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  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 benefits.

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 is limited.

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.


  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 needs.

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 generally.

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 education.

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 groups.

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 making and educational practice.


Black, P. and Atkin, J.M. (eds) (1996) Changing the Subject. Innovations in Science, Mathematics and Technology Education. London and New York. Routledge in association with OECD.

Bowers, N. et al (1999) 'Giving Young People a Good Start: the Experience of OECD Countries' OECD. Preparing Youth for the 21st Century: The Transition from Education to the Labour Market.Proceedings of the Washington D.C. Conference. Febraury 1999. Paris. OECD.

Connell, W.F. (1980) Education in the Twentieth Century World. New York. Teachers College Press.

(Draft Dakar Framework for Action, 05/11/99)

Department of Education and Employment (1997) Learning and working Together for the Future. London. The Department.

Direction de l'Evaluation et de la Prospective (1998) Education et Formation, 5 Paris. Ministere de l'Education National de l'Enseignement Superieur et de la Recherche.

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Education Department of the Ministry of the Flemish Community (1998) Flemish Educational Indicators in an International Perspective. Brussels. The Ministry.

Education For All. The Year 2000 Assessment. Norway, 1999.

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OECD (1996a) Lifelong Learning for All. Paris. OECD.

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OECD (1997) Education and Equity in OECD Countries. Paris. OECD.

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   Table 2.1
Studies that have looked for benefits from ECEC

Author Country What the study looked at Key findings
Type of programme
Purpose of study
Programmes for disadvantaged children
 Braithewaite (1983) Australia One year of pre-school (different models) for children in low income public housing To assess impact of pre-school on performance in 1st Grade Performed better than control group on entry into 1st grade. No measurable effects by end of first grade.
 McKey et al. 1985 USA Meta-analysis 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 are emphasised. To assess long-term effects of Head-Start Cognitive 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
 Kellaghan and Greaney (1993) Ireland Two 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. To measure school achievement and parental involve-ment at ages 5, 8 and 16 years Significant 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 or crime.
 Lazar et al. (1982) USA Eleven pre-school programmes To measure school achievement Less retention in grade Fewer special placements
 Berrueta-Clement et al. (1984) Schweinhart et al. (1993) USA High 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) Educational and social effects at age 19 Educational and social effects at age 27 Improved school performance Greater labour market entry Less trouble with police Less teenage pregnancy Greater social responsibility Higher earnings, economic status Greater commitment to marriage
Programmes for all children
 Jarousse et al. (1992) France Participation in école maternelle (French pre-school) for one, two or three years. Children aged three to five years To assess effects on primary school performance Children 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.
 Osborn and Milbank (1987) UK Any early childhood programme compared to none To measure effects on educational and social outcomes at ages 5 and 10 Improved cognitive and school achievement at both ages, especially of disadvantaged children. No measured impact on socio-emotional development
Programmes for children and mothers
 Kagitcibasi et al. (1986 and 1991) Turkey Home visiting and group programme aiming at the education of mothers with young children in low income families To measure subse- quent development and school achievement of young children Mothers more verbal, less punitive, more supportive of the education of their children Children improved IQ, social and personality development


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