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People are by far the most important input when building quality education. So it is little surprise that teachers’ salaries represent the largest single cost item in the labour intensive education system. Salaries and working conditions play an important role in attracting, motivating and retaining skilled teachers. Teachers are the backbone of the education sector which is a crucial determinant of productivity and growth.

Classrooms need to be places for teaching creativity, as well as basic competence. Can it be done? 

How do our young students perform at school compared with their peers in other countries? Are they ready and equipped to take on the world of tomorrow? The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which surveys competence among 15 year olds around the world, gives ground for encouragement. 

© Aly Song/Reuters

In a global economy, the benchmark for educational success is no longer improvement by national standards alone, but the best performing school systems internationally. Latest results from the PISA assessment, the world’s metric for evaluating learning outcomes at school, issued 3 December, show striking changes in the world’s talent. 

Some 21% of workers are over-qualified for the jobs they do. This is a key finding in the first edition of the OECD Skills Outlook, which reports on a survey of skills among 157,000 adults in 24 countries and regions.

Here’s a sobering statistic: in around 20 of the world’s wealthiest countries, at least one in 10 adults can make sense of only basic texts. Ask them a question based on a piece of writing, and they’ll be able to answer only if the text is short, uses simple vocabulary and provides clues by repeating words used in the question. 

Until now considered a model in terms of reducing poverty and inequality, Brazil has recently faced the wrath of hundreds of thousands of protesters from across all sections of society, riling up against inflation, while calling for better access to health care, education and other public services.OECD analyst Horacio Levy explains.

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People who have completed tertiary education can generally expect to earn more than those who don’t. But governments and societies benefit from these people’s investments as well.

Lessons for educators

What are the key issues to know when devising better policies for education or simply trying to improve learning programmes? Here are some personal reflections.

1. In the global economy, the benchmark for educational success is no longer merely improvement by local or national standards, but the best performing education systems internationally. 

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The current crisis has continued to affect people’s lives across the world, and nowhere is this more evident than in the deteriorating labour market in many countries. Young people have been hit particularly hard and risk being permanently scarred from joblessness and even exclusion.

Education for all

Young people from poorer families are badly underrepresented in higher education. That risks exposing them to a lifetime of reduced earnings and undermines the foundations of wider economic growth. What can be done? Economically disadvantaged students benefit from a mix of grants and loans in third-level education, but they also need better support from the earliest years of their school careers.

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©Christian Charisius

Education is one OECD department that has embraced the information revolution.

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Making strides in scientific innovation is no longer an initiative of just a few select high-income countries. Research and innovation have become increasingly democratised; indeed, Asia’s emerging economies are now gaining prominence as world hubs of scientific research. While the United States remains at the top in terms of the volume of scientific publications produced and collaborations made, these countries are eager to develop their own innovation capabilities, and strengthen their research and academic partnerships.

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More students are looking beyond their borders to give their education a competitive edge. 

How can teachers know what–let alone how–to teach when the world is changing so quickly around us? 

Policymakers need solutions to help their economies move forward in today’s world. The OECD Skills Strategy, launched at the 2012 Ministerial Council Meeting in May, may prove fundamental. Here’s why. 

©INSEAD

Life skills and a passion for learning are the key to the global knowledge economy. Thriving in this environment demands several qualities. 

Global competition and the global financial crisis have put additional pressures on education programmes around the world. Radically new approaches to learning are now needed.

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Human capital spending is needed to reshape China’s growth engine. The action can start at an early age. 

“Education and skills” is the theme of the 2012 OECD youth video competition. It was launched on 14 December at the Youth Employment conference. Open to youth ages 18 to 25, the challenge is to produce a video of no more than three minutes on the theme of education and skills, and the prize is a trip to Paris to attend the OECD Forum on 22-24 May. 

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There has always been some debate about whether higher education is really something that everyone should be encouraged to pursue. If there aren’t enough jobs requiring university-level degrees to go around, why spend the time and money–public or private–to obtain a degree? 

Mobile phones and e-books are already essential school supplies on many university campuses. But they’re just slide rules compared to what education tools might look like in a few years. 

It is crucial for countries competing in an advanced economy to have a skilled workforce. But with labour markets changing so fast, how can workers keep up? The OECD Skills Strategy, due to be launched in May together with a comprehensive new survey of adult competencies, will help provide answers. 

University rankings sell a lot of newspapers and magazines. But how seriously should teachers, students and, importantly, policy makers take them? 

Brazil offers a good example of how international benchmarking can improve education. 

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Higher education is growing rapidly, and becoming a veritable global sector in its own right. That means challenges for educators, students and policy makers. 

©Reuters/Luke MacGregor

The coalition government of the UK is seeking to achieve two main goals by reforming funding of higher education in England.

While the quality of online education is a subject of intense debate among educators, parents and students alike, what is no longer open to debate is the need for digital literacy. A recent report in The Guardian affirmed that adults with Internet skills are 25% more likely to get work and to earn as much as 10% more than their colleagues who don’t have such skills.

Canadian education enjoys an excellent reputation at home and abroad, thanks to strong performances in such renowned surveys as OECD PISA, which focuses on 15-year-olds. There are several reasons for this success, and as experts from the OECD and Canada explain, reforms that focus on equity and integration all help. But there are challenges too.

Anyone wondering why knowledge and skills are important to the future of our economies should consider two facts.

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