Thursday, October 18, 2012

Business set up Writing Services

Business set up writing services company will save your company each time and cash. It's aforementioned that, on average, four hundred hours square measure spent writing a concept by entrepreneurs. Business set up writing services, on the opposite hand, will combat this tedious method. Businesses dedicated to writing a corporation set up will develop plans for a spread of wants like a loan,partnership, institutional investment, mergers and acquisitions and additional.
Companies that give these services develop careful plans written by a team of skilled writers and business people. They establish that the initial step toward building the strategy is establishing what'sto be achieved from the connection. This idea then leads into proposals that facilitate to secure funding for the project.
When a corporation is being chosen to produce writing services, there square measure some chief aspects that acquire play. Business set up writing services ought to have a solid course of action to hide all the necessities or necessities to the set up. For instance, they have to grasp Associate in Nursing govt outline needs to be provided once proofreading service a consumer because the initial side of that business proposal, and may give samples that show they perceive the aim of Associate in Nursing govt outline and the way to write down it.
Business set up writing services ought to even have samples that show they skills to develop a concept tailored or bespoke for a private consumer. Business set up writing services ought to enable the consumer to decide on between restricted or full service designing. This most frequently depends on monetary fund allowances and time constraints.
The next step toward creating a decent impression on panels authorised with acceptive a concept for any business is to possess pitch decks. In today's world, investors square measure moving toward a preference for electronic resources, like the pitch deck rather than a completely narrated set up. The service ought to additionally give a business review, a seminar on the subject, and presentation style. To boot, well practised writers supply businessperson steering for military science proposals like that entity to include. Business set up writing services ought to additionally supplypresentation style and might even supply tips on the delivery of the information.
A strategically organized, well-researched and dynamically bestowed set up is that the chief point for a brand new business. Quite candidly, this could be the distinction between the success and failure of the entrepreneur's venture.
Business set up writing services square measure taken on primarily as a result of there's very little time offered to formulate such plans. Additional to the present, the services square measure hired to enrich deficiencies in writing skills for the corporate. The service should thus respect consumer deadlines and specialize in what it's the consumer desires to convey to investors.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Making the right connections

by Barbara Ischinger
Director for Education

It’s becoming clear to me that the crisis in youth unemployment around the world is not just one of the aftershocks of the global economic downturn, but may also have roots in education systems that are not adequately preparing students for 21st-century economies. I took that message to a regional conference on Promoting Youth Employment in North Africa,  held in Tunis in mid-July, where I presented not only the OECD Skills Strategy but also discussed the importance of improving the quality of education and of teachers, and of making quality education accessible to all.

Some 41% of 15-24 year-olds in Tunisia are unemployed – a statistic that is devastating in the present and potentially catastrophic for the future of the country and the region. In more than half of OECD countries, the rate of unemployment among young people approaches or exceeds 20%; and many of the underlying conditions are the same as those found in Tunisia. These include not only weak or stagnant economic growth, but education systems that cling to outdated policies and practices and are divorced from the labour market.

Today, education systems are expected to provide graduates not only with foundation skills and knowledge in given disciplines, but also with the skills needed to adapt to changing employment circumstances and to transfer what they have learned to different environments – what are known as generic skills. To do this effectively, there has to be more co-operation between education systems and industry. Without dialogue, education systems will not know which skills are in demand in the labour market, while prospective employers will not know whether graduates are leaving education with the skills they are looking for. Employers, too, have to be willing to invest in further training for their employees; and policy makers need to provide fiscal incentives to make it attractive for employers to do so.

But equally important, education systems need to adopt more innovative, project-focused teaching methods, particularly in science, to spark students’ curiosity and involvement. I’m encouraged to see this already happening in many places: from France’s La Main à la Pâte programme, developed by the French Academy of Sciences, which aims to reinvigorate a hands-on approach to the teaching of science in elementary schools, to the Agastya International Foundation, which dispatches mobile science labs throughout rural India, to the science education company  founded by Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, who died last month, whose aim is to develop and support young girls’ and boys’ interest in science, math and technology.

There are – and will be – many more of these kinds of initiatives. Their value is not only that they help to make science more meaningful to students, but they can also help to make the important connection between what students learn in school and how that knowledge and those skills can be used effectively in the wider world. And if we can also make more connections between education systems and employers, then we may be able to help more young people fulfil their potential – and help more societies prosper – by creating a better match between young people’s skills and the jobs that propel economies.

OECD Skills Strategy
Related blog posts:
“Creativity” is spelled with a “why”
Understanding youth, unemployment and skills in Africa
Photo credit: Stack of pebbles / Shutterstock

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Hooked to be connected!

by Lynda Hawe
Communications Officer, Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI), Directorate for Education OECD
Concerned parents are becoming more and more anxious as they watch their bright children getting completely absorbed by and attached to new mobile devices.  Young people’s attachment to digital media and connectivity will shortly reach a level of almost universal saturation. In some OECD countries, more than 95% of 15-year-olds use an internet connected computer daily while at home. How many of us have experienced frustration while trying to get kids to actually listen, as their eyes remain glossily glued to their favourite pet gadget?  So just how worried should we really be? Well, it still remains difficult to clearly identify the risks or rewards of such behaviour, especially in relation to long-term learning and brain functions.  But first, let’s be reassured - it’s not all bad news!

The OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) has just released an inspiring new publication called Connected Minds: Technology and Today's Learners, authored by Francesc Pedró. This book has wisely researched technology in relation to emerging issues for education.  Particularly, given that digital media and connectedness are an essential part of the lives of today’s learners, schools and teachers must now cope with the new responsibilities in relation to these skills.  This explorative book tackles the issue and helps to contribute to filling the knowledge gap.

Frankly, it’s not about the technology, but it’s all about connectedness. Connectedness, which is the capacity to benefit from connectivity for personal, social, work or economic purposes, is having an impact on all areas of human activity. Consequently, devices and gadgets are less important than the ability to be connected and seizing the opportunities that connectedness offers. Education is expected to play an important role in this transformation as it can equip individuals with the required skills for harnessing the opportunities that the knowledge economy and society offers.

In particular, teachers need to be well prepared in terms of the potential pedagogical benefits of new technologies. Challenges for schools and teachers are to better integrate the new digital media and the resulting innovative social practices into the daily experience of schooling.  With the objective to help learners to make the most out of connectedness, while enabling teachers to improve their skills. In addition, teachers should simultaneously pay attention to the different needs of learners and provide increased support to those who come from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.

It is very reassuring to discover that Mobile Learning is emerging as one of the solutions to the challenges faced by education. As described in UNESCO’s Mobile Learning project, it offers unique characteristics in comparison to conventional e-learning: personal, portable, collaborative, interactive, contextual and situated.  As well as the fact that it highlights "just-in-time-learning", since instruction can be delivered anywhere and at anytime.

Nobody can predict what new technologies may bring, or how the teaching and learning experience in education will evolve over the next decade.  So in the meantime, let’s just stay aware of the learning opportunities, while keeping a caring eye on the gadget screens as well as a little clock beside the video-games, see Setting Computer Limits Tips.   Of course, not with the intention to deprive youngsters of all the fun, but just to ensure that the final rewards will fully outweigh any eventual risks.

OECD work on New Millenium Learners
Activities: Centre for Eduational Research and Innovation (CERI)
Photo Credit: © Eric Audras/Onoky/Corbis

Monday, July 16, 2012

Older, wiser, better: ageing workforce and fast-track societies

by Julie Harris,
Consultant, Directorate for Education
Simple fact: older workers are leaving the labour force earlier than they did in the 60s and 70s. The retirement age declined steadily across OECD countries from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Over the past decade this drop has levelled off, with some countries experiencing a slight upturn. Despite this, apart from Japan and Korea, it is still significantly lower than in the 1960s and 1970s.

At the same time retirement age has been declining, life expectancy has been increasing. In many OECD countries, workers who retire can expect to live another two decades.

If this situation does not change, there will be twice the number of retirees per worker in OECD countries by 2050. You don't need to be an economist to understand that such an eventuality would pose a serious threat to living standards and tear deeply into the fabric of the social safety net.

So, what to do? How can governments move to remedy this situation? And what can companies do to better take advantage of senior employees' skills?

The OECD Skills Strategy states that both governments and companies should work to discourage early retirement. To keep older workers in the labour market, many countries have eliminated early retirement schemes, increased the official pensionable age and corrected distorted financial incentives to retire early. To tackle demand-side barriers to employing older workers, some countries have tried to balance labour costs with productivity by reducing employers’ social security contributions or providing wage subsidies for older workers. Lifelong learning and targeted training, especially in mid-career, can improve employability in later life as well and discourage early withdrawal from the labour market. A rise in the pensionable age also lengthens the period of time over which employers could recover training costs; hence, an attractive incentive to motivate more employers and older employees to invest in training.

Anne-Sophie Parent, Secretary General of AGE Platform Europe, an NGO that promotes the interests of people over 50 across Europe, is convinced that scrapping the mandatory retirement age is key to increasing the employability of older workers. This fixed age, she explains, is like the expiry date on a pot of yoghurt: the closer it gets, the more you're inclined to think of it as no good.

According to the OECD, employees between 25 and 54 are twice as likely to take part in job training as those over 55, confirming employers’ unwillingness to invest in senior staff. Removing the mandatory age would help make employers see older employees as valuable, she argues, giving them an incentive to invest in their skills through training.
Participation in job-related training over the last month, by age group, 2009
(As a percentage of the employed in the age group)
If doing away with the mandatory age is crucial, governments must also address certain significant workplace problems to help older workers get a foothold in the job market. Rodolphe Delacroix, Senior Consultant at consulting firm Towers Watson, cites the case of Finland, which pushed back the average retirement age three years by tackling work-related stress, strenuousness of work and work-life balance.

Delacroix adds that governments can use social and fiscal incentives to entice companies to hire people over 50 and set up progressive retirement plans that allow older employees to reduce their working hours over a number of years. These could replace early retirement plans, which have been the norm in countries such as France.

Companies, for their part, must make career planning an integral part of their human resources policy early on, he maintains. They need to manage the end of employees' careers well to ensure that knowledge and skills are passed on to younger employees.

Older workers are perfectly positioned to help countries maximise the use of skills, as outlined in the OECD Skills Strategy. They can develop relevant skills of younger workers, supply their skills to the labour market and put them to effective use. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how they can't be a boon to our crisis-ridden economies.

OECD Employment Outlook
Ageing and Employment Policies
Ageing and Skills: A Review and Analysis of Skill Gain and Skill Loss Over the Lifespan and Over Time
Data visualisation: Labour force participation by gender and age, 2010
Live Longer, Work Longer: Statistics on average effective age of retirement
Learn more about ageing societies on:
Photo credit: Young and old businessman / Shutterstock
Chart source:  Calculations based on the EU-LFS.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

“Creativity” is spelled with a “why”

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education
Here’s a science experiment for you: Take a standard-issue van. Equip it with household items – coat hangers, balls of string, maybe even a few potatoes – with which you could demonstrate certain basic scientific principles. Find someone who knows how to drive the van and teach that person some of those basic principles of science (or find someone who knows those basic principles and teach that person how to drive the van…). Send driver and van out into remote, disadvantaged villages. Observe how children react.

While waiting to amass the funds he needed to realise his dream of building a school in the Himalayas to develop creative leaders, Ramji Raghavan performed that little experiment – and discovered a way to ignite creativity. Thirteen years after the first van was sent out into rural India in 1999, the Agastya International Foundation, chaired by Raghavan, now dispatches 62 vans, most focusing on general science, but two specialising in ecology and one in the arts, across nine states in India, runs a Creativity Lab in the state of Andhra Pradesh, and reaches more than a million children – and their parents – each year.

“Creative people tend to be very good observers,” Raghavan noted during a recent visit to the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. “They are aware; they are able to associate different pieces of information, integrate them and apply them. These skills are all predicated on curiosity. But how do you spark curiosity?”

Raghavan, who was a banker in his early career (“when it was still a somewhat honourable profession”), found the answer to his question in hands-on, experiential learning. “People tend to remember things when they are personally engaged,” he says. That’s why the Agastya project also selects students with particular aptitude and interest and has them teach other children. Not only do these young teachers retain more of what they learn – some have even won special awards in national science competitions – but, through teaching, they also begin to develop other positive attitudes and behaviour – including, for example, empathy. “They begin to realise,” says Raghavan, “how difficult it is to teach.”

These unintended outcomes “can be more important than the original goal,” says Raghavan. “These children learn different ways of thinking and looking at the world.” For Raghavan, those different ways of thinking also need to be adopted by traditional teachers and schools. “We need a shift from ‘yes’ to ‘why?’ in school systems,” he says, “from looking to observing; from being passive to exploring; from textbook-bound to hands-on; from fear to confidence.”

Although the school in the Himalayas is still a dream, Raghavan has managed to change the reality for millions of young Indians who live a little closer to sea level. “There are magical moments in all our lives,” he says. “We may have found a way to deliver these kinds of transformational moments on a mass scale.”
Visit the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
See related blog posts:
The “extra” in extracurricular activities
Skills revolution will come from the grassroots
Photo credit: Mobile Lab / © Stephan Vincent-Lancrin

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The “extra” in extracurricular activities

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education
It may be tempting for school systems that are trying to reduce expenses to trim the “extras” from their budgets, including school-sponsored extracurricular activities. But are these activities just a luxury that schools can no longer afford? The latest issue of PISA in Focus makes the case that the availability of extracurricular activities at school is positively related both to student performance and to students’ attitudes towards learning.

As part of the PISA 2006 survey, which focused on student performance in science, school principals were asked about the kinds of extracurricular activities they offered their students. On average across OECD countries, 89% of students attend schools whose principals reported that science-related field trips were commonly offered, 56% of students attend schools that hold science competitions, 48% of students are in schools that encourage involvement in extracurricular science projects, 42% are in schools that organise science fairs, and 41% are in schools that have science clubs.

While the types of science-related extracurricular activities vary across countries, their relationship with better student performance is consistent throughout. In 22 of 31 OECD countries and 14 of 17 partner countries and economies, students in schools that offer more science-related extracurricular activities tend to perform better in science than do students in schools that offer fewer such activities. And in 21 OECD countries and 12 partner countries and economies, this positive relationship holds even after accounting for students’ socio-economic background. However, in two countries, the relationship is very different:  in the United States, students in schools that offer fewer of these kinds of science-related activities tend to perform better in science, after accounting for students’ socio-economic backgrounds; while in Montenegro, the relationship is negative both before and after accounting for students’ backgrounds.

And there’s more at play than test scores: PISA also found a link between the availability of school-sponsored extracurricular activities and students’ belief in their ability to handle science-related tasks, known as self-efficacy, and their enjoyment of learning science. In 22 OECD countries, 7 partner countries and 1 partner economy, students in schools that offer more of these kinds of activities tend to have higher levels of self-efficacy in science; and in 20 OECD countries, 2 partner countries and 1 partner economy, they also enjoy learning science more. In no country or economy is there a negative relationship between science-related extracurricular activities and positive attitudes towards learning science.

These findings from PISA can’t determine conclusively whether being exposed to science-related extracurricular activities enhances students’ attitudes towards science or whether students with more positive attitudes towards science are attracted to schools that offer more of such activities; both could be true. But what these results do show is that these kinds of activities are positively related not only to student performance, but also to students’ attitudes towards learning and their belief in their own abilities. With that in mind, school leaders should carefully weigh the benefits of these “extras” against their cost when making tough budgetary decisions.

For more information:
on PISA:
PISA in Focus: Link latest issue "Are students more engaged when schools offer extracurricular activities?"
Photo credit: Teen science experiment / Shutterstock

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Higher education: a good long-term investment?

by J.D. LaRock
Senior Analyst, Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education

As any student can attest, pursuing a higher education requires an investment in time, effort – and in a number of OECD countries, significant financial resources.  But the economic costs of higher education go beyond tuition fees.  Because people with higher education tend to have higher earnings, they’re likely to pay more in income taxes and social welfare contributions.  There’s also the “opportunity cost” of foregone earnings when people enter university instead of the labour market.

Given these long-term economic costs, do the long-term economic benefits of having a higher education make it worthwhile?  As the latest issue of the OECD’s brief series Education Indicators in Focus details, analyses based on the most recent year of available data – 2007 for most countries – suggest that the return on investment is very good.

For example, the long-term economic advantage of having a tertiary degree instead of an upper secondary degree, minus the associated costs, is over USD 175 000 for a man and just over USD 110 000 for a woman, on average across OECD countries. The payoff is particularly strong for men in Italy, Korea, Portugal and the United States, where obtaining a higher education degree generates a long-term benefit of more than  USD 300 000 for the average man, compared to a man with an upper secondary education only.

Meanwhile, the advantage for women is strongest in Ireland, Korea, Portugal, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, where having a tertiary education yields an average long-term benefit of USD 150 000 or more, compared to a woman with an upper secondary education.

As the chart above shows, OECD analyses also find that the long-term payoff on the amount of taxpayer funds used to support people in higher education generates a strong return.  Taxpayer costs include funds used to lower the direct costs of higher education to individuals, as well as support for grant and loan programs.  They also include indirect costs, such as foregone tax revenues and social contributions to the government while people are in university.

On average, OECD countries directly invest more than USD 30 000 in public sector funds to support an individual pursuing higher education.  However, they’ll recoup this investment – and then some – through greater tax revenues from these higher-educated people, as well as savings from the lower level of social transfers these people typically receive.

On average, OECD countries will receive a net return of USD 91 000 on the public costs to support a man in tertiary education – more than three times the amount of the public investment. In Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia and the United States, this return is especially high, topping USD 150 000.  The net return on the public costs to support a woman in higher education is somewhat lower – USD 55 000, on average – but are still positive in almost every OECD country.

Of course, the fallout from the global economic crisis will likely change this cost-benefit equation – but whether it will make it better or worse overall is unclear. For example, the higher unemployment rates spurred by the crisis are likely to have reduced the opportunity cost of foregoing work in order to attend university.  However, they also may have reduced some of the benefits of having a higher education, because unemployment rates rose among tertiary-educated people during the crisis.

Likewise, the continued global expansion of higher education could have different effects.  As the supply of highly-educated individuals grows, the relative economic benefits of having a tertiary education may go down over time.  However, if economies continue to become more knowledge-based – increasing the demand for highly-educated people even more – the economic benefits of higher education could continue to expand.

For more information
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators
On the OECD’s Indicators of Education Systems (INES) programme, visit:
INES Programme overview brochure
See also: IMHE General Conference 2012 "Attaining and Sustaining Mass Higher Education", Paris, 17-19 September 2012

Chart Source: Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, Indicator A9 (
Note: Data for Australia, Belgium and Turkey refer to 2005. Data for Italy, the Netherlands, Poland,
Portugal and the United Kingdom refer to 2006. All other data refer to 2007.
Countries are ranked in descending order of the net present value.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Understanding youth, unemployment and skills in Africa

by Denielle Sachs
McKinsey Social Sector Office

For those working on employment issues, one thing is clear: the tense imbalance between the demands of the labor market and the supply of appropriately skilled workers is reaching its breaking point. Last week, the McKinsey Global Institute launched, The world at work: jobs and skills for 3.5 billion people. The report found that by 2020 there could be as many as 40 million too few high-skill workers and up to 95 million too many low-skill workers out in the job market.
Avoiding such massive imbalances will require a radical approach to accelerate education and skills building, and to boost job creation for less-skilled workers. Anything less and we will see a growing shortage of high-skill workers, persistent joblessness for many low- and middle-skill workers, rising income inequality, and distressingly high rates of youth unemployment. The numbers are clear: by 2030, the world will have as many as 1 billion workers without even secondary education, and most of them will be living in India, South Asia and Africa.

A lot of institutions are looking at these issues , including OECD and their recently launched Skills Strategy. As part of our ongoing research on youth unemployment and the skills-jobs mismatch, we asked a few experts what a solution might look like for young people in Africa where the under 25 represent three-fifths of sub-Saharan Africa’s unemployed population, and 72 percent of the youth population lives on less than $2 a day.

First, we have to understand who we mean when we talk about the young and out-of-work in Africa. Fred Swaniker, Founder and CEO of the African Leadership Academy, tells us that, on average, she is an 18-year-old girl, living in a rural area, literate but not attending school. To his mind, entrepreneurship – both the technical skills and the mindset — is the answer. It should be an integral part of every child’s education whether that schooling be formal or informal.

 For the Chief Economist for the World Bank’s Africa Region Shantayanan Devarajan, the answer lies in productivity. “The challenge of youth employment in Africa is not just to create more wage and salary jobs but to increase the productivity, and hence earnings, of the majority of young people.” This can only happen by “first, increasing their basic skills, which they can take with them when they move to new enterprises; and second, creating jobs in the formal sector by improving the economy’s competitiveness, so that this sector can absorb more qualified workers into a productive workforce.”

In South Africa, a very specific socio-political context post-apartheid, Thero Setiloane, CEO of the Business Leadership South Africa, explains that access to education and the quality of that education (“Only 35 percent of the children in third grade are able to pass the literacy and numeracy tests.”) are major stumbling blocks. His preference is for a joint government-business solution. “Business must work with government to adapt the school curriculum… so that young people leave school ready for work. Training programs must be tailored to demand…We also need to build in incentives for businesses to address the social-capital deficit in poor communities.”

Moataz Al Alfi, CEO of the Egypt Kuwait Holding Company could not agree more. Coming from the Middle East where the “paradox of the labour markets”, as he calls it, is perhaps at its worst, he calls for “a solution that requires a strong partnership between business, with its urgent need for skilled workers, and government, which is charged with educating young people.” The region currently has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, at 25 percent. And, on the heels of the Arab Spring, and in the midst of the lingering economic crisis, it is only expected to rise.  He too returns to the issue of a failing education system that does not prepare young people for the jobs that the market desperately needs to fill.


Join the debate and register for our online panel event on June 26th at 8am EDT //2pm CEST , featuring experts from the OECD and IFC
See also: OECD Skills Strategy
Visit our interactive portal on skills:
OECD Development Centre
Photo credit: African youth / Shutterstock

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The role of unions in developing a skilled workforce

by Randi Weingarten
President, American Federation of Teachers

As we slowly recover from the worst economic recession since the 1920s, labour markets around the world remain turbulent. We are facing more social and economic inequality with wages stagnating and many people dropping out of the workforce entirely.

How can the American Federation of Teachers and other trade unions around the world help?

First, unions should be viewed as part of the solution, not as something to overcome. Labour-management collaboration is essential to developing skilled workers and, in turn, to creating better jobs and higher salaries. Workers need to be represented at the bargaining table and—regardless of the trade or profession—unions can be an important partner. That is the key to developing a flexible, smart workforce ready and equipped to be full partners with management.

If our workforce is going to thrive in the 21st century, we need to begin by changing much about our approach to education—from inside the classroom and larger school environment, to how we care for children, to how labour and management work together across the world.

In every country, a flourishing economy requires a strong education foundation as well as the ability to innovate and to communicate. It also requires teachers who are prepared and supported on every level and who are invested in helping students succeed in school and in life.

In Singapore, for example, where I spent time with teachers and students earlier this year, schools are focused on growth and achievement. However, as I observed numerous diverse groups of children deeply engaged in learning, I saw nothing that could be construed as “teaching to the test”—something that educators in the United States continue to contend with. In Singapore and in other countries with high-performing education systems, schools have listened to their teachers and collaborated with them to ensure the best education practices are implemented.

Additionally, the OECD can work with education unions to collaborate on important skills-developing issues, including:
  • Global teaching standards—These include guidelines to ensure high-functioning, well-prepared, continuously improving teachers in every classroom. However, teachers cannot do this alone. They should be given the continuous support and respect they deserve –which, in large part, means treating education as a shared responsibility.
  • Educational  equality—We can address issues of educational inequality worldwide through expanding and enhancing the successful efforts of countries in which every child receives a good education regardless of economic status. We also need to level the playing field for poor children by ensuring the availability of early childhood education and wrap-around services. We can address these issues before they become significant obstacles to learning.
  • Curriculum—Ensuring a well-rounded, robust curriculum that prepares students for the future is essential to advancing workforce preparation. A child’s studies should focus on accessing and sorting information to solve complex problems and develop higher-level thinking skills, as opposed to finding answers to simple questions learned by rote. Businesses can help prepare students through mentoring and internships, while at school we can offer more project-based learning to ensure the mastery of skills sets.
  • Models of collaboration—The OECD and unions can disseminate examples of labour and management working together to solve problems. Sharing best practices and successful partnerships can help lead to greater and more effective co-operation.
Education by itself will not address the jobs crisis, nor can education by itself address inequality. But without education, the fight for jobs and fair societies cannot be won. We’re excited to take part in the process.

Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC)
American Federation of Teachers
See also: OECD Skills Strategy
Visit our interactive portal on skills:
More blogs with Randi Weingarten:
‘An obligation to systematise success’
‘Internationalist, not isolationist’
Photo credit: Child hands on top of each other / Shutterstock

Friday, June 15, 2012

Urban studies

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education
To many people, the phrase “inner-city schools” is synonymous with crumbling buildings, frustrated teachers, disengaged students, truancy and violence. In some urban areas, though, city schools and the students who attend them flourish. In fact, three of the top five performers in reading in the PISA 2009 survey—Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore—are large cities. So are big cities a boon or a bane for education?

The latest edition of PISA in Focus presents new analyses suggesting that, in some countries, students in large cities—defined as those with over one million inhabitants—score on a par with their top-performing peers in PISA. For instance, students in urban areas in countries like Portugal and Israel, countries that tend to perform around the OECD average in PISA, compare favourably with students in Singapore; and the performance of students in Poland’s urban areas compares easily with that of students in Hong Kong.

But in Belgium, the United Kingdom and the United States, the performance of students in large urban areas drags down overall country scores in PISA. This might be because, in these countries, not all students can enjoy the advantages—including a rich cultural environment, more school choice and good job prospects after leaving school—that large urban centres offer. Some of these students may come from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, speak a different language at home than the one spoken at school, or have only one parent to turn to for support and assistance.

However, these new analyses of PISA data also show that an urban environment’s impact on learning is not just related to socio-economic advantage or disadvantage. Even when comparing students of similar backgrounds in OECD countries, those attending schools in urban areas in Chile, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Turkey scored more than 45 points higher—the equivalent of more than one year of formal schooling—than their peers in rural schools. In Hungary, the performance gap between the two groups of students was more than 70 score points wide.

What these analyses tell us is that in order to join the ranks of PISA best-performers, countries may have to provide targeted support to isolated rural communities to ensure that students attending schools in these areas reach their full potential, while those countries whose city-based students underperform will have to figure out how to both embrace a heterogeneous student population and enable these students to tap into the cultural and social advantages that large urban areas offer.

For more information:
on PISA:
PISA in Focus: Are large cities educational assets or liabilities?
Photo credit: City student / Shutterstock

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Curriculum for the Next Billion

by Charles Leadbeater
Author of Learning from the Extremes and Innovation in Education: Lessons from Pioneers Around the World, published by Bloomsbury with the support of the The Qatar Foundation’s WISE initiative.
Today, global companies are fascinated by the prospect of what the World Economic Forum calls ‘the next billion’ – the future consumers of the developing world whose income is rising from around $2 a day to between $5 and $7 a day. Most of these people are recently arrived in rapidly expanding cities, often living in the poorest areas: every month about 5 million people in the developing world move to cities.

If we were to look at these families as parents and learners, what kind of education will they be looking for? Or to put it another way, if we were to design a curriculum with ‘the next billion’ what would they want?

Having spent much of the last three years visiting a wide variety of education projects in cities across the developing world, it strikes me that the first thing that people want is facility with a global language, usually English, but also in some places Spanish and, in others, Mandarin. They want a language that will give them access to people and jobs linked to global networks and trade – a business hotel, a job in retail, manning a phone in a call centre – rather than confining them to ply their trade in purely local markets.

Next they want a mastery of basic mathematics, the ability to understand numbers and do fairly basic sums, like working out discounts or more complex applications like planning a production schedule. Maths is foundational to much else that people need, and want. to learn.

The third ingredient is digital literacy. People need to be able to work competently and capably with computers, and not just the basics of the Microsoft world of Word and Excel, but increasingly the world of the web and social media, apps and programming. They need to be comfortable with having to learn, and learn again, as technology changes.

None of that, however, is worth very much unless they are skilled at working together with other people. So the fourth thing their education needs to give them is a well-grounded experience in social skills so they know how to respond to customers and work well with their colleagues, to find collaborative solutions to problems. Some of those skills are social and relational, based on empathy and sympathy. But others are more about collaborative self-government, which is why it is so important that education provides children with ample, structured, challenging opportunities to work together, in groups, on projects which they can make their own. As social media spreads so it will open up ever more opportunities for people to find one another and come together to achieve common goals. Citizens will need to learn how to make the most of these technologies, for better government, richer culture and more successful businesses.

All of this needs to be married to entrepreneurial and creative capacity, by which I mean the ability to spot an opportunity, mobilise support to take it, learn how to take risks and recover from setbacks. Most of the ‘next billion’ will find themselves working in small entrepreneurial companies. Studies of the urban poor show that many have to hold down two or three jobs to survive. Their education needs to help them become micro-entrepreneurs, adaptive and resilient, fleet of foot. Learning to juggle work if, not balls, is a key skill.

The slim core skills set out above might provide the starting point for thinking about the kinds of skills all young people might need in the years ahead, in the developed and the developing world.

Yet that is only at best half the story. Setting out what people should learn is just the starting point. How they learn is almost as important. Effective learning needs to be a structured, well-designed, highly engaging activity which challenges and stretches young people as well as supporting them and building their confidence. It needs to pull people to it, by the laws of attraction. Too much of the time at school it is the other way around: people are pushed into learning they do not really understand and cannot make meaningful.

To be motivating learning needs to be intrinsically satisfying and to offer at least the distant prospect of a pay-off: a better job; a practical skill; a useful way of thinking.

Achieving that will mean that learning will have to become more connected to, if not located in, the real world of work and production. The most impressive and attractive places to learn in future, in the developed and developing world, will give young people ample opportunities to design and make, produce and sell things, with their hands and their heads. They should go to school to learn by working and having fun. They should study by making and building rather than sitting and listening.

Too often education is seen as a pristine preparation for a later career. Work is held at bay for as long as possible. I doubt we can afford that distinction in the future in which education increasingly seems to be losing touch with the real world that young people live in – and the real world seems increasingly unwilling to give them the jobs they crave. We need learning to give young people a real sense of what creative, satisfying, productive work can be, so they can take those standards and expectations into their later working life.

All innovators succeed by challenging ingrained conventional wisdom. Breaking down the barriers between work and learning will be one of the chief opportunities for educational innovators in the decades to come, especially if they want to meet the needs of the next billion parents and children entering formal education.

Innovation in Education: Lessons from Pioneers around the World
See also: OECD Skills Strategy
Photo credit: Population of our World in Colour / Shutterstock

Monday, June 4, 2012

Erasing the “bright red dividing line” between education and work

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education
Central to the OECD Skills Strategy, which was released last week, is the idea that developing people’s skills and ensuring that those skills are used effectively on the job is everybody’s business—governments, employers, employees, trade unions and students. So who better to discuss the business of skills development than a business leader? Phil O’Reilly, Chief Executive of Business NZ, New Zealand’s largest business advocacy group, was in Paris this week to attend the OECD Forum. Calling the Strategy “an immaculate document” that “points out the complexity of what we’re dealing with”, O’Reilly makes a strong case for the importance of developing “soft” skills in today’s global labour market. “We all obsess about mathematics and science skills,” he says, “but cultural skills do matter.”

What do today’s employers look for in prospective employees? According to O’Reilly, businesses want good citizens working for them. “People who can read and add and think critically—and who can also act accordingly, like by voting; or getting up to give a seat to an older woman: that shows courtesy and the ability to think of others. Even showing up at a demonstration: that shows passion.”

These “soft” skills, defined as emotional intelligence, the ability to work in a team, and to communicate effectively, are largely taught by parents and by communities. While O’Reilly calls “hard” skills—literacy, numeracy, skills in using information and communication technologies, and what are called STEM skills (those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics)—the “ticket to ride” for today’s employees, “those skills will only be considered as good as the ability of someone to use them effectively in a particular place at a particular time,” he says. “Employees with both hard and soft skills are highly valued.”

For many people right now—young people just starting out in the labour market, or older workers who, for one reason or another, have not participated in the workforce for a while—just getting that first—or new—job is a struggle. O’Reilly suggests that these transitions can be eased dramatically if employers, governments and education systems work together to “break down the bright red dividing line between compulsory education and work.“ That can be accomplished, he says, by creating “pathways” between the two worlds, in the form of internships and apprenticeships. “We need to get students and employers to rub up against each other intellectually,” he says. “We need to narrow the gap between the end of compulsory education and the next experience”, whether that is work or continuing education or training, “because skills will deteriorate if we don’t.”

Information is crucial. The idea is not to tell students what to do, but to “give them and their parents information about what they need to do to get to where they want to be,” whether that is becoming an architect or a plumber. “We need to make sure students have enough information so that they can make an informed choice.”

In short, he says, “policy makers and businesses need to be talking about skills needs so that employers and workers are at the centre of the system, rather than being victims of the system.”

Photo credit: Office corridor /Shutterstock

Thursday, May 31, 2012

What will the global talent pool look like in 2020?

by Pedro Garcia de León, Corinne Heckmann, and Gara Rojas González 
Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education

The “global talent pool” can be described in a lot of different ways.  But in an era in which having a higher (tertiary) education is increasingly a minimum requirement for successful entry into the labour force, one way to quantify it is to look at the number of people around the world who are obtaining a higher education degree.

As the latest issue of the OECD’s series Education Indicators in Focus details, by that measure, the global talent pool is exploding across OECD and G20 countries. What’s more, it’s likely to grow far larger by the year 2020.

In the last decade alone, the number of younger adults with higher education degrees has grown at a remarkably fast clip. This is particularly true for non-OECD G20 countries like Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, where the number of 25-34 year-olds with a higher education degree increased from 39 million in 2000 to an estimated 64 million in 2010. By contrast, the number of younger adults with higher education degrees in OECD countries increased from 51 million to an estimated 66 million during the same period.

In addition, the rapid expansion of higher education in non-OECD G20 countries has significantly altered the distribution of the talent pool among countries. A decade ago, one in six 25-34 year-olds with a higher education degree was from the United States, and a similar proportion was from China. Twelve percent came from the Russian Federation, and about 10% each were from Japan and India. But by 2010, China was at the head of the pack, according to OECD estimates, accounting for 18% of 25-34 year-olds with a tertiary education.  The United States followed with 14%, the Russian Federation and India each had 11%, and Japan had 7%. 

These trends are likely to intensify further in the years ahead. According to OECD projections, there will be more than 200 million 25-34 year-olds with higher education degrees across all OECD and G20 countries by the year 2020 – and 40% of them will be from China and India alone. By contrast, the United States and the European Union countries are expected to account for just over a quarter of young people with tertiary degrees in OECD and G20 countries. 

In fact, these figures may underestimate the future growth of the global talent pool, because a number of countries – notably China, the European Union countries, and the U.S. – are pursuing initiatives to increase higher education attainment rates even further. 

The explosive growth of the  talent pool raises a key question: With all of these highly-educated people emerging around the world, will the global labour market be able to absorb the increased supply?  
Evidence from science and technology occupations – key “knowledge economy” jobs – suggests that it can. Between 1998 and 2008, employment in science and technology occupations increased at a faster rate than total employment in all OECD and G20 countries with available data. The average annual growth rate was uniformly positive, ranging from 0.3% in China to 5.9% in Iceland. 

This consistently upward trend signals that the demand for employees in this knowledge economy sector hasn’t reached its ceiling. Applied to the overall labour market, the implication is that individuals from increasingly better-educated populations will continue to have good employment outcomes, as long as national economies continue to become more knowledge-based.  

As such, countries may be well-advised to pursue efforts to build their knowledge economies, in order to avoid skills mismatches and lower returns on education among their higher-educated populations in the future.

For more information
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus: 
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators: 
On the OECD’s Indicators of Education Systems (INES) programme, visit:
INES Programme overview brochure (link)

See also: IMHE General Conference 2012 "Attaining and Sustaining Mass Higher Education", Paris, 17-19 September 2012
Chart source: OECD Database, UNESCO and National Statistics websites for Argentina,
China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Are Teachers Getting the Recognition They Deserve?

by Kristen Weatherby
Senior Analyst, Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)

More and more countries are having discussions about how to evaluate the quality of their teaching workforce and, subsequently, how to reward teachers for their work. The OECD’s newest series of briefs, Teaching in Focus, launches this month with a discussion of the appraisal and feedback teachers receive and the impact of both on their teaching.

Teaching is often thought to be an isolating profession, with teachers receiving little or no feedback that enables them to improve their teaching practice. Data from the  Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)  supports this claim in many countries, indicating that more than one in five of all teachers in the 24 countries surveyed report never received a formal appraisal of their teaching practice. Indeed even those teachers who are receiving formal appraisals may not ever learn the results of those appraisals. In several countries, teachers reported never receiving any feedback on their work regardless of whether they had received a formal appraisal.

Yet teachers are eager for information that will help them improve their teaching. The vast majority of teachers (79%) feel that the appraisal and feedback they have received are helpful in the development of their work. Those teachers who do receive appraisal and feedback report changes in their teaching practice as a result of this information, especially in the areas of improving student test scores, student discipline and classroom management. Furthermore, teachers in nearly half of TALIS countries find that being publicly recognised for their work is closely connected to their own feelings of self-efficacy.

The message seems pretty clear: If countries want to improve the quality of their teachers, they need to provide teachers with feedback on their teaching that helps them make changes to their practice.

To learn more about this topic, check out this month’s Teaching in Focus brief. Look for further Teaching in Focus briefs on topics relevant to the experience of teachers in the coming months.

Follow TALIS and Kristen Weatherby @Kristen_Talis
Photo credit: Blue stage with falling stars / Shutterstock

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Taking stock of education and skills: the youth perspective

With his vantage point at the helm of the largest youth platform in the world, European Youth Forum (YFJ) President Peter Matjašič is well placed to assess the state of education and skills across Europe. Indeed, the YFJ represents millions of young people by way of national councils from Iceland to Azerbaijan, lobbying such important international bodies as the European Union, the Council of Europe and the United Nations to adopt policies that are in the best interests of European youth.

Educationtoday met with him at the OECD Forum to get his views on the state of young people's education and skills across the continent today.

educationtoday: How can today's students and young workers prepare themselves for rapidly evolving labour markets? 

Peter  Matjašič: The YFJ has been working on education since its inception fifteen years ago, focusing on quality and equality of access. We have a holistic view of education. Formal education must be supplemented by non-formal education, by which I mean you still have an organised activity, but one that is not organised by universities or colleges but by youth organisations, for example. Plus informal learning, which is what you gain from life experience.

Education is not necessarily enough. What we strive for is what we call youth autonomy. And to make the transition to the labour market, there are certain tools, such as internships.

The Youth Guarantee is another measure to ensure no young people are out of employment, school or training for more than four months. It means there are public programmes that ensure young people can get an internship or be retrained.

educationtoday: How do you ensure companies don't simply use internships as a means to get skilled young workers at little cost? 

Matjašič: First of all, for us it was important to put things into perspective. To do this, we carried out a survey of 4 000 interns across Europe last summer. We found the majority of interns enjoy being an intern, but at the same time they are aware of their precarious status. So, internships can be good tools if they're managed properly. For example, interns should be paid at least the minimum wage of the country they work in. To ensure this, we developed the European Quality Charter On Internships and Apprenticeships and pushed EU policymakers to propose it. The commission picked it up and will present a proposal themselves.

educationtoday: You mentioned entrepreneurship. This involves a certain measure of independent-mindedness and creativity. How do you think schools can better equip young people with these qualities?

Matjašič: The so-called life skills, or soft skills, are not being acquired through education. The value of peer-to-peer education you get in youth organisations is immense. Education needs to be hands-on with analytical thinking, which tends to be more the case in Northern Europe, whereas in Southern Europe teaching is often more ex-cathedra, where students simply learn what the teacher tells them. And this model in times of crisis fails young people in that studying hard is no longer enough to get a job.

I would also add that the way society sees entrepreneurship needs to be changed. Today, too many young people see it as solely about profit.

educationtoday: To what extent do you feel there is a skills mismatch today in Europe? 

Matjašič: The problem is in part because there's a disconnect between education and jobs. But at the same time, we aim to foster autonomous and active citizens. We don't want young people to be told, for example, they have to study mechanics because that's where jobs are. They need to be informed to make the right decisions. Proper career orientation in schools is key.

educationtoday:  Do you think there is a problem of over-skilled or over-educated young people today?

Matjašič: From a technical perspective, in terms of the level of education they have, yes. However, if you look at the actual knowledge young people have, I have my doubts as to whether they're over-skilled. They're definitely over-educated for certain things. But I would say it's more up to the individual today. People feel they need a master's degree because a bachelor's is not good enough anymore, so you have a proliferation of degrees, which makes them less valuable. The knowledge is no longer the focus, and I see this as a danger. We don't want education to just be a tool to enter the labour market

educationtoday: What can be done to ensure young people today have a broad education that allows them to be active citizens? 

Matjašič: Non-formal education, informal learning and volunteering need to be recognized. People can then have specific knowledge from formal education and life skills from youth organisations, for example. Interdisciplinary approaches are also important.

European Youth Forum
OECD Skills Strategy
OECD Forum 2012
Photo credit: OECD Video Invest in skills to boost jobs and growth

Skills revolution will come from the grassroots

Sanjit Bunker Roy figured out pretty early on that it does, indeed, take a village; in fact, it takes a village to keep a village. He founded the Barefoot College in India in 1972 on the premise that for any rural development activity to be successful and sustainable, it must be both based in the village and managed and owned by those whom it serves. The College, a non-governmental organisation, serves rural men and women of all ages, all of whom are barely literate (if at all) and have no hope of getting even the lowest government job, by providing training in such skills as solar engineering, water drilling, hand-pump engineering, masonry, architecture, and computing.

Marilyn Achiron, Editor of the Education Department caught up with Roy when he was in Paris to speak at the OECD Forum. He’s not one to mince his words:

“We are facing a disaster of monumental proportions,” says Roy. “We’re training people to leave the village, not to stay in the village. We’re encouraging migration at a colossal level from village to city. As a result, we’re losing all the traditional knowledge and skills that used to be in the village. Does anyone at the mover-and-shaker level have the courage and vision to turn this around? We’re already set in a pattern that we can’t break.”

According to Roy, whom Time magazine named one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2010, the big international donors are part of the problem, and not enough of the solution. “People aren’t listening enough. The biggest problem with the big donors is that they don’t have the ability or the humility to listen to what’s happening on the ground. We need to respect traditional knowledge and skills; you cannot be educated at the expense of tradition. It’s a balance. There’s a real urgent situation out there and we’re not treating it with urgency.”

A dissatisfaction with policies designed in the relative comfort of developed-world capitals while more than one in five people in the world live on less than USD 1.25 a day comes across clearly. The OECD is not spared Roy’s frustration: “The OECD’s attitude towards education is outdated. In the non-organised, informal world, people have no access to water, electricity, formal education. The OECD’s attitude is dangerous. They have to revisit it and adapt it to the reality on the ground. They have lost touch.” Even the OECD Skills Strategy, released earlier this week already needs updating:  “There will be a skills revolution from the grassroots. The current thinking has to change. The question is: How do you recognise skills that people already have and apply them in the situation in which they live? The OECD is very backwards in its thinking.”

Between 2007 and 2011, the Barefoot College trained some 300 grandmothers, from 29 countries throughout Africa, in solar technologies. After their six-month training course—paid for, along with their air fare, by the Indian government—they went back to their villages and solar electrified some 15,000 houses. Says Roy, “These illiterate grandmothers know more about the repair and maintenance of solar lamps and installations than any graduate of any five-year university anywhere in the world. And if anyone wants to challenge me on it, I’d be delighted.”

Barefoot College
Watch the TED Talk: Bunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movement
OECD Skills Strategy
Visit our interactive portal on skills:
OECD Forum 2012
Photo credit: Colourful feet / Shutterstock

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hong Kong’s success in PISA – One system, many actors

by Andreas Schleicher
Deputy Director for Education and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary General
Hong Kong is perhaps the PISA top-performer about which I knew the least. So, on the invitation of the authorities, I took a few days of annual leave to learn more about this system. It turned out to be a very rewarding experience. What interested me most was to find out how Hong Kong, with its market-driven approach in virtually every field of public service, had been able to combine high levels of student performance with a high degree of social equity in the distribution of educational opportunities.

With the majority of schools run by private entities, the government has few levers for direct intervention and parents have a powerful influence on schools, both through their choice of schools (though still banded) and through local control. They sit on school management committees, parent-teacher associations and on home-school co-operation committees. Permanent Secretary Cherry Tse concluded that parents have more influence on what happens on the ground than the Education Bureau. The vibrant cyber-community has added to the tremendous pressures on schools to maintain a high quality of education.

Most leading newspapers have education pages that deal on a daily basis with policy debates as well as disputes in schools. Ruth Lee, an inspiring principal from Ying Wa Girls’ School, one of Hong Kong’s elite schools that I visited, explained how principals and teachers face a daily struggle to balance administrative accountability, client accountability and professional accountability while keeping their focus firmly on nurturing well-rounded children and helping parents see beyond their children’s entry to university (the backdrop for this is that schooling in Hong Kong used to be the domain of philanthropy and it was only when the economy gathered strengths in the 1960s that the government began to chip in with subsidising education).

Education as a cross-government priority
All that does not mean that education isn’t a government priority. On the contrary, at 23%, Hong Kong devotes more of its public budget to education than any OECD country, realising that it is talent that transforms the lives of its citizens and drives its economy. What struck me even more was that education isn’t just the domain of the Education bureau, but that it features high on the agenda of virtually every other government agency too. For example, Robin Ip, Deputy Head of Hong Kong’s Central Policy Unit explained how important the development and deployment of talent features as a cross-government priority. His unit provides the eyes and ears of the Chief Executive across the different government departments and builds advice on how Hong Kong can maintain its competitive edge in areas such as financing, trade and shipping, nurturing emerging industries (education included), and deepen economic co-operation with mainland China. And when I visited the Ministry of Finance, Salina Yan, Deputy Secretary for Financial Services underlined the deep commitment of her sector to both nurturing local talent in the financial domain as well as attracting the most highly skilled from abroad. Also Ho Wai Chi, Assistant Director of the Independent Commission Against Corruption and his team explained how that agency deploys almost a fifth of its staff to education and community relations throughout the territory, with the aim of moving the agenda from fighting corruption to preventing it, and building a climate of trust in the rule of law and the institutions protecting it. That includes work on a secondary school curriculum that builds confidence in the rule of law, deals with ethical dilemmas and seeks to change the agency’s image from sending people to jail to sustaining the system. Hong Kong’s move up to rank 12 on Transparency International’s index of perceived corruption, and perhaps even more so, the fact that over 70% of corruption-related complaints are now posted non-anonymously, illustrate how far along the way Hong Kong has come - compared to the 1960s when corruption and a climate of fear and violence had been endemic in virtually every aspect of life. On the plane leaving Hong Kong for Shanghai I saw the front page article of the South China Morning Post quoting the chief prosecutor as demanding that not even the Chief Executive should be immune from prosecution.

Educational reform
I had interesting sharing sessions with Permanent Secretary Tse, Under Secretary Chen and his Deputy and Assistant Secretaries, the head of the Assessment Authority as well as leading academics from the major universities on key educational reform challenges in Hong Kong and the world around it. Hong Kong aims high in its educational ambitions, both as a systemic goal and to meet individual aspirations. It is always difficult to say which of the factors observed are due to cultural assets and which are due to policy interventions and practices. They are intertwined. But it is intriguing to see how Hong Kong has drawn together educational experience from the Eastern and Western world to design a world class education system. You see that in everyday life too, they treat their guests with the hospitality of the Chinese way but queue on the bus the British way.

2012 is a year of particular importance for Hong Kong’s education system; it is the first year in which the generation that has gone through the new integrated education system will graduate. Results from PISA suggest that Hong Kong is on the right track, showing high performance standards as well as important improvements in students’ metacognitive skills and confidence as learner. But the test of truth will come in August when the new Diploma of Secondary education will be handed out, a day that school leaders, teachers, parents (and not least the administration) are anxiously awaiting. The learner-centred reforms underlying this new system have been far-reaching, paralleling similar developments in other high performing education system. They involved significant expansion of educational opportunity as well as a shift in emphasis from teaching to learning, from fact memorisation to development of learning capacities, and from economic needs to individual needs. The broadened and more flexible curriculum seeks a better balance between intellectual, social, moral, physical and aesthetical aspects, with much greater emphasis on transversal skills including foundation skills, career-related competencies, thinking skills, people skills as well as values and attitudes. The reforms have also included more funding flexibility in support of schools. All of this has pushed schools and teachers to take a professional stand and exercise professional autonomy within a collaborative culture.

And yet, it is clearly visible that education in Hong Kong faces serious tensions. It is the tension between what is desirable for the long-term and what is needed in the short-term; between the global and local; between the academic, personal, social and economic goals of the curriculum; between competition and co-operation; between specialisation and attention to the whole person; between knowledge transmission and knowledge creation and between the aspiration of a new innovative curriculum and a powerful private tutoring industry narrowly focused on exam preparation; between uniformity and diversity and between assessment for selection and assessment for development.

The system is now also more subject to the political economy than what used to be the case: Since reunification with China, policies are no longer determined by technocrats, but by politicians with an eye on re-election. With teachers and school leaders a large and vocal part of the electorate, maintaining the high quality examination and assessment regime is already proving a struggle. So far, policy makers have also shied away from any consolidation of the school system which seems inevitable in light of the demographic shifts with rapidly declining student numbers - if Hong Kong wants to avoid a downward spiral of rising costs associated with shrinking school and class sizes that drive out needed investments for attracting and developing teachers and the establishment of a 21st century learning environment.

An amazing environment
Another surprise for me has been Hong Kong’s beautiful landscape. What I knew from Hong Kong was the sprawling urban environment that looks like built by SimCity (with the disaster function turned off for a long time). But it took just an hour with the Government Flying Service to turn that impression upside down. Soon after the helicopter had left the Government complex the landscape was dominated by forests, natural parks and wetlands known by birdwatchers that cover 70% of the territory. As Robin Ip and his staff from the Central Policy Unit explained, maintaining a balance between the immense pressure to expand urban development in order to provide affordable housing, on the one hand, and preserving Hong Kong’s natural and cultural heritage, on the other, will be an ever-tougher challenge. The incoming administration will no doubt be tempted to hand out sweets by developing new housing, but the resistance this will meet at local levels from town planning board and environmental activists should not be underestimated. This is Hong Kong. You will see some demonstration almost every day and you have to make your way to the HBSC headquarters through the tents of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Right across the boundary I could see the endless city of Shenzhen of China’s Guangdong province covered in smog, which does not seem to weigh such tradeoffs between economic development and the environment, and which has now absorbed virtually all of Hong Kong’s manufacturing industry. Close to a quarter of a million people pass the massive crossing points of Lok Ma Chou and Man Kam To each day, illustrating the rapid integration of Hong Kong’s economy with that of mainland China.

One-China, Two Systems
Can the ‘One-China Two-Systems’ policy be sustained in these circumstances or will Hong Kong simply be submerged? Different from twenty years ago, the distinction between the two systems can no longer be discerned from a helicopter, it is no longer visible in the infrastructure and hardware. When it comes to the ‘software’ though, the institutions and rule of law, Hong Kong’s autonomy seems yet unchallenged. At a meeting in the Department of Justice Paul Tsang, in charge of treaties and law, explained that, so far, there had just been three cases with questions about the interpretation of Hong Kong’s basic law – and all initiated by Hong Kong. Moreover, agreement has now also been reached on the mutual enforcement of law, such that cases can be heard in Hong Kong’s independent judicial system and then be enforced in mainland China. I also met with Daniel Cheng, Deputy Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs and his colleagues, who oversee the implementation of the One-China Two-Systems policy and who are the guardians of Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and independent judicial system, to learn more about the implementation of this policy. This was another instructive briefing session and what struck me most was how much mutual benefit both Hong Kong and mainland China derive from this. There are some obvious areas, such as the growing trade and the division of labour that serve both parts well, or the “firewalled” currency policies which Hong Kong offers for mainland China through the emerging offshore trading of the RMB. But it seems Hong Kong provides a testing ground for mainland China in many other areas too, and mainland China seems to learn fast from the ways in which Hong Kong does things and how its institutions operate. Paul Tsang recounted how Hong Kong’s assistance to the regions affected by the great earthquake in Szechuan had fundamentally changed the ways in which companies and the authorities in the area establish business relationships and contracts. So the return on the 80m Euro assistance which Hong Kong had provided for disaster relief will no doubt be high – and for both sides. Both sides are keen to consolidate what has been achieved and the complementarities and synergies between the two systems are now enshrined in China’s five-year development plan.

But not everybody is so confident that this will work out in the long term. At the Legislative Council, Hong Kong’s parliament, I met Representative Alan Leoung, who was deeply suspicious about the viability of the One-China Two-Systems policies, fearing that Hong Kong will end up with elections Chinese style (where everyone can vote but some opaque nomination committee will hold the gateway as to who can stand for election). He was already much concerned about the functioning of the political system today, where the functional constituencies guarantee vested interests a firm base in parliament, and where the 4m Hong Kong dollar in funds raised by the opposition parties compare against over 70m Hong Kong dollar raised by the parties supporting the government.

Perhaps it is the financial sector that will provide the most reliable barometer for the successful implementation of the One-China Two-Systems policy. Judged by that standard, Hong Kong has so far moved from strengths to strengths since reunification. Salina Yan’s office is located right next to the Chief Executive’s Building, and that is not just by coincidence. This is a country in which the Secretaries for Finance and Justice rank higher than any other government minister. Salina Yan portrayed an impressive trajectory for how Hong Kong had evolved into the international banking and asset management centre and open insurance market that it is today, with a market capitalisation that ranks 6th in the World and 2nd in Asia. Over a quarter of Hong Kong’s GDP now comes from trade and logistics, another 15% from financial services and 13% from professional services. Well over a third of the employment is in the financial services.
It is only logical that Hong Kong is a staunch supporter of the multilateral trading system including its principles of non-discrimination, with no tariffs on imports, no subsidies for exports and a level playing field for foreign and local enterprises. Rigorous international benchmarking and peer-learning are omnipresent.

But the financial sector too is facing challenges too. While Hong Kong had a strategic first-mover advantage in the financing sector of the region, other global cities are waking up. And there are important challenges on the expenditure side too. To maintain its competitive edge, the law requires Hong Kong to keep public spending below 20% (with a three-year window to smoothen out cyclical effects). So while the income side is fixed, Hong Kong’s rapidly ageing population, growing income inequalities and other social factors are putting immense pressure on the expenditure side. The government is acutely aware of these challenges and trade-offs, not least, as Cindy Kwan from the Central Policy Unit explained, through their weekly survey of opinions and attitudes among Hong Kong’s population. Like most other countries, however, it is struggling with finding convincing answers to these challenges and, like other democracies too, it needs to weight the long-term interests of the territory against the short-term demands from its citizens.

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