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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



 III THE FOUNDATIONS: EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND CARE

The two outstanding gaps or areas of uneven provision in North America and Western Europe are early childhood and adult, continuing education. Adult, continuing education is nowhere universally accessed or accessible and many decades of sustained effort and innovative practices will be required before continuing, adult education for all becomes a reality. Important as shortcomings in adult and continuing education for evolving lifelong learning policies, they are not death with further in this paper. Neither the Dakar remit nor the EFA country papers has provided data on adult education. For the further development of inclusive education policies, it will be essential to include upper secondary, tertiary and adult education, in other words, a framework of lifelong learning from birth to old age.

 
Some countries have achieved virtually universal access and high levels of public provision for children from age 2 or 3 upwards. Others, however, fall far short; not all even accept it as an appropriate target (reflecting in part traditions of family-based early care and training).

 
The legally required age of entry to schooling has typically varied across OECD countries from five to seven. Early childhood education and care, provided in different ways, including institutions with many of the characteristics of schooling, may be available, in some countries, from ages 0- 2 upwards. 'Early childhood education and care' in the professional literature extends from infancy (0) to 6, 7 or even 8 years of age. Thus the term may refer to the first years of schooling; or to the pre-school years, or both. Moreover, the concept of 'care' is a reminder that parental responsibility for the well being of young children is often shared with different public authorities - mainly health and education but also welfare and related services. A holistic concept of early childhood and care seems to be gaining ground. It refers to developmental processes, relationships, institutional settings, parenting and a wide variety of services for infants and young children from 0 to 6-8 years of age.

 
Due to the variety of agencies involved, the diversity of educational provision both formal and informal, and weaknesses in both data collection and policy and programme coordination, it can be difficult to form a clear picture of the provision and its effectiveness. Statistical data are uneven and in several countries they lack transparency and coherence. An OECD thematic review is in preparation to examine trends and discuss issues in early childhood education and care for future policy consideration by member countries. It is likely that this will, in time, lead to not only to more coherent, inclusive policies but also to improved, more comparable data sources. Where some countries with a tradition of well-documented publicly provided early childhood education and care - France and Belgium for example - can provide detailed statistics and regular reports, for others, data are either unavailable or come from such a variety of sources as to make clear documentation and hence strong policy initiatives and comparative analysis more difficult than they should be. This has led early childhood specialists to advocate national policy frameworks where they do not already exist and an improved research capability including a capacity for longitudinal studies and continuing R&D effort (Sylva and Moss, 1993; Kronemann, 1998). This is especially true of countries where there is a large amount of unregulated private provision including child minding and where, either not at all or until very recently, policy frameworks were relatively undeveloped.

 
The scale and diversity of provision for early childhood education across OECD countries, while still not adequately documented, for reasons given above, is to some extent shown in the OECD education data base (OECD/CERI, 1999a, p.29), see Appendix 1. Universal enrolment generally starts in the age range 5-6 years. In Belgium, France, the Netherland, New Zealand and Spain, virtually all 4 year olds are enrolled; for the 2-4 year age range, Belgium, France, Iceland and New Zealand, the rate is more than 75% but is less than 25% in Australia, Canada, Finland, Greece, Ireland, South Korea, Mexico and Switzerland. Acknowledging the diversity of care facilities including private providers and data difficulties, however, these figures need to be treated with caution.

 
In most countries there either exists or there is now a definite trend towards more purposive, developmental and education focused policies for early childhood. A mixture of public and private providers and sources of finance is evident; it is, however, increasingly, subject to regulation and recommended procedures. While pre-school attendance is not generally required, it is strongly encouraged. Access tends to be wider or narrower according to whether it is considered a right or something in the nature of a special need or a privilege. There are divergent views and varied purposes, for example social development, the foundation of lifelong learning, prevention of delinquency. In the Dutch national report a link is made between the integrated, continuing process of education and services for ethnic minorities, from early childhood to secondary school (Education for All, The Netherlands, 1999). The report from Norway makes similar points about the continuity of education and development grounded in early childhood provision (and again separately from more contact and better provision for migrants (Education for All. Norway 1999).

 
Emphasis is increasingly being given to the development and strengthening of learning capability as a foundation for continuing growth from as early as 2 - 3 years of age. Noted in the Irish EFA report, this is a trend in many countries. There is a discernible interest in and impact of developmental psychology and research findings concerning cognitive growth, social experience and health. Perhaps no less important are changes in labour market participation whereby women with young children are re-entering the work force. A third consideration is the need to equalize opportunities and to ensure early learning opportunities for children who are actually or potentially disadvantaged and liable to later educational retardation. These and other benefits perceived by member countries have been reviewed in a chapter of OECD's Education Policy Analysis (OECD/CERI, 1999a) and in an Education Committee document proposing a thematic review of early childhood education and care policy.

 
Ireland, with a history of low participation rates in pre-school education and care, is one of the countries which, during the nineties have prepared policy documents, initiated legislation or declared an intention to expand and improve provision for early childhood education and care. A representative national forum was held in 1998 and, drawing on the experience of other countries with advanced systems and reviewing its own requirements, it recommended a comprehensive, co-ordinated, inclusive system through a partnership between public and private authorities. The potential for learning of very young children, the economic and social benefits of investment, the forestalling of later learning problems, the opportunity to advance parent education, and the need for a good quality of child care when both parents are working were the main arguments advanced for the new initiative. The case made by the Forum and by other bodies has been accepted by the Irish government which is now 'committed to developing a national policy framework for early childhood education and to the provision of a specific budget for pre-school education' (Education for All, Ireland, 1999 ) and is preparing a White Paper. While the approach is comprehensive, it is characteristic of current climates of opinion that there is to be a particular focus on two target groups: socio-economic disadvantage and special education needs. This approach combines the idea of a right with that of targeting.

 
It must be noted, in interpreting statistics and reports on early childhood education and care, that there is great variety in types of pre-school provision. In the UK, for example, these include publicly maintained nursery schools and nursery classes which are integral parts of primary schools, mostly part-time and taking children aged three and four; reception classes in primary schools, mostly full-time, to which children are admitted before the age of five; day nurseries both public and private (often run as a business) which look after the under fives for the length of the adult working day; playgroups for children between two and a half and five and mostly run on a self-help basis by parents and community groups; and childminders, who look after the under fives (and also older children) outside school hours in domestic premises (Sylva and Moss, 1993). Similar diversity is noted in EFA national reports from the Netherlands and Portugal.

 
Data sources on countries with this variety of provision are often insufficient for firm conclusions to be drawn about participation and quality of provision. Often, too, the regulatory framework is variable, with responsibility divided among a number of different private agencies, groups and individuals and several public authorities (health, social affairs, employment, education). Some countries have consolidated services for all children (e.g. Finland, Ministry of Social Welfare; Spain and Sweden, Ministry of Education). Others have well developed procedures for co-ordination of public-private partnerships (e.g. Denmark and the Netherlands). Overall, however, the field of early childhood education and care is quite variable in both quantity and quality of provision. Realisation of this is resulting in policy interest in policy frameworks, finance, partnerships, educational content and in evaluations of what is actually available.

 
Several major policy issues have emerged from the moves to extend and diversify provision of early childhood education and care, seek new avenues for funding and ensure a fair distribution of opportunities for access to services and to benefit from them. They include:

1. Inclusiveness which in several countries means how best to raise participation to near universal levels;

2. Equitable access and participation to overcome socio-economic disadvantage and equalise cultural development opportunities, in face of the tendency for educational practice to reproduce poverty rather than counterbalance it;

3. Attention to individuals and groups with special needs including immigrants and ethnic minorities, young childrensuffering multiple disadvantage and those with learning difficulties;

4. Partnerships in the definition of need, in provision and in meeting costs;

5. Quality of learning, with a growing interest in ways to ensure that all forms of early childhood care have discernible educational values and functions;

6. Policy coherence and co-ordination of services and provision, in face of the responsibilities which have historically been divided among different ministries and public authorities;

7. Knowledge base, including both improved statistics on forms of supply, access to and take up of provision, standards of educational performance and cost effectiveness, together with more research into conditions affecting early development and its benefits for subsequent learning in school.



IV STRENGTHENING PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLING AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION

  As noted above, OECD countries have long-established and well-functioning systems of universal basic education. The issue is not, as in some other parts of the world, ensuring an effective, functioning legal, economic and social basis for universal access and participation, or of providing an organised, efficient system of universal, continuous schooling, or even adequate levels of resourcing and equipping schools (although some critics would dispute this last point). Rather, it is how best to educate the whole age group, spending many years in school, to an acceptable standard across a broad array of subjects and activities, and to achieve such levels of interest and motivation as to ensure a continuing, lifelong commitment to learning.

 
Primary schooling was made free and attendance compulsory in many OECD countries in the latter part of the nineteenth century and, in the first third of the twentieth century it became the norm for all children to attend school full time with the age level gradually increasing, resulting in a greater differentiation between primary and lower secondary, then upper secondary schooling (Connell, 1980). It would appear that, by the beginning of the 1990s, the OECD region had achieved universal primary, secondary and initial vocational education. Valid as a generalisation, this masks numerous variations, distinctive features, difficulties and shortcomings which have now become the targets for present and future action. In short, basic supply problems having been overcome, it has become possible to concentrate policy initiatives and resources - beyond those needed to maintain an adequate base - on specific weak points in the teaching- learning process, special needs and key qualitative priorities.

 
From both member country and OECD Secretariat sources, a picture can be drawn of trends which have characterised basic education in OECD countries in the nineties, with due allowance for national and regional variations.

1. There have been sustained efforts to extend to all young people some form of full secondary education, up to the age of sixteen, seventeen or eighteen (sometimes beyond) (OECD/CERI, 1998a). Participation data for both primary and secondary education are given in Appendix 2.

2. Where students are not intending to continue from secondary into tertiary education (increasingly, a minority of the age group), they are expected to complete vocational training either within upper secondary schools or in a separate vocational sector. Students are actively discouraged from leaving the education- training system without either an academic qualification, enabling entry to tertiary level studies or a vocational qualification recognised in the labour market. The pathways open to - and needed for - the 14-24 age group have been described and analysed in the first two of a new series of multi-national thematic reviews respectively on tertiary education and the transition from school to work (OECD, 1998b; OECD, in press);

3. Where students have performed poorly at school, failing to reach an adequate academic or vocational standard, special job-oriented/ preparatory programmes have been widely introduced, but with varying degrees of success. There continues to be a serious problem in many countries of inadequate preparation, either academic or vocational, affecting perhaps 15% - 20% of the age group (OECD/CERI, 1998c). A high standard of basic education is seen as a high priority - in an official UK document it was given first place (Department for Education and Employment, 1997). Education for employment was accorded second priority, with lifelong learning taking third place.

4. Countries in the OECD region have moved to strengthen measures of student performance and progression, and to increase cross-country comparisons. These include participation in the International Education Achievement (IEA) programme, the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and, in the recently launched OECD/PISA study referred to above. Perhaps the most far reaching of the changes aimed at setting and monitoring national standards of basic education in a national context is the United Kingdom but in most countries there is a trend towards more detailed monitoring, reporting and evaluating student progress. The French Direction de l'Evaluation et de la Prospective is the source of numerous, regular reports on the functioning of the national education system, from many perspectives; as an illustration, in 1998 a special number of Education et Formation was devoted to rural education and, in 1997 number 5 of Geographie de l'Ecole provided an overview of the principal regional and academic characteristics of the education system in France. Another example of this trend in OECD countries to monitor, compare and publicly report on the functioning of their education systems is the Flemish publication of indicators in an international perspective (Education Department of the Ministry of the Flemish Community, 1998).

5. In addition to monitoring and comparing, countries are putting a greater emphasis on the quality of teaching and learning and standards of student performance. One major reason for this is the rapidity of technological and structural changes indicating that higher levels of competence and expertise are needed in a rapidly changing labour market. Another is the impact of globalisation: 'improved competitiveness' has become the hallmark in an open system of international production, trade and distribution of goods and services. The standards issue came to the fore in the late 1980s, featuring in the 1989 five yearly meeting of the OECD Education Ministers (OECD, 1992) and has recurred throughout the 90s. How countries conceived, monitored, reported on, evaluated and sought to improve standards was the subject of a set of national reports published in the middle of the decade (OECD/CERI, 1995). The PISA programme, referred to above, is one of many other demonstrations of policy concern over the nature and level of student attainments.

6. Changes in curriculum, pedagogy and student assessment have been a continuing theme in OECD countries at least for the period of the curriculum project movement initiated in the later 50s in the United States initially in mathematics and science. Although the model of specially funded project teams often working independently of or loosely coupled to ministries of education declined in the 80s, a wide array of initiatives has continued in the 90s. These range from the highly convergent national frameworks of basic or core subjects with prescriptive curriculum content, pedagogical guidance and standardised attainment levels as in the UK, to projects aimed at fostering variety and local teacher initiatives (Black and Atkin, 1996; OECD/CERI, 1993; OECD/CERI, 1994b). However, perhaps the major changes in curriculum and pedagogy have occurred in the train of the rapid advances in communication and information technology, with all countries moving towards computer literacy. The impact of the new technologies on schooling has given rise to many issues, including their place in the curriculum (permeating many subjects, or commanding separate curriculum space or, most often, a mix of these two; difficulties of resourcing; developing software of appropriate quality; and the potential use of the Internet - and more broadly of multi-media - in facilitating less formal schooling and reinforcing lifelong learning (OECD, 1999, ch.3).

7. Growing concerns over evidence of widespread social problems: crime, homelessness, substance abuse, rejection of legitimate authority, and threats to social cohesion have re-ignited interest in the domains of social, civic, political and health education. New programmes and curriculum requirements in these areas have been introduced, alongside the competencies defined for employment. Thus there are, in parallel, two fundamental curriculum orientations that signal the responsiveness of education to economic, social and cultural change: employment-related competency; personal-social and civic education. The importance countries attached to values and social education as part of a broad-based core curriculum was reported in an OECD/CERI survey at the end of the 80s (Skilbeck, 1991) and signalled again in an international curriculum conference early in the nineties (OECD, 1994b).

8. While public sector control, administration and direction of education remain dominant in all OECD countries, in several there is a growing emphasis on the sharing of responsibilities and the roles to be performed by different stakeholders: parents, employers, community bodies, religious organisations and others. In some countries (Australia, Ireland, Netherlands, UK, for example) there has long existed a partnership between the state and churches in the provision and administration of education. What is of growing importance everywhere is the tendency, even in almost wholly state-run systems, for responsibility to be devolved from large, all-powerful central ministries, to regions, individual school governing bodies, statutory authorities and community groups. A policy framework of 'steering at a distance', well developed for example in Scandinavian countries and in the Netherlands, ensures that a strong set of national policies operates, including monitoring and evaluating performance, in combination with enhanced local, regional and community decision-making.

9. In the matter of financing and resourcing, several trends corresponding to the devolution movement are noteworthy: budget control with increasing emphasis on outcomes and performance; strengthened capacity for financial management, reporting and accountability; quest for new private sources and shared funding; more scope for local financial control and management. Although there is a widespread sense of budget constraint, between 1990 and 1995, expenditure on education generally grew faster than national wealth (OECD/CERI, 1998a, pp.69 - 72).

10. Progress towards achieving the goal of a high quality of education and training for all depends on a large number of factors, not least the quality of the educational environment and the resources for teaching and learning. OECD countries have co-operated through the OECD Program on Educational Buildings in the data gathering and studies on ways to improve the quality and sustainability of educational buildings. There are 3 main purposes: to contribute to educational quality; to ensure efficient and effective use of resources; and to give early warning of the implications for educational buildings of educational and broader changes. A useful practical service is the documentation of exemplary practice in both new and refurbished buildings (OECD/CERI, 1996b). Countries having largely met the quantitative targets for school buildings and essential equipment before the beginning of the 90s, have increasingly focused on the educational and aesthetic quality of new buildings and on refurbishing existing ones to meet overall changes in curriculum and pedagogy and particularly, now, to respond to the new communication and information technologies. Budget constraints have reinforced moves to produce built environments with multiple purposes and joint uses - cultural activities, sports, recreation, library facilities, summer residential schools, evening classes and so on.

11. Sustained high growth rates might have been expected to ease pressure on educational resourcing. In one, (Ireland), measurable increases in resources allocated to education are reported. Reduced pupil-teacher ratios, the strengthening of services, capital works, and so forth are in the pipeline. But growth alone is not sufficient and many countries report no improvements in educational resourcing. Other public sector demands, continuing high levels of unemployment, ageing populations and rising costs (for example of medical treatment) have combined with the preferred policies of fiscal restraint and balanced budgets, to keep education budgets severely constrained in most countries (OECD, 1998b). One of the consequences of budget constraint is that there has been little if any improvement, and as noted in the German EFA report, actual declines, in the percentage of GDP allocated to education and for poorer countries.

12. Policy makers, administrators and managers have been under continuing pressure throughout the nineties to improve financial management - for which advances in information technology have been of considerable value, to reduce unit costs, and to bring about a closer relationship between expenditure and outcomes. Disclosure and reporting procedures have improved, with some emphasis on greater public awareness of education costs - long established features of traditionally decentralised - local control systems (notably in the USA) but of much more recent origin in highly centralised systems. Four important principles have been enunciated. First, that there should be transparency; second that there is public accountability; third, that there is an obligation to direct public funds to the ends and purposes of declared public policy; and fourth, that there should be integrity and efficiency in the use of funds.





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