ENDURING PROBLEMS: KEY GAPS AND PRIORITIES
Despite the very significant achievements of the mature
education systems of the OECD region, here are enduring
problems, gaps and weaknesses which indicate a need
for renewed attention to goals and priorities. Due to
the continuing budgetary pressures, attention to deficiencies
in national education will most likely require reallocation
of resources. These will be extremely difficult to achieve
in what are commonly highly, indeed tightly organised,
systems where interest groups and powerful lobbies often
play crucial roles in policy making. The will may be
there and, in a global sense, the capacity, but the
ability to redirect resources is likely to prove the
stumbling block. There are also dilemmas: for example,
while justifiable on equity grounds and to reduce subsequent
remedial costs, heavy investment in low performing primary
age students has to be set alongside the claims of high
cost university research which may have major socio-economic
Improving opportunities for all to learn and succeed
- As noted above, the achievement of universal access
to and participation in primary and secondary education
cannot be taken to mean that there are fair and equitable
opportunities for all students to learn and succeed.
There is disquieting evidence of poor motivation, severely
unequal opportunities reflecting not only broad socio-economic
differences in the population but unequal conditions
in different regions within countries, different suburbs
within cities. Gaps in the provision of early childhood
education and care and in adult education are further
indicators of inequity. Virtual housing ghettos in poorer
city suburbs produce virtual ghetto schools often functioning
under the most difficult conditions. Numerous interventions
and funded support programmes have not succeeded in
changing a basically unequal set of educational opportunities
but there have been considerable equity benefits from
the massive expansion of educational systems (OECD,
1997, pp.101-110). For some sub-groups - migrants in
Norway (among others), travellers in Ireland, some racial
minorities in the USA and the UK - schooling as commonly
structured ,organised and provided has yet to prove
its educational and social worth. The institutions and
the processes whereby they function appear to be alienating
and inhibiting rather than engaging students and supporting
and encouraging effective learning. It may not be inappropriate
to characterise such situations, not as pupil failure,
but as school failure, leading some commentators to
conclude that schools enhance the cultural capital of
many while denying it to others (OECD/CERI, 1998c).
Strengthening vocational education and training - An
enduring concern of education systems over several decades
has been - and continues to be - the adequacy and relevance
of vocational preparation either within the schooling
sector or as a parallel system. Four key issues stand
out. The first is the scope and scale of provision especially
in those systems (e.g. Australia, Canada, UK, USA) in
which traditional apprenticeship has declined (and which
in any case always lacked the breadth of coverage of
several of the Continental European systems) and not
been replaced by a comprehensive system of induction
into trades and middle level occupations. Second, rapid
changes in work and demands for new kinds of competence
and technical knowledge mean that the content and organisation
of vocational studies must change. Debates have continued
over several decades between supporters of a broadly
defined set of competences and generic learnings, and
those who affirm a continuing need for occupation-specific
training. Third is the question of the locus of education
and training - whether best in a school setting with
a strong, continuing base of general education, in vocation
specific institutions, or in the workplace itself. In
practice, most systems have a mixture of all three,
but with quite different balances among the parts. However,
as already noted, whatever the system, not all young
people who could benefit are doing so. The fourth key
issue is the balance between general and vocational
education, a complex matter given their separate and
different traditions, the demarcations in funding, administration,
conditions of employment for teachers, and the differing
structures and arrangements for assessment, certification,
recognition and qualification and so on. Consciousness
of this and other issues was raised through a series
of international studies, meetings and progress reports
on the changing role of vocational and technical training
(OECD, 1994b). In many countries the enduring problem
of the status of vocational and pre-vocational preparation
has not been solved. Stratification of secondary education
for functional reasons too often results in a hierarchy
of esteem with academic education leading to prestigious
universities and college retaining its position at the
top (OECD/CERI, 1998c). In countries, even those with
a strong, long-established vocational systems such as
the German-speaking countries and the Netherlands, there
seems to have been on the one hand, a popular move towards
general education, with vocational preparation for the
majority delayed to the tertiary stage or beyond. Many
young people, however, do not participate at all, and
swell the youth unemployment figures. Efforts to reform
and restructure vocational education including its incorporation
within upper secondary schooling are a response to changing
needs and expectations not only in the labour market
but among students and families.
In the thematic review of transition from initial education
to working life, five elements of a successful transition
system, were noted and analysed: a healthy economy;
well organised pathways that connect initial education
with work and further study; tightly woven safety nets;
good information and guidance; effective institutions
and processes. These need to be drawn together in well
articulated, co-ordinated policies (OECD, in press).
Based on an appraisal of good practice across member
countries, these elements set a direction for future
policy frameworks. No country would claim that all are
in place or are working effectively and ways to improve
transition from initial education to working life will
remain high among country education and training priorities.
Lifelong learning for all - In section II above, reference
was made to the policy initiatives of the OECD Education
Ministers leading towards implementation of various
models of lifelong learning. This movement is still
at a relatively early stage, where policy declarations
are being made and conceptual frameworks are being defined.
Work is beginning on several of the key issues to be
addressed: for example, shared financing (OECD/CERI,
1999a), the kinds of foundations needed in early childhood
education, the changes required in well established
parts of the existing educational system. However, the
changes and developments that will be required to achieve
the ambitious goals will take considerable time, effort
and resources. There are specific problems to be addressed,
which include the uneven provision of early childhood
education and care, and traditions, assumptions and
structures that treat schooling and formal education
as terminal. Serious educational deficiencies also exist
in the present generation of adults, as reported in
the international adult literacy surveys. Countries
vary considerably in the provision they make for second
chance or further professional development for adults
(OECD/CERI, 1998a). Data are provided in Appendix 3.
To improve access and opportunities for adult and continuing
education, innovatory approaches are required. The medium
of distance education, now moving in several countries
from traditional correspondence courses towards highly
interactive communication and information technologies,
has a key role to play in extending opportunities including
second chance learning for adults (OECD/CERI, 1999b).
But the costs, although reducing, remain high and access
Teachers and the teaching profession - The conditions
of employment, remuneration and status of the teaching
profession varies across OECD countries and according
to the level and nature of teaching. Overall, there
appears to be little change in the trend towards a relative
lowering of the status of teachers compared with other
occupations. The incidence of part-time, contract-based
employment is increasing in some countries - especially
at the tertiary level - and teaching, along with other
public sector workers, have been unable to make substantial
headway in their salary claims. Conditions of employment
have improved in some countries, but, at the same time,
working environments are often highly stressful and
difficult, due both to increased competitiveness and
to the challenges of economic and social deprivation,
pupil violence and school rejection and so on. These
trends make it increasingly difficult in some countries
to sustain an idealistic model of a highly educated
and highly regarded profession. On the other hand, the
high - and increasing - social, economic and cultural
demands placed on schools and teachers call for new
types of professionalism. There is a move from improving
individual skills of teachers to collaborative efforts
to raise the quality of student learning in accordance
with national goals and priorities. In a review of research
and data on the characteristics of teachers, the 'new
professionalism' was defined to include expertise continually
updated, advanced pedagogical skills, technological
capability, ability to function as members of a 'learning
organisation', flexibility and innovativeness, career
mobility and openness to working in teams with parents
and other professionals (OECD, 1998a, chapter 2). These
are very challenging demands for a large and varied
profession whose members are often working under great
pressure. An issue that will continue to arise is the
readiness of society to accord the support and esteem
needed to sustain the 'new professionalism'.
Educational R&D - An OECD study has presented evidence
and drawn conclusions about the need for a stronger
base of educational research and development (OECD/CERI,
1995). In the communique from their 1990 meeting, the
Education Ministers commented that 'the level of investment
in research and development in education and training
is far lower than in any other sector of comparable
size' (OECD, 1992, p.35). There have been throughout
the 90s very substantial improvements in educational
statistics, thanks to the efforts over nearly two decades
of OECD countries to develop an internationally comparable
set of education indicators. Recognition that in addition
to these statistics there is need to develop indicators
of student learning performance has resulted in the
PISA study which, over the next decade, will provide
a systematic overview and appraisal of student performance
in selected curriculum areas. Work of this nature is
positioning individual countries and the OECD as a whole
much better to evaluate and compare the effectiveness
of their education systems. There are other areas, however,
on which systematic knowledge is lacking. For example,
a relative dearth of longitudinal studies makes it very
difficult to draw firm conclusions about the effectiveness
in subsequent learning of early childhood education
on the impact of secondary education on the readiness
to continue learning throughout life. The topics of
school failure, dropout and non-completion of studies,
to a satisfactory standard, are still not well understood.
Data even when recorded, are seldom analysed in any
depth across whole systems. While there is a considerable
volume of studies usually on relatively small numbers
and isolated situations, a coherent picture of the problems
of inadequate school performance and early attrition
have yet to be drawn and analysed in ways that will
facilitate major new policy initiatives.
Policy coherence and systemic reform - The division
of responsibility for education and training -- among
different parts of ministries, separate ministries and
a growing range of agencies and partners -- creates
a need for a more coherent approach to educational policy
making (both vertically and horizontally). Improving
equity in tertiary education, for example, requires
action at the primary and secondary stages, and may
entail supportive action across several portfolios.
Effective early childhood education and care is enhanced
by coordinated action among the authorities responsible
for different aspects of the well-being of children
and their parents. Some moves of a structural nature
have been made: the combining of previously separate
ministries of employment and education in Australia
and the UK (subsequently separated in Australia); ministries
of education often combine research, higher education,
schooling and some parts of pre-schooling in a single
ministry (e.g. France, Belgium, Finland and Sweden).
It does not follow, however, that the separate parts
of these large ministries work closely together, or
that the several ministries with some kind of educational
role, albeit indirect, co-operate. A conference organised
by OECD at the beginning of the 90s flagged these issues,
but further progress has not been startling.
The concept of systemic reform, developed by some researchers
and policy makers in the United States (Smith and O'Day,
1990), has been discussed in several OECD conferences
and reports. The message can be simply stated, but is
difficult to put into practice: curriculum reform, pedagogical
change, teacher development are interrelated in such
a way that each can support and reinforce the others.
Such mutual reinforcement is more likely to occur when
they are considered together as integrated elements
in a co-ordinated process of educational development.
Yet to bring them together is, in practice, usually
very difficult even where it is possible, due to the
divisions of authority and responsibility, the different
financial bases, and at times, regulatory and legislative
complexities. Although there has been growing recognition
during the 90s of the need for more coherent policies
and more integrated, mutually reinforcing reform strategies,
and although there are examples of progress being made,
there remain many unresolved practical issues.
VI THE WAY AHEAD
Education and training policies, provision and programmes
in OECD countries may be seen from three viewpoints.
First, they are national, designed to advance the interests
of the country concerned. Second, ideas and experiences
are exchanged among members of the Organisation and
collaborative programmes of development are undertaken
for mutual advantage. Third, policies and programmes
are designed to foster and facilitate worldwide development;
they involve both non-member countries and co-operation
with other international organisations. Co-operation
with Unesco and the World Bank for data development
are one important example. Member countries also collaborate
in major regional groupings, e.g. the European Community
and the North American Free Trade Association. In these
and other ways, education in OECD countries is fast
becoming globalised. These several viewpoints and relationships
need to be borne in mind in any consideration of future
goals and strategies for educational development.
From the many challenges facing OECD countries and the
directions which seem likely to be pursued in the coming
decade, several stand out in the context of the Unesco
programme, Education for All. Since all of them are
continuations and extensions of policies, programmes
and ideas which featured in the nineties, their presentation
here serves both as a brief summary of that decade and
indicate the way ahead that many OECD countries are
likely to pursue. It is prudent, as well, to acknowledge
the possibility of unexpected developments and disjunctions
in what, at this time, appear to be quite orderly, long-term
trends, predictably continuing well into the future.
This said, policy-making needs to be based on data at
present available and on careful trend analysis. These
are indeed long-established features of the education
systems of OECD countries.
Prosperity: Education policies will continue to be shaped
by the agenda of economic growth and development: there
will be a sharper focus in schooling and tertiary education
on competence and skill, on attributes and qualities
sought for in the changing workplace, widely diffused,
on a capacity in the population to take initiatives,
show independence, innovate and develop, work co-operatively,
and demonstrate positive commitments to sustainable
economic development and wealth creation.
Democratic involvement and sharing the benefits: The
socio-political context of education policies will remain
the creation, maintenance, and further development of
democratic institutions and practices including a continuing
quest to improve access and make educational opportunities
and experience more open and equitable, more a shared
experience. Hence open access policies for upper secondary
education, already well established, will be further
developed, providing a platform, ultimately, for universal
tertiary education either end-on or in later life. It
is, however, questionable whether sharing the benefits
of economic growth and education for democracy will
have the same force in educational policy making as
economic growth per se.
Focus on the most needy and on major gaps and weaknesses:
Recognition of the personal, social and economic costs
of failure, dropout and low quality schooling will continue
to stimulate innovatory programmes and special support
schemes for the most deprived and needy, for those who
are poorly motivated, who lack inner resources and incentives
to continue studying. These programmes will include:
widening access to education and care facilities prior
to school entry with universal participation as a definite
policy objective in more and more countries; further
attention to reducing adult illiteracy rates; drug and
sex education; and special programmes for low skilled,
unemployed youth and for students with special educational
The quest for quality: OECD countries will continue
the drive to raise standards of student attainment,
with foci on the low attainers, on raising average levels
of performance and on selected groups targeted for reasons
of economic and cultural competitiveness. The trend
towards international comparisons of student performance
in key learning areas will strengthen as a result of
the OECD/PISA programme and further extensions to it.
Unless very carefully managed, these may have the effect
of intensifying concentration on basic skills in the
school curriculum, with diminished attention to curriculum
breadth and overall personal development. Quality assurance
and accountability procedures will increase as a consequence
of the pursuit of greater efficiencies in the use of
resources and as an outcome of continuing devolution
from single central ministries to multiple regional
and local sites. Transparency and communication of the
procedures and results of education will continue to
increase - to parents, employers and the community more
More, and yet more education for all: The extension
of educational opportunity and the further use of incentives
to continue study will lead to the universalisation
of a full secondary education whether in full time schooling,
vocational centres or work-place sites of organised
study and practical experience. Sanctions, already operating
in some countries, to increase rates of participation
in training for unemployed youth, are likely to be more
extensively used as a policy instrument to lower unemployment
levels further and spread the scope of formal education.
Groups at present under-represented or whose needs are
inadequately met whatever the level of education will
be the targets of special programmes and additional
funding. The policies of lifelong learning, formulated
in the 90s, will be progressively implemented, leading
to a greater interest in shared funding, co-ordination
of different kinds of agencies and settings for continuing,
adult and informal education, and a more integrated,
vertical, formal structure from pre-school to tertiary
Efficient and effective use of resources: There will
be a continuing drive at all levels of education for
cost containment and improved financial management,
with closer links between public funding and performance
targets. Unit costs will, in general, be subject to
more of the pressure experienced in the nineties and
there will be a greater use of technologies which show
promise of cost containment or reduction. Public funds
will continue to be the major source but there will
be increasing engagement of the private sector whether
through partnerships in the provision of facilities,
contracting out, student and family direct contributions.
Financial incentives to study and administer education
will become more widespread, including tax credits,
discounts for up front payments of fees, scholarships
and financial aid for the most needy students and various
instruments by central government to encourage efficiencies
in regional and local bodies and others.
Devolution and partnerships: The shifting balance between
central and local education bodies will continue in
those countries where it is already established and
develop in others. Central authorities will sustain
or strengthen their strategic policy- making apparatus,
and will further elaborate and refine procedures for
monitoring, accountability and quality control in their
relations with regions, local bodies and individual
education institutions. There will be drives to improve
their management capability and their control of resources
by and for schools, colleges and universities and more
pressure on them to raise resources on their own initiative.
The attendant risks of inequity due to unequal socio-economic
environments will become a major policy issue requiring
the further development of central administrative and
financial operations focused on special needs and equity
Improvements in data sources and in comparative educational
analysis: The significant improvements in the 90s in
national educational statistics and in international
comparative analysis will be built on, through more
sophisticated and refined procedures and techniques,
the development of more effective means for assessing
the quality and standards of student attainment, and
the involvement of an increasing number of countries,
worldwide. The heavy investment entailed may lead to
a curtailing of resources needed for interpretative
analysis, for research both quantitative and qualitative
and including longitudinal studies, and for well informed
commentaries on trends. It should result in more conceptual
work to refine key indicators of the performance of
educational systems. In addition, there will be a need,
perhaps not given due attention, to develop the concept
of educational knowledge, its applications and uses,
and the relations between structured inquiry, policy
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Table 2.1 Studies
that have looked for benefits from ECEC
the study looked at
for disadvantaged children
year of pre-school (different models) for children
in low income public housing
assess impact of pre-school on performance in 1st
better than control group on entry into 1st grade.
No measurable effects by end of first grade.
et al. 1985
of Head-Start studies. Head-Start offers comprehensive
development services for low-income, 4-year-olds
to meet their educational, health, nutritional and
psychological needs. Community and parent participation
assess long-term effects of Head-Start
gains and school achievement faded by the end of
the second year of school. Initial positive effects
on self-esteem, motivation, and social behaviour
were no longer apparent by the end of the third
year in school
and Greaney (1993)
years of half-day pre-school for ninety children
of three year from an impoverished area of Dublin,
with home visits to parents by teachers and social
workers. Study began in 1969.
measure school achievement and parental involve-ment
at ages 5, 8 and 16 years
improvements on standardised tests at age 5, especially
among the least able children. Gains were not maintained
at age 8. At 16 years, the pre-school children were
two to three times more likely to have taken examinations
leading to further education. Few impacts on employment
et al. (1982)
measure school achievement
retention in grade Fewer special placements
et al. (1984) Schweinhart et al. (1993)
quality education for low-income African-American
children, aged 3-6 years (Perry Pre-shool) High
quality education for low-income African-American
children aged 3-6 (Perry Pre-school)
and social effects at age 19 Educational and social
effects at age 27
school performance Greater labour market entry Less
trouble with police Less teenage pregnancy Greater
social responsibility Higher earnings, economic
status Greater commitment to marriage
for all children
et al. (1992)
in école maternelle (French pre-school) for one,
two or three years. Children aged three to five
assess effects on primary school performance
who attended the école maternelle were much less
likely to be retained in first grade. School performance
better for every extra year of pre-school.
and Milbank (1987)
early childhood programme compared to none
measure effects on educational and social outcomes
at ages 5 and 10
cognitive and school achievement at both ages, especially
of disadvantaged children. No measured impact on
for children and mothers
et al. (1986 and 1991)
visiting and group programme aiming at the education
of mothers with young children in low income families
measure subse- quent development and school achievement
of young children
more verbal, less punitive, more supportive of the
education of their children Children improved IQ,
social and personality development