What the D in OECD stands for

by Barbara Ischinger
Director for Education

Did you know that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development helped to lay the groundwork for the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals? Even though Development is part of our name, there are many people who don’t realise just how much of our resources are devoted to developing economies and not only to the development of the OECD’s 34 member countries.

The focus of this year’s International Economic Forum on Africa, held at the OECD’s Paris headquarters in early October, was youth employment, but this issue cannot be separated from another one just as important:  education. The African Economic Outlook 2012 notes that in Egypt, for example, about 1.5 million young people are unemployed at the same time that private-sector firms cannot fill 600 000 vacancies. And in South Africa, there are 3 million young people who are neither in education nor employed and 600 000 unemployed university graduates, yet 800 000 jobs are vacant. At the Forum itself, I heard many participants ask themselves whether they were equipping their students with the skills their economies needed.

This is exactly where the OECD’s expertise in collecting and analysing data can help. Already, many of the countries and economies that participate in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are in the developing world; but we think all countries would benefit from even greater participation by developing countries. By participating in PISA, countries can see whether the skills they are teaching their 15-year-olds are relevant to “real life”. They can also learn from other countries’ experiences how to improve their own education systems, and can benchmark their progress over time. The assessment, itself, benefits by gaining a deeper understanding of student performance in a broader range of countries and cultural contexts.

We have completed a review of Egypt’s system of higher education and have also reviewed the education systems of South Africa, Gabon and Mauritius. These in-depth analyses – conducted in close collaboration with local actors, regional organisations and other international partners – can guide countries in reforming their education policies so that students leave school with the skills needed to participate productively in the economy. We also stand ready to work with our partners – in Africa and elsewhere – to build stronger links between labour markets and education systems. That would help to avoid the situation, seen in so many countries, where universities train students to become civil servants when what the country or region really needs are engineers and health workers – and also people with the mid-level trade, technical and professional skills that can be acquired through well-designed vocational programmes. At the moment, vocational education accounts for only 5% of training among African youth.

As the 2015 target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals approaches, the international community has begun to consider a framework for goals beyond 2015. For the first set of goals, progress in education is measured by access; I hope that future goals will complement such measures by looking at learning outcomes. Again, this is one of the OECD’s specialties, and we’re keen to offer our work and expertise to an even larger number of countries. I thought you’d want to know.

OECD Development home page
The OECD and the Millennium Development Goals
OECD Strategy on Development
The OECD Strategy on Development: Giving fresh impetus to a core mission
2012 International Economic Forum on Africa
OECD Skills Strategy
Photo credit: Orphan students in Swaziland / Shutterstock

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