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IAP NEWS UPDATE February 4th – 10th 2012 Publication: OECD educationtoday Title: Tackling inequity Author: Barbara Ischinger Website:

What struck me most about the international roundtable on early childhood education and care that I attended late last month in Oslo was the simple fact that this topic attracted such intense interest. It probably wouldn’t have happened a decade ago. The fact that it’s happening now, even as most of the countries represented at the meeting are in the midst of an economic crisis, is an encouraging sign. It shows that more governments understand that equity of opportunity has to begin in the first years of life, in the earliest years of a child’s education, in order to give everyone a fair chance to succeed later on. As recent headlines repeatedly tell us, and as is evident just looking around us, equity has become something of an endangered ideal. And this is, unfortunately, just as true in education as in many other areas of life. OECD research finds that one in five students does not complete secondary school; yet our research also shows that those 15-year-olds, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds, who had attended pre-primary education perform better on PISA than those who did not. In other words, give all children a good start and you give them the tools and the confidence to meet the challenges that arise later on in their lives. It is easy to argue, particularly when governments are forced to make tough economic choices, that this kind of inclusiveness in education is too expensive to introduce and maintain, that the quality of the education provided would, inevitably, suffer. But some countries–Poland is one notable example– have already proven that inclusiveness and quality in education are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, I would argue that inclusiveness improves quality for all concerned, as it is to the advantage of society as a whole when people from different backgrounds learn with and from each other. That is precisely the premise of Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools, which is published today. In essence, countries in the industrialised world cannot afford not to invest in quality early childhood, primary and secondary education for all: the cost to society later on–in high rates of unemployment, in poor health, in increasing criminal activity–would be far greater. Many governments of OECD countries are now talking of structural reform to tackle complex problems cost-effectively; inequity–in education and in general–should be at the top of the agenda. In fact, education is no longer, if it ever was, an isolated issue. Education reform requires an all-government approach, involving policies related to such disparate domains as housing and taxation. It also requires commitment, both financial and philosophical. All governments say they want to tackle the problem of

growing inequity that, left unchecked, could threaten the stability of our societies. Investing in quality education for all is one of the best ways of doing so.

Publication: OECD Newsroom Title: Education: Reduce school failure to boost equity and growth, says OECD Website:,3746,en_21571361_44315115_49623168_1_1_1_1,00.html

Governments should invest more in disadvantaged schools and students to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance, according to a new OECD report.

Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools says that helping those in need would reduce school failure, boost economic growth and contribute to a fairer society.

Today, many students lack basic skills, as measured by PISA, and one in five students on average across the OECD drops out of the education system before finishing upper secondary. Dropout rates range from 2% in Korea to 58% in Turkey for the 25-34 years-old. Greece, Iceland, Italy, Mexico, Portugal and Spain have dropout rates of 25% and higher. Leaving school this early means that students lack the skills they need in today’s job market, says the OECD.

Proportion of 25-34 years-old who have not completed upper secondary education (2009)

Underlying data available here

Those more likely to underperform or leave school without qualification are most often from poor or immigrant families, or have poorly educated parents (Figure 1.3). They are also more likely to attend schools with fewer resources, and their parents generally cannot afford private tutoring.

The report outlines five recommendations for improving equity in education systems to help disadvantaged students:

Eliminate grade repetition. This is costly and ineffective. In Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, the direct costs of grade repetition account for nearly 10% of the annual spending on primary and secondary education. The academic benefits are also slight and short-lived.

Avoid early tracking which hurts students moved on to lower tracks, without raising student performance as a whole.

Manage school choice to avoid segregation. Over the past 25 years, more than two-thirds of OECD countries have increased parental school choice, particularly via governmentdependent private schools. Financial incentives could encourage the best schools to take disadvantaged students.

Allocate funding according to student needs, and invest in early ages. Most OECD countries under-spend on early childhood education and care, investing nearly 2.5 times more in

tertiary. In addition to targeting spending at disadvantaged students and schools, giving schools more autonomy coupled with accountability can help. •

Encourage students to complete by improving the quality of secondary-level vocational training courses, including work-based training and making the different secondary pathways equivalent.

To help disadvantaged schools, the OECD proposes 5 additional recommendations and says that boosting support for school directors and teachers is key. This should involve training and mentoring, as well as improved working conditions and incentives to attract and retain the best staff. In these schools it is also especially important to build bridges with parents, through more communication and clear expectations to align schools and parental efforts.

Country-Specific Education Articles Publication: Troy Media (Canada) Title: Canada’s students rank among the best in the world Author: Ben Levin Website:

Many Canadian were very surprised a decade ago when a major international study found that Canadian students ranked among the best in the world in academic performance at age 15. Since then, three further rounds of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), have produced the same finding.

Canadian students perform about as well as the best in the world. Moreover, Canada has one of the smaller gaps between best and worst achieving students, though the gap is still considerable.

In the 65 countries reporting PISA results in 2010, only four had significantly higher levels of achievement, and only two high achieving countries had significantly less inequity in student outcomes.

Immigrants equal Canadians in educational achievements

Canada is also one of only a very few countries where the achievement of immigrant young people is equal to that of those born here; in most countries, immigrant students do much less well.

In comparison with the United States, Canadian 15 year olds are more than a year ahead, with most of that difference because our lower performing students are better than American low performing students.

This is an outstanding achievement that should make all Canadians proud.

Not only is it good for our young people’s education, it is an important contribution to social cohesion in the country. We know that good educational outcomes are associated with good life outcomes – longevity, health, income, social participation, and so on. So less inequality in education will support better national outcomes in all these vital areas.

The picture is not all positive, though. Our education system is not perfect (could it ever be?). As has been much reported recently (and for many years), Aboriginal young people lag behind their peers, and so do some other groups, such as Afro-Canadian students and young people with disabilities. Canada still has too many students who do not complete high school in a timely way. So there is much work to do even though the overall picture is good.

What has Canada done to produce these good results? And what could we do to maintain them, or even, to improve? In a complex system like education one cannot be definitive about what causes what, but there are good reasons to think that there are two main reasons for our outstanding performance.

The first lies within schools. Compared to many other countries, Canadian schools have some advantages. We have skilled and motivated teachers. We do not force students to pick a destination at an early age. We have funding systems that provide more resources to needier schools and modest levels of private schooling, meaning there is broad public support for public schools. Our two level governance system for education works in our favour, with districts and provinces balancing each other, but with an emphasis on quality of the whole system, and not just a few schools.

The result is a system much more focused on all schools being good and less tolerant of extremes, and that focus, much more than choice or competition, is what leads, internationally, to high performance.

However, education achievement is not a matter only of what schools do. Schools are deeply affected by wider social forces. In every study, poverty continues to be the biggest single predictor of education and other life outcomes.

When jobs are scarce, or pay badly, or have no benefits, or housing is poor, or health care is not accessible, school outcomes are affected. It is very difficult for a country to have a high level of economic inequality and also have a highly effective and equitable school system.

What does this mean for Canada and our efforts to continue to have a strong and more equal school system?

Focus on quality and equity

First, we need to continue to focus on building a system that pays attention to quality and equity in every school, not just in some. We should avoid divisive ideas such as charter schools or more competition among schools, since around the world these have not led to better overall performance. We should preserve funding formulas that give more resources where needed, and policies that attract and retain good teachers.

At the same time, attention is needed to out of school factors – good early childhood supports, prenatal and postnatal care, decent housing, jobs and benefits, and all the other things that allow

parents to look after their children adequately. Without these, schools face an uphill battle, and the fact that they are sometimes successful should not blind us to the challenges.

Some of the ideas getting the most attention today in education policy, such as charter schools, merit pay for teachers, and ‘turning around’ failing schools cannot by themselves produce system improvement because they are not a system strategy. The essential task is to commit to making every school a good one, and having every school improving, so that all children have a real chance for a good education.

Publication: The Malta Independent Title: ‘Education system fails a third of our children’ Website: Malta’s education system is adequate for two-thirds of students, but it fails the remaining third, the Labour Party’s education spokesman Evarist Bartolo said yesterday. Recently-issued Eurostat figures had shown that 37% of Maltese students do not continue studying beyond the years of compulsory schooling, the highest proportion within the EU. Mr Bartolo compared this figure with the latest report issued by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2009. The report assessed 15-year-old students in 74 countries on the skills they had acquired. He noted that in Malta, just 64% of students were proficient in reading literacy enough to participate effectively and productively in life, compared to an 81% average in OECD countries. A slightly higher proportion – 66% – were sufficiently proficient in mathematical literacy, although, once again, this fell beneath the OECD average of 75%. The proportion of those with sufficient science literacy was also 66%. The Labour MP noted that roughly a third had thus not acquired the necessary proficiency in reading, mathematics, or science, a proportion roughly equal to that of early school leavers. He thus observed that the reason students did not further their education beyond compulsory schooling was mainly, and simply, that they had not acquired the necessary skills to do so. Intervention in such cases appeared to occur too late to help, Mr Bartolo said, pushing for earlier and better screening of any difficulties students may face. He said that while assistance for students with disabilities was available, assistance for those with learning difficulties was far less. He added that the report showed that the issue was not simply one of spending, as some countries which spent more performed worse, while others which spent less were ahead of Malta. Girls outperformed boys in every sector, and Mr Bartolo noted that the gender gap in Malta was actually the widest reported among countries featured in the PISA report. Mr Bartolo said that while girls outperforming boys is a global trend, due to a number of reasons, Malta had not yet started addressing the issue. He noted that the country could not afford to leave boys behind, citing studies which showed that this led to more inactive men and to an increase in domestic violence.

He also noted that when one mapped early school leavers, poverty and crime, the three practically matched, showing how they were interlinked. The Labour MP also recommended the use of pilot projects in education, to be able to assess any problems before the entire education system is overhauled. He noted that former education minister Louis Galea shared this belief, having launched the present college system in one area to test it out, but this all subsequently changed. In a press conference called in reaction to Mr Bartolo’s own, Education Minister Dolores Cristina defended government’s efforts on education, pointing out that the proportion of early school leavers had fallen significantly. Ms Cristina noted that the EU wanted all member states to ensure that the proportion of school leavers does not exceed 10% in 2020, but Malta argued that countries’ starting point had to be taken into consideration, and the government’s aim is to bring the proportion down to 29% by then. She noted that an increasing number of students were furthering their education, pointing out that 54% of students were early school leavers in 2010. She added that the government’s own target was likely to be exceeded at the present rate. The minister stressed that improvement required time and investment, but said that the government was embarking on a number of crucial reforms to enable this to happen. She insisted that efforts to screen learning difficulties earlier were already taking place, but said that this required capacity-building, as the necessary professional staff needed to be trained and recruited first. Mr Cristina also denied that the government was failing to take the gender gap in education into consideration. She pointed out that the first schools built within the present school-building programme were secondary schools for boys in areas that needed support. Mr Bartolo had referred to the new schools, stating that while Malta had no problem with class sizes due to demographic changes, it did have a problem with the sizes of schools. He said that large schools did not help foster a sense of community, and exacerbated problems such as bullying. Ms Cristina agreed that small schools would be ideal, but observed that this was not always feasible. However, the government helped address the issue of a large student body by increasing the number of assistant heads in some schools. The minister also expressed her disappointment at Labour’s decision to vote against the upcoming Education Bill, even though they said that they agreed with its objectives. Mr Bartolo had noted that the bill was a money bill, and that voting against the bill was nothing unusual. He noted that such a vote signalled that while one may agree with the objectives, one disagreed with the administration trying to reach them.

IAP News_February10_2012  
IAP News_February10_2012