It’s a small world indeed

by Barbara Ischinger
Director for Education

Earlier this week I attended the Transforming Education Summit  in the Emirate state of Abu Dhabi. Some 15 ministers and former ministers from all regions of the world, from countries in all stages of development found—perhaps surprisingly—a lot they could agree on when it comes to education: the importance of raising the status of the teaching profession so that qualified candidates apply, the need to strike a better gender balance among teachers at all levels of education, and the need for trust in education systems—trust between governments and teachers, and trust between parents and teachers.

What this says to me is that our expertise in education policy can and should be shared more widely; and the OECD stands ready to work with non-member countries as they seek to improve their education systems. Already, 29 of the 75 countries and economies that participated in PISA in 2009-10 were recipients of Official Development Assistance. And we see that the share of public budgets devoted to education in many ODA recipient countries is equal to or above the OECD average.

What can non-member countries gain from working with the OECD? Take participation in PISA. PISA provides internationally comparable data and benchmarks for comparing the quality of national education systems. Evaluations of education policies help non-members to better understand their PISA results, identify why their students are performing they way they are, and help these countries and economies find feasible ways of addressing shortcomings. These kinds of targeted evaluations help countries to direct money to the right places.

In addition, we can conduct peer reviews of national education policies. Since 1992, more than 70 reviews have been conducted in countries in southeast Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East and North Africa region, some in collaboration with the World Bank. These reviews are jointly organised by national authorities and the OECD. Policy recommendations, which can be used for planning development aid, target all areas of education systems. They tend to stimulate broad public discussion and are used by governments and multilateral organisations as reference in shaping reforms. Perhaps most important: we talk to all stakeholders—representatives from different areas and levels of education, and unions too—at the same time.

And we learn from our experiences with non-member countries too. The OECD is proposing to introduce several new indicators to measure progress towards development. These include average teacher salary as a percentage of GDP per capita, enrolment and completion rates by education level, the school-to-work transition as measured by unemployment rates by education level, measures of equity in education achievement by gender and background characteristics, and  the extent to which highly educated students emigrate out of ODA-receiving countries, what is known as brain drain.

Throughout our 50 years of working on education policy, we’ve found that good ideas come from countries large and small. In sharing those ideas, we can create better policies for better lives all around the globe.

And speaking of our small world, if you’re interested in speaking in our small world, I recommend leafing through one of the OECD’s latest books, Languages in a Global World: Learning for Better Cultural Understanding. Did you know that the world’s seven billion people speak about 6 000 languages? That there are over 30 times as many languages as there are states? This provocative book, which sweeps from history and sociology through psychology and neuroscience, to music, philosophy and ethics, makes the case with wit and irreverence that learning languages is now more crucial than ever.

Find out more about: OECD work on education in non-member economies

Photo credit: Sphere of letters / Shutterstock

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