Reforming education systems: Where to start?

by the Education Policy Outlook Team
Policy Advice and Implementation Division, Directorate for Education and Skills

Today the OECD Education Policy Outlook series is publishing five new country profiles: Chile, Finland, Mexico, Norway and Turkey. Policy makers and educational professionals will gain key insights into other countries’ recent experiences in education. These summaries outline how countries have responded to common challenges and provide lessons learnt about the different policy options adopted, as well as reflections on how to make reform happen in education.

Even when countries address similar reform areas, policy options vary widely.  For example, Chile, Finland, Mexico and Norway have all made early childhood education and care (ECEC) a priority, but in different ways. Chile and Mexico have increased funding and focused on quality aiming for universal coverage; Norway has invested in increasing accessibility, funding and staff; while Finland has defined a core curriculum and moved ECEC from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to the Ministry of Education and Culture.

Many countries are similarly concerned with responding adequately to the educational needs of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Finland has been successfully implementing a preventive approach to target low-performing students earlier on, with the support of both schools and welfare staff. Australia and Ireland targeted disadvantaged students through education strategies that identify and support schools and school communities with additional resources. On the other hand, Chile has chosen to address the needs of disadvantaged students through financial incentives, which are either targeted at schools via grants or directly at students in tertiary education with a comprehensive scholarship programme.

Ensuring that all students complete upper secondary education is another major priority for many countries: Finland, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway and Turkey have aimed at improving their secondary completion rates, as well as the transition into higher education or to joining the labour market. Mexico and Turkey both have introduced reforms to lengthen compulsory education and also reform secondary education. Finland and New Zealand have implemented an initiative to increase the engagement of youth and ensure qualification completion and employment. Norway has aimed to increase the completion of upper secondary education with a specific measure that motivates low-performing students.

Research confirms what we know from experience high-quality teachers are essential for school improvement, and this is a key policy area for all countries. Looking ahead Chile, Czech Republic, Finland and Norway aim to attract a high-quality teaching workforce. Finland has developed teacher education into a selective and highly qualified profession, which is provided at university level and is research-based, having both a strong theoretical and practical content, as well as instilling pedagogical knowledge. According to selected evidence, only about 10% of candidates who apply to primary teaching studies are accepted and teachers must have a master’s degree. Chile introduced an incentives-based full scholarship to attract high-performing students into teaching. Norway introduced a new campaign that uses short films and a website to promote the teaching profession and this has helped increase applications by almost 60%.

The OECD Education Policy Outlook: Country Profiles inspire reflection and inform action: countries may use them as an opportunity to map out specific country reform processes and to explore co-operation with similar types of education systems.

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Photo credit: OECD/Sylvain Fraccola

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