-term vision of state transcending government administrations.

In a positive forecast for the next five years, with the virus and its variants under control and the pandemic officially overcome, educational processes accelerated by the crisis, such as educational innovation, collaboration with a wider range of stakeholders, and hybrid and digital learning approaches will become embedded across all learning environments. In less positive forecasts, stability is further off and institutions must continue to navigate uncertainty and past closures as longer-term educational scars – drop-out, student disengagement, educator attrition and lower participation – take hold. In the worst case, crises multiply and interact, leaving educational institutions prioritising only strictly necessary services. For better or worse, the next years will be eventful for educational institutions and other learning environments beyond them.

  • Why nurture resilient broader learning environments? Resilient broader learning environments transcend education institutions to shape a dynamic and collaborative local education network. While institutions remain at the heart of education systems, these broader learning environments promote richer and more meaningful learning for all. In so doing, they prioritise people and processes over classrooms and devices, establishing and achieving collaborations that are holistic, deep and durable. Driving this is a strong sense of leadership, through which institutional actors are empowered to implement policies in their environments in ways that respond to local contexts.

  • What policy components of responsiveness can nurture resilient broader learning environments? Policy makers can promote resilience at this level by prioritising policy components of responsiveness that position the education institution at the heart of a strategic network of actors and services, and empower teachers and other education staff to lead richer learning processes across environments.

  • How to apply these components so they translate into resilience? To translate into resilience, these components then need to be applied in a manner that convenes a wider range of actors to advance the work of institutions and strengthen links between services to address learners’ needs more holistically. In the same way, they need to enable and encourage staff in education institutions to adapt policies and practices to their contexts. Furthermore, they can promote the resilience of education staff by supporting their professional learning, collaboration, well-being and leadership.

In 2021, building system resilience has also become a matter of urgency. Even the most optimistic outlook for the next five years will see the world experiencing intense change as system-level actors try to learn and embed the lessons of the pandemic and maintain the momentum of innovation and collective action. Less optimistically, continued instability and erratic behaviour in the health and economic sectors, as well as other existing and emerging crises, would lead to a default survival mode, with education systems forced to absorb ongoing disruption. Under a more pessimistic reading of the next five years, non-resilient education systems risk reaching a state of inertia where strain on public resources, a decline in political capital, and fatigue or burnout among implementation actors would inhibit any efforts to actively shape change. Education systems cannot afford to postpone the resilience agenda at this level either.

  • Why nurture resilient systems? Resilience at system level enables societies to achieve a strategic vision of social and economic prosperity. It makes this possible through information infrastructure and pathways. Firstly, a smart information infrastructure enables actors across the system to collect, disseminate and use information in ways that provide them with a sense of priorities, as well as an ability to identify either stagnation or progress. Secondly, clearly defined but malleable learning pathways connect learners’ potential and aspirations with education, training and evolving labour markets.

  • What components of policy responsiveness can nurture resilience at system level? Policy makers can promote resilience at this level by prioritising policy components of responsiveness that draw attention to collecting, disseminating and improving the use of student information, as well as fostering dynamic educational pathways that evolve with the learner and the times.

  • How to apply these components so they translate into resilience? To translate into resilience, these components need to be applied through revisiting the collection of information about students and their learning, as well as purposeful dissemination of information on student progress and the practices that enhance it, and engagement of actors to better use information about students, their learning and related practices. They also need to be applied within a context that seeks smooth transitions within education systems by aligning structures, people and processes. Furthermore, they should be employed with the aim of ensuring the relevance of the educational offer through differentiated approaches for the short and longer term, and supporting students to develop ambitious and realistic career expectations.

Carefully visualising who is the main actor of a policy is essential for resilience to be possible at any of these levels. Although helping all learners to reach their potential should be the final objective of every education policy, they often need to address a range of complex social needs in order to meet this objective. Responsive and resilient education systems need to be supported by their people and their interactions in order to help institutions better respond to change and disruption. However, people do not act in a vacuum; for them to be effectively part of a resilient ecosystem, they need to mobilise towards a specific purpose and be supported to act through a given process. Therefore, in a responsive and resilient ecosystem:

  • People are at the heart of policy making. To better respond to situations when everyday processes break down, as in a crisis or shock situation, people must have the agency to act alone and the empathy to create impact together. They need to be able to develop meaningful collaborations, including for multi-directional peer learning (horizontal, top-down and bottom-up), that allow them to be effective co-creators. At the same time, OECD evidence points to a need to understand the different profiles and interests of people inhabiting education eco-systems, which coexist in contexts of rapidly declining institutional and interpersonal trust and resource constraints (Viennet and Pont, 2017[13]; OECD, 2019[14]). Adopting a resilience approach therefore requires not only acknowledging how these people and their views, interests, capacities and specific resource needs meet at the centre of policy processes, but doing so in a way which helps restore trust and consolidate relationships. This also requires gaining greater insight into aspects that may influence their actions, such as their capacity to decide, their perception of value, or their relation with others (Biddle, 2021[15]).

  • Purpose connects people’s present and future needs as a society. Purpose is shaped by a national/subnational view of common good and the system’s capacity for foresight and strategic planning; through it, the people in an education system identify, implement or sustain coherent and cost-effective policy approaches as needed. They also identify how their individual priorities can relate to common priorities. Yet, at any level of the system, and on any given day, people must tackle any number of issues. These multiply rapidly in a context of disruption and change, forcing people to prioritise and explore trade-offs. As pointed out by previous OECD evidence, purpose is defined at two levels: a long-term national or subnational shared vision for the system, and medium- or short-term policy-specific goals or objectives. Crucially, the two should be coherently aligned: short-term decisions, particularly those taken quickly in emergency contexts, must not constrain long-term options (OECD, 2013[16]). They should also act as reference standards against which resource distribution and use can be planned and effectiveness and efficiency assessed. Crafting and articulating such purpose therefore requires time and capacity for complex analysis, foresight activities and strategic planning, as well as participatory processes of engagement with citizens and stakeholders (OECD, 2019[14]). It also requires enough flexibility to adapt to rapidly changing contexts, yet sufficient rigidity in order to be upheld across government administrations.

  • Processes empower people to achieve the purpose. Finally, the processes within an ecosystem of responsiveness and resilience refer to the capacity of a policy to trigger actual change and impact in people’s education contexts through a balance of innovation and preservation. To this end, as part of the processes, potential enablers such as globalisation or digitalisation can lead to greater inclusiveness and empowerment, as opposed to isolation and precariousness. It also means committing to continuous evaluative thinking, including regarding resource use, to identify what is working. Where possible and appropriate, this should take into account cost-effectiveness and associated trade-offs. It should also be matched with transparent reporting that can help people across the system remain evidence-informed and address information gaps as and when uncertainty emerges.

This report outlines the framework through three main chapters: Chapter 2: Strengthening resilience at learner level through empowered learners, adaptive pedagogies and sustained supports; Chapter 3: Strengthening resilience in the broader learning environment through strategic networks and empowered education staff; and Chapter 4: Strengthening resilience at system level through a smart information infrastructure and flexible pathways. These chapters look further into the components of policy responsiveness to explain why these matter for education systems, and then provide analysis and specific examples of how countries and economies have been applying them in ways that promote resilience in the pre-pandemic and pandemic periods. The tables in each section list further examples for education systems’ consideration. In the case of more recent policy developments included in this report, it should be acknowledged that in some education systems, the pandemic emergency did not allow the implementation of education policies that could be relevant to this framework, hence they will be considered for potential inclusion and monitoring in future analyses based on this framework. Further explanation of the policy pointers for resilience, based on lessons learnt from international policy efforts, illustrates how policy makers can apply these components in ways that promote resilience at different levels. The Resilience in action sections at the beginning of each chapter provide a description of resilience at each level, as well as a succinct overview of policy components for responsiveness and pointers for resilience.

Finally, Chapter 5 presents country snapshots covering around 30 education systems. For each country, these include a selection of indicators across the three levels of the framework indicating readiness before the pandemic, as well as examples of relevant selected policies implemented before and during the pandemic.


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