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  TRENDS AND ISSUES FROM AN OECD PERSPECTIVE
  WESTERN EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA
 
 
 
 
 TABLE OF CONTENTS
 
I.  INTRODUCTION
II  THE CHANGING OECD CONTEXT OF THE 90s
III THE FOUNDATIONS: EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND CARE
IV STRENGTHENING PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLING AND
    VOCATIONAL EDUCATION
ENDURING PROBLEMS: KEY GAPS AND PRIORITIES
VI THE WAY AHEAD

Directions:

REFERENCES
STATISTICAL APPENDIX



 INTRODUCTION

    'The capacity to learn is at the heart of human development Equal opportunities for learning are indispensable if development is truly to be broad based and sustainable, and if the enormous future costs of exclusion are to be avoided' (Draft Dakar Framework for Action, 05/11/99)

  'Lifelong learning will be essential for everyone as we move into the 21st century and has to be made available to all' (Communique of the OECD Education Ministers, January, 1996).


 
The Education for All vision is an ambitious declaration of intent to overcome outstanding weaknesses and gaps in the provision of a high quality of basic education for all people. In the ten years since the Jomtien Declaration these weaknesses and gaps have been studied and extensively debated nationally, regionally and in global conferences and reports. Many countries have taken determined action to address them. Yet there are in all countries difficulties and barriers still to be surmounted: in some they are so severe as to jeopardise the foundations of civil society and economic survival. Difficulties continue to exist not only in the poorest and least educationally developed countries; they are also to be found in the most educationally, socially and economically advanced parts of the world, where the concept of universal basic education is now being incorporated within frameworks for lifelong learning for all.
 
 
In recognition of the varied nature of the challenges facing all education systems, of the progress made and that still needs to be made, targets are being proposed for endorsement by the Unesco World Conference in Dakar in April 2000. Stocktaking and recommitment have their point, but their effectiveness depends first on a well developed capacity to gather and analyse data, second on a sure sense of purpose and direction, third on a determination to draw in and mobilise all available resources in pursuit of clear, definite and realistic objectives, and fourth, on a readiness to extend the conceptual and policy boundaries so that basic education is progressively brought under the umbrella of continuing, lifelong learning for all. The Dakar conference must be of demonstrable value if the great efforts and costs of the preparatory, planning and organisational work are to be justified. Hard pressed national education systems and international agencies need to be assured of the relevance and practicality of the measures proposed and the decisions that are made. For some OECD countries, at any rate, it appears that conviction of the value of the Dakar enterprise is yet to be established. In the final stage of the preparations, it is necessary to focus not only on gains made and on chronic problems, but also on key policy issues and on the likelihood of their being subject to practical, problem-solving appraisal. Declarations, verbal commitments and undertakings must be based on a clear and firm understanding of the capacity and readiness of countries to translate them into policies and action programmes, even if some of these are long term in nature.

 
The present report outlines relevant trends and developments in the OECD countries in Europe and North America in the1990s and indicates likely future directions. Although the central orientation is towards these countries, many of the issues are common to the whole OECD membership and much of the internationally comparative data and reporting refer to the overall membership or to selection of countries from the whole membership. There are known weaknesses and shortcomings including enduring problems in the education systems of all member countries and these receive attention alongside the gains that have been made in recent years. The data are drawn mainly from EFA sources for those countries that submitted reports, and from OECD documents based on country data, including the international education indicators. Interpretations and conclusions drawn are the responsibility of the authors and do not commit either the OECD or the reporting countries.

 
The scale and often the nature of education problems in the regions and countries of the world are of course different. It may evoke a sense of relative deprivation to draw attention to the problems of the more well-off societies when the hardships of the poorest countries are so extreme. There are striking differences between the OECD countries and many others. For example, a much lower proportion of the population in the former are in the 5 - 14 age group; there are fewer resources in the less prosperous countries to allocate to education, and there is a much smaller percentage of the population with upper secondary qualifications (although the gap is closing); and there are substantial differences in rates of participation in basic education (OECD/CERI, 1998a, p.29).

 
These and other differences call for careful contextual referencing in applying the cross-country policy objectives of Education for All. Nevertheless, as attainment of the goals of universal access and participation in the OECD countries comes ever closer to realisation, the gap between those students and citizens who are the beneficiaries of a sound education and those who fail, perform poorly, drop out and discontinue study at the earliest opportunity becomes both highly visible and yet ever more difficult to close (OECD/CERI, 1998c). Thus the Jomtien vision - and, with due care, the goals and directions set therein - and now the renewal of effort now proposed for Dakar are as relevant to those countries which have already traversed far along the road as to those which are well back.

 
The OECD nations of Western Europe and North America sustain many of the world's most highly developed and smoothly functioning educational systems. Indeed, they were largely responsible for the invention and establishment of national systems of universal public education. These systems are - despite some quite acute difficulties - relatively well financed; schooling of a generally reasonable standard is virtually universal between the ages of 5 - 7 and 14 - 18; there are in several of the countries near universal systems of early childhood education and care, highly developed systems of vocational, multiple forms of large scale tertiary education, and a large and varied array of adult education facilities and opportunities. Moreover, these countries are responsible for the bulk of the world's educational research effort.

 
These achievements reflect values, commitments, policies, legislation, organizational capacity and resource flows that have been built up, in most cases, over at least a century, sometimes considerably longer. They are the fruits of highly developed economies, well-established democratic political systems, decades of sustained policy making and administrative effort and underlying values and traditions concerning the rights and liberties of individuals and complex sets of societal needs. It is necessary to bear these and related considerations in mind in making global educational comparisons and in the setting of targets for countries which have yet to reach these levels of educational development and maturity.





 
II THE CHANGING OECD CONTEXT OF THE 90s


  The OECD 'region' is defined not geographically, but according to a range of economic, political, social and cultural features which determine countries' membership of the Organization. Briefly, these are full and active subscription to free market economics, trade liberalization, parliamentary government, democratic institutions and cultures, freedom of association, human rights and an overall commitment to liberty, equity and justice. Susceptible as these broad principles are to a variety of interpretations, and uneven as they may be in application, OECD member countries are characterized by a wide range of common structures, forms of social organization and policies which reflect their values and historical associations. Established in the aftermath of the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of post World War 2 Europe, the initial West European - North American membership was progressively enlarged to include all the Scandinavian countries, Western and Southern Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. During the 90s, a further expansion of membership occurred, to include the Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary, Poland, Mexico and South Korea. There are now 29 member countries, 25 of them in Europe and North and Central America. It may be expected that in the decades ahead there will be a further increase in the number - and diversity - of member countries.

  The decade of the 90s opened in a spirit of optimism and confidence in the future, following the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the ending of the Cold War and the emergence of new regimes across Eastern and Central Europe and in the former Soviet Union. Throughout the OECD region, the 90s have been marked by increasing interdependencies and openness among nations, peoples, their institutions and ways of life. The great boost to international investment and trade following in the wake of the liberalization measures of the 80s is one indication of this. Another is increasing recognition of the need for 'outreach' policies through which relations of different kinds are forged with other countries and organizations both national and international. These have not been confined to the European theatre but include new links with Asian countries one of which, South Korea, achieved membership of OECD in the latter part of the 90s. Joint programs and partnerships with other international bodies such as the World Bank and Unesco have increased in number and variety. Reviews of national education policies, once almost exclusively confined to member countries, have been made at the request of non-member countries during the 90s. In the international drive to improve educational statistics, many non-member countries are now providing data for Education at a Glance. OECD Education Indicators . Through the World Education Indicators Programme which OECD co-ordinates in co-operation with Unesco, the coverage of some of the indicators is almost two thirds of the world's population (OECD/CERI, 1998a, p.29). The recently launched PISA program (Programme for International Student Assessment), building on the long-running International Education Achievement studies, will draw together data on aspects of students' performance, in the first assessment phase, from 26 OECD countries, and from a number of others. In these and many other ways, OECD in the 90s has become a much more open, permeable and global organisation dedicated to sustainable economic growth, social development worldwide, the freeing of the multilateral system of economic relations among nations, and a growing number of partnerships and shared programmes not least in education.

  On the basis of already firmly established socio-political-economic structures and policies, OECD countries in the 90s have generally aimed to achieve greater economic discipline - structural adjustment, balanced budgets, debt reduction, privatization, fiscal and other incentives to entrepreneurship, private sector development. These policy moves have had an impact on education, particularly in funding, financial management and use of resources. The scale of government and public sector activity have not diminished but their nature has changed in many countries as part of a steady turn toward more strategic policy intensive operations and less detailed administration and micro-management. There has been a growing recognition that economic and social policies need to be balanced and indeed mediated by a clear recognition of such risks as may arise, in large-scale change, to social cohesion, equity and valued features of the social and cultural heritage. Education during this decade has become a more prominent and significant element in many countries and correspondingly within the OECD itself, signalling its increasing importance in social development and economic growth. Thus education and training were prominent in the analysis undertaken in the major organisation-wide studies of employment trends and issues throughout the 90s, and the lifelong learning studies, launched in 1995 (OECD, 1996a), were endorsed by the OECD Ministerial Council, the OECD Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Ministers, and the G8 Summit in Cologne.

  Due in the main to economic dynamism, rapid technological advances, highly developed entrepreneurial cultures and stable, well-functioning social organizations across the OECD region, increasingly sophisticated products and services have become ever more widely available in the 90s. Advanced and widely dispersed knowledge is now well recognised to be a vital component in economic growth and social development. The pursuit of quality, competitiveness and cost containment has resulted in a preoccupation with efficiency and - especially - the skills and competencies of the workforce. So far from this leading to a focus on narrow, over-specialized training, the trend in labour market preparation and the continuing education and training of the workforce has been towards a sound, broad, basic education, with many innovations to foster a learning society and a culture of lifelong learning for all. There has been a resurgence of interest in adult literacy; in the aftermath of International Literacy Year (1990) OECD published its first study on this subject early in the decade (OECD/CERI, 1992), and this has been followed by international surveys which have produced disquieting results. Interest in the human capital theories dating from the work of Schulz, Becker and others in the sixties has been renewed: work began in the second half of the decade on human capital indicators in response to the 1996 OECD Ministerial Council request. For the purpose of this activity, human capital was defined as 'The knowledge, skills, competence and other attributes embodied in individuals that are relevant to economic activities' (OECD/CERI, 1998b, p.9). Major international studies were carried out during much of the nineties on the employment trends, needs and difficulties of member countries (OECD, 1994a; Bowers et al, 1999). In these, and in the work referred to earlier in this paragraph, the core theme might be summarised as a growing need for a workforce displaying highly intelligent, flexible, knowledge-based production and information processing capability, together with resourcefulness, initiative and skill in group problem solving.

  Although the 'OECD model' has enjoyed considerable success in the 90s - after the difficult years following the major changes to the global economies in the early to mid seventies - significant problems with educational implications continue to exist alongside overall growth. These implications are taken up in subsequent sections of this report. In most - but not all - OECD countries, youth and young adult unemployment has remained high. For the 15 - 24 age group it was 16% in 1997, 4 percentage points higher than in 1979 (Bowers et al, 1999), although there have been substantial improvements in several countries. Many jobs are regarded as of poor quality and are low paid; job security has diminished; and in all countries employment opportunities increasingly favour the well educated, the mobile, the multi-skilled, the self-employed, the part-timers and the casuals. In general, there has been a rise in income disparities following relaxed fiscal policies and tax regimes, a weakening of organized trade unionism in several countries, increased competition for professional and managerial staff and greater investment opportunities for individuals. By contrast, previous generations in many of these countries enjoyed swift entry into the labour market and lifetime careers with the prospect of steadily increasing incomes; there was also a marked emphasis in fiscal policy on income redistribution and, in social policy generally, on equality, welfare and a social safety net.

  There are many forces and values at work in social and educational policy in member countries. Attention need only be drawn, for example, to the depth and intensity of scientific knowledge and research and their applications (molecular biology, biotechnologies, physics, materials science, electronics, chemistry, chemical industries, design and engineering), to the major role several of them play in contemporary arts and global communications and media, and to their influence in trans-national regional and global political bodies. In all of these, as in other spheres, the OECD region as a whole and in particular the North American and West European members have strengthened their overall international role and impact in the course of the 90s. These numerous and varied international roles and responsibilities afford greater visibility and influence to the educational work of member countries and to the Organisation itself. At the same time, they serve to turn the spotlight onto any weaknesses in international capability, competitiveness and market penetration adding strength to the case for still greater efforts to overcome shortcomings. Education has become a major instrument of competition policy whereby countries seeking to better position themselves internationally. Hence there is a definite move across the OECD membership to raise standards of performance in all spheres.

  Education and training in the OECD countries has become a matter of major public concern, and appears to be higher than ever before on the national policy agenda. An example, with its origins in the 80s and continuing throughout the 90s, is the highly publicized education policy initiative in the USA involving successive presidents and the state governors in formulating the Goals 2000 programme and seeking to establish national standards for school subjects (National Education Goals Panel, 1992). Major themes included improved learning of mathematics and science, control of drugs and violence, readiness to learn, and near universal graduation from high school. Although not reached by the year 2000, the goals movement was designed to alert the community at large to the need for educational reform. It signalled a national priority for education and drew upon public concern at weaknesses in the school system. There is now a general acceptance in the community, not just in professional circles and among policy makers, that development depends fundamentally on both a well-educated populace - of all ages - and on highly sophisticated knowledge workers in all key sectors of society, culture and the economy. It is well understood now that it is not enough - as was still the common belief in many countries until the 60s and 70s - to provide a basic, terminal schooling supplemented with vocational training for the masses, with a highly selective, advanced system of education and training for elites and specialists. The rapid, continuing expansion of upper secondary and tertiary education testify to the changed understanding of society's needs for a highly educated citizenry and workforce. A recently completed review of the transition from school to work underlines the need for more and better targeted education for young people, especially those whose attainment levels at school are modest or poor and for adult education especially among the workforce (OECD, 1999; in press).

  Compounding the economic and social need for a widely dispersed education extending over the lifecycle is a change in the demography of OECD members- the so-called ageing population phenomenon. Sharp falls in birth rates since the 1970s mean less quantitative demand for health and social services for young people, and for basic education, but increasing requirements for the care of the elderly, new avenues of activity and greater attention to adult education for leisure as well as work. In the late 90s, however, the size of the school population is in some countries beginning to rise after years of stabilisation which resulted from a balance between smaller age cohorts and rising participation rates (OECD/CERI, 1998a, p.12). Changing patterns of family life and participation in the work force mean an increased demand for early childhood education and care (OECD/CERI, 1998a; OECD/CERI, 1999a).

  Across the OECD membership in the 90s the concept of inclusive, lifelong learning for all as a long term goal to be progressively attained has entered the mainstream of educational thinking and policy making. While no country has yet attained this objective, it has ceased to be a vague and remote aspiration and become a definite target whose acceptance is beginning to impact on specific objectives and policies for early childhood and adult education, tertiary and higher education, as well as on basic schooling (OECD, 1998a). The quality, effectiveness and efficiency of educational systems is coming to be assessed with reference to the criteria of lifelong learning for all. Thus, from the perspective of OECD countries it is necessary to enlarge the understanding of 'basic education' and hence of Education for All, to incorporate a continuing and lifelong learning perspective which is inclusive of all people and not, as hitherto, selected elites and self-selected minorities pursuing their own interests. From this perspective, learning will extend from early childhood education and care, through the stages of basic primary, lower and upper secondary/ vocational, tertiary, adult, and comprise a mixture of part- and full-time study, continuous and discontinuous phases. It will be of individual importance and a personal responsibility but equally an economic and social necessity and responsibility.


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  International Consultative Forum on Education for All, 7, place de Fontenoy, 75352 Paris 07 SP, France. Tel: (33) 1 45 68 21 27, Fax: (33) 1 45 68 56 29, E-mail: t.murtagh@unesco.org Website: www.education.unesco.org/efa
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