Shared challenges in reforming education systems: are we getting it right?

by Beatriz Pont,
Senior Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Let’s be honest, implementing ambitious reforms in education is not simple. Change takes time, often longer than a politician’s 4 year term, and they may face conflicting priorities or even lack evidence on what would work best. More than 12% of government expenditure is invested in education to improve results and enable citizens to benefit from good education systems. Still, 21.5% of 15 year olds don’t reach the minimum level of skills required to function in today’s societies.  The new OECD book Education Policy Outlook 2015: Making Reforms Happen looks into more than 450 education reforms adopted across OECD countries during the past 7 years.

Written to help policy makers with policy options and country examples, it shows trends and lessons that can contribute to make a difference in their reform efforts. Countries share common challenges and are defining policies accordingly: targeting inequality and ensuring completion and effective transitions into tertiary or the labour market, strengthening the delivery of education in schools, using data for accountability and improvement, and steering and implementing policy effectively.

Reviewing reforms implemented shows that many countries are using education as a way out of the crisis: numerous reforms focus on preparing students for the future, especially in vocational education and training and tertiary education. Reforms are also prioritising the quality of teachers and teaching, with almost 1 in 4 reforms in this area. Investing in supporting disadvantaged students and schools is at the heart of many reforms. In critical times like today, we need to invest to make sure that we deliver the best possible education for our children. They are our future.

Good reforms are not only about design. They are about making sure that policies are well implemented and that they have an impact where needed the most. Regrettably, from our study, only 1 in 10 reforms are reported as having evaluations. And we know that there are a number of key issues for success in making reforms happen: adapt the type of reform to respond to the concrete challenges, focus on the classroom and the learning and not on processes, focus on developing capacity of teachers and leaders, engage stakeholders from early on, and make reforms sustainable for the longer term.

Reforms are not just about strategies, white papers and regulations; they must be transformed into better outcomes for our youth and our future. 

Review and compare countries on the Data Viz 


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