By Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
– The skills needed to keep learning during the COVID crisis are also key to a lifelong learning mindset
– Teachers, schools and education systems have an important role to play in promoting lifelong learning attitudes
– The OECD Skills Outlook 2021 explores how policies can best promote lifelong learning for all
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the disruption of face-to-face teaching in schools led to 1.6 billion students being forced to adapt to a more challenging alternative, remote schooling. While some students were able to keep up with the transition to remote learning, many others, particularly young and socio-economically disadvantaged learners, experienced large learning losses. For example, a study in Belgium showed that school closures led to sharp increases in educational inequalities within and across schools. Unless these learning losses are tackled, our economies will suffer in the long term due to lower productivity and growth.
A clear factor of these unequal outcomes may be the lack of digital infrastructure in disadvantaged homes or a lack of previous experience with digital tools. But inequalities in educational achievement are not only determined by economic status. During COVID-19 school closures, differences in parental support and teacher experience and motivation to provide innovative lessons may have contributed to inequalities in learning. The 2021 OECD Skills Outlook: Learning for Life suggests that these inequalities may stem from the influence teachers and parents can play on the development of lifelong learning attitudes in youngsters. Key attitudes that make up a lifelong learning mindset are motivation to complete tasks and enjoyment of reading. These attitudes are especially vital during school closures, when students learn in their own speed or need to organize work on their own and can help students perform in school and strive to continue learning.
Without the physical presence of teachers and other students, holding learners’ attention and encouraging motivation to complete assignments during the pandemic has been difficult, especially for younger cohorts. Because skills such as self-efficacy and motivation are still malleable until age 20, they present a compelling opportunity for their continuous development during early education and compulsory schooling. In fact, policies that strive to improve lifelong learning attitudes of adolescents show promising results in lowering the educational achievement gap between disadvantaged and advantaged students. But to be successful in fostering a strong disposition for lifelong learning, interventions need to incentivize innovative collaborations among various actors, including parents, teachers and school systems. While many analysts are focusing on the short-term learning losses experienced by children as a result of COVID-19, preventing long-term scarring from the pandemic for the generation of youngsters entails ensuring that all are equipped with a lifelong learning mindset and positive attitudes towards learning. For some children the pandemic revealed the beauty and importance of learning, fostering intrinsic learning motivation. But for others, the pandemic provided further distance between themselves and learning, leading to drop-out in the short term and to disengagement in the long term.
How teachers promote lifelong learning attitudes
While teachers have always played a particularly important role in the development of lifelong learning attitudes of students, the pandemic has highlighted the creativity and resourcefulness demanded of teachers in a digital society. The increased need for teachers to provide social‑emotional support to students and to collaborate with parents in supporting students’ learning goals during distance learning are trends that will likely continue into the near future.
Results from PISA 2018 studies show that the enthusiasm of teachers in the classroom has a profound effect on the motivation of students to succeed in the classroom and set high goals for themselves, traits which in turn promote better learning outcomes.
Several teacher practices have been found to help students develop higher motivation and achievement goals, and a sense of belonging at school, such as:
- Teacher enthusiasm, especially when it is clear that teachers are passionate about the learning material
- Directed instruction, including organising learning material, setting clear goals and checking if students have remarks or questions, and
- Teacher support can increase the value students attribute to school
On the other hand, providing feedback on student performance in class does not seem to be strongly related to promoting most positive learning attitudes.
COVID highlighted the resilience, creativity and innovation that teachers bring to their work to foster a student-centered environment and maintain a love of learning
While COVID-19 disrupted the traditional relationship between students and teachers, it also highlighted the resilience, creativity and innovation that teachers bring to their work in order to foster a student-centered environment and maintain a love of learning. For example, many teachers utilised different tools and pedagogies to encourage learning through music at home.
Not just teachers, schools and education systems can help too
The strong relationship between students’ learning attitudes and teacher enthusiasm was pronounced in Denmark, Finland, Italy, Sweden and Korea, where countries encourage regular collaboration among teachers with their colleagues on how to improve teaching practices. This builds on previous evidence that the investment in continuous professional development for teachers (especially if it includes collaboration and information sharing with other teachers and is built into their workday) can help bolster teacher enthusiasm and creativity and create a positive learning culture within the school community.
School systems must validate and invest in the continuous development of their teachers and provide platforms for collaboration
For example, the link between teacher practices and students’ learning attitudes was especially strong in Korea, where teachers hold a highly respected place in society, receive high wages, and experience positive working conditions. Additionally, teachers in Korea spend only 35% of their working day instructing students, and devote the rest of their efforts in professional development and collaboration with colleagues.
One thing is clear: school systems must validate and invest in the continuous development of their teachers and provide platforms for collaboration.
What is the role of parents in lifelong learning?
In addition to teachers, many parents faced challenges in adjusting to distance learning due to the increased demand to balance work, home life and children’s learning schedules. During the pandemic, the ability of teachers to collaborate with and support parents as well as parents’ ability to support children has proved crucial to maintaining motivation and engagement in the classroom.
By supporting the efforts of students in schools and encouraging them to be confident, parents can boost students’ self-efficacy, goals, motivation, sense of belonging and the value they place on school
Results from PISA 2018 suggest that by providing high levels of emotional support, parents can play a significant role in the development of their children’s learning attitudes. In particular, by supporting the efforts of students in schools and encouraging them to be confident, parents can boost students’ self-efficacy, goals, motivation, sense of belonging and the value they place on school. Activities such as reading with children and engaging in warm interactions when they are young can also have a positive impact on the development of both cognitive skills and attitudes towards learning.
In a digital society threatened by various disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic, lifelong learning attitudes have become even more crucial in fostering the resilience and adaptation of youngsters. Parents, teachers and schools have an increasingly interwoven role to play in the socio-emotional development of students. But while schools are the foundation of lifelong learning, the pandemic has also highlighted that there exist many other opportunities for stimulating children’s love of learning, such as through the use of music, sports and other creative endeavors. The pandemic is thus a stark reminder of the resilience of children, parents, and teachers, and the incredible opportunities for learning that present themselves in our everyday lives.
- OECD Skills Outlook 2021: Learning For Life
- The OECD Centre for Skills
- Blog: The state of education one year into COVID
- Blog: Four ways to strengthen teaching and leadership in vocational education and training
- The effect of school closures on standardised student test outcomes
- Inequality in homeschooling during the corona crisis in the Netherlands: First results from the LISS panel
- Educational gains of in-person vs. distance learning in primary and secondary schools: A natural experiment during the COVID-19 pandemic school closures in Switzerland