Remarks by Angel Gurría
Helsinki, Finland - 14 March 2019
(As prepared for delivery)
Dear Minister Grahn-Laasonen, Ministers, Union Leaders, distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to participate in the 9th edition of the International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) here in Helsinki. I would like to express my gratitude to Finland for hosting the Summit this year, as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Finland’s membership in the OECD. Finland is an OECD champion in many policy areas, but among them, education is rightly Finland’s national pride.
There are a few ingredients that are common to all high-performing education systems, including Finland. I would like to focus on two this evening: promoting teachers’ excellence, and harnessing technology for better learning.
What do we know about excellent teachers? Research shows that excellent teachers believe in their capacity to teach and their students’ capacity to learn; they spend the bulk of their classroom time on instruction; they use active teaching methods; and they teach students until the students achieve mastery of the subjects.
Moreover, top school systems select and educate their teaching staff carefully. Take our host Finland, where teaching is a highly regarded and selective occupation, with very skilled, well-educated teachers spread throughout the country. Each year there are typically more than nine applicants for every vacancy among Finnish teachers. Only candidates with a clear aptitude for teaching, in addition to strong academic performance, are admitted. Those who are not selected can still become lawyers or doctors, or even economists.
High performing education systems also provide an environment in which teachers work together to frame good practice and pedagogies, and they encourage teachers to grow in their careers. They structure teachers’ pay to reflect professional standards. They also focus on improving the performance of teachers who are struggling, including through mentoring and coaching. For example, in Estonia, universities and innovative schools work in partnership to guarantee sheltered environments for the early stages of their teaching career, helping them make the transition from teacher education to the classroom.
Let me now turn to how innovation and new technologies can improve education systems and learning. Earlier this week, the OECD held its first Digital Summit to chart the way forward on how we can enhance access to technology, increase its effective use, unleash innovation, ensure jobs, promote social prosperity, strengthen trust and foster market openness.
We all know that digitalisation is permeating all facets of our lives, but the uptake of innovation and technology in education has happened to a lesser extent than in other areas.
PISA 2015 showed that the technology used in the classroom still tends to emulate more traditional activities, such as browsing the internet for schoolwork or chatting online. Advanced use of technology such as doing simulations on computers was only reported as an activity by 15% of students.
If we look at the health sector, we start with diagnostics. We measure the blood pressure, take the temperature and do other tests to decide on the most appropriate medicine. In education, however, we tend to give everyone the same medicine, instruct all children in the same way, and when we find out that the outcomes are unsatisfactory, we blame the student. In this day and age that is simply not good enough!
Today’s intelligent digital learning systems can teach us science; they can simultaneously observe how we study; the kind of tasks and thinking that interest us; and the kind of problems that we find boring or difficult.
These systems can then adapt learning to suit our personal learning style with far greater granularity and precision than any traditional classroom setting possibly can. Moreover, one teacher can now educate and inspire millions of learners and communicate their ideas to the whole world. Take the example of Andria Zafirakou, the 2018 Global Teacher Prize Winner, who teaches us that good learning outcomes are built on trust and respect of children’s individual needs and circumstances.
It is high time we take a closer look at what technologies can do for learning, and for elevating the role of teachers from imparting received knowledge. As you know the OECD is delving into these issues in this year’s report to this year’s International Summit on the Teaching Profession. For example, teachers who “flip” their classrooms ask students to watch or listen to lesson content at home, thus leaving class time for practice, group work and individual instruction. Technology can also compensate for space constraints. Virtual laboratories give students opportunities to design and conduct and learn from experiments, rather than just learning about them.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 2011, Reflecting on the inaugural International Summit on the Teaching Profession, US Secretary of Education Duncan said: “In the information age, student learning and student growth are the ultimate barometers of success. Children are our first and foremost clients .”
Let’s make sure we work together to deliver the promise of quality education to every child. We have the tools, the capacity, we have the will! The OECD stands ready to support you in these efforts to design, develop and deliver better education policies for better lives!