Remarks by Angel Gurría,
19 February 2016
Bratislava, Slovak Republic
(As prepared for delivery)
Minister Draxler, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be in Bratislava to launch two OECD reports on the key issues of education and skills, the currency of the 21st century.
The OECD Review of School Resources for the Slovak Republic sets out how financial resources, physical resources, human resources, even intangible resources such as learning time, can be better managed to improve the quality, equity and efficiency of school education.
The second report we are launching, the Skills beyond School Review of the Slovak Republic identifies ways to strengthen the vocational education and training (VET) system to ensure workers, especially young people and vulnerable groups, acquire and update their skills to meet the changing labour market demand.
Both the school and vocational education systems of the Slovak Republic have benefitted from important reforms over the past decade. In many areas they are performing well.
The Slovak Republic has built a strong education system. Secondary-school attainment of adults is the highest within the OECD area. Upper secondary graduation rates for young people aged 25 or less are also amongst the highest.
You have a sophisticated, transparent and well-managed system of funding schools, giving them a high degree of financial autonomy. Schools also enjoy considerable autonomy recruiting, developing and dismissing teachers, in line with school development plans.
And you are building on a strong tradition of vocational education and training. The share of vocational students in upper secondary education is among the highest in OECD countries. The system is relatively flexible, allowing for different levels of theory and practice.
You are not resting on your laurels. New national and local initiatives such as the Law on Vocational Education and Training passed in 2015, set directions towards greater work-based learning.
But despite these achievements, the Slovak Republic faces important challenges.
According to our Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 results, Slovak students perform below the international average in mathematics, reading and science. Since PISA 2003, student performance in mathematics has deteriorated both in absolute terms and relative to other countries.
The country also faces challenges of equity and inclusion. Performance in school is more highly influenced by socio-economic background than in most OECD countries. Roma students are still only weakly integrated into the mainstream of Slovak education, with many assigned to separate special schools. Most of the Slovak Republic’s adult Roma population never even completed upper secondary education.
On top of these inequalities, declining school age populations have also created large inefficiencies in basic education. Between 2003 and 2013 student numbers dropped by 26%. As a result, in the average basic school classroom in a small municipality there are just 13 students – compared to the OECD average of 21.
And like almost all countries these days you are faced with the challenge of doing more with less. Public expenditure on primary and secondary education as a proportion of GDP stood at 2.5% in 2012 against an OECD average of 3.5%, contributing to inadequate teacher salaries, low pre‑primary provision, and insufficient learning materials.
Many of these challenges such as demographic decline and difficulty integrating vulnerable groups also affect the provision of vocational education. Lower secondary vocational programmes gather at-risk groups without always offering good labour market prospects, and the country lacks the post-secondary programmes to meet the demand for skills. This is particularly concerning given that in 2014 the proportion of 20-24 year-olds in the Slovak Republic who were neither employed nor in education or training (NEETs) stood at 18.6%, about one percentage point above the OECD average.
While there is a newly established legal framework for a dual system of vocational education, the difficult work of implementation lies ahead, especially getting employers to offer apprenticeships.
The OECD is committed to helping you address these challenges. Let me share with you some of our recommendations.
Key policy recommendations
Our School Resources Review for the Slovak Republic supports the ambition to spend more on education, both in real terms and as a percentage of GDP, with a focus on pre‑primary education for disadvantaged groups, and raising teacher and school leader salaries.
Spending in the current fiscal context also calls for greater efficiencies. This means more co-ordination and collaboration between all 2900 municipalities responsible for basic schooling. Options could include closing or consolidating small schools; sharing resources across schools; and clustering small schools under a single leadership team and budget.
The central government can support this with financial incentives for consolidation, such as reviewing the funding of schools in which the average class size consistently falls below a given threshold defined by the Ministry of Education. The central government should also put in place strategies for reallocating, redeploying and retiring teachers employed in consolidated schools.
Both reports emphasise that if the Slovak Republic is to grow sustainably and equitably, the education and training system has to be inclusive. So integrating the Roma community into mainstream schools and formal work must remain a priority. The OECD Skills beyond School Review of the Slovak Republic sets out a rage of recommendations to improve the integration of at-risk groups, including recognising learning acquired in work, and expanding second-chance education opportunities which provide formal certification and on-the-job-learning.
The review sets a path for preserving and improving skills across society, particularly crucial in this era of globalisation and rapid technological change. Key to achieving this is to promote work-based learning across the whole VET system, to establish a full apprenticeship system, and to strengthen the provision of basic skills, such as literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in vocational programmes.
As important is to ensure that VET teachers themselves have industry experience and the opportunities to continuously update their skills and knowledge. This can be achieved both by facilitating regular industry placements for teachers, and by encouraging the recruitment of people from industry into the teaching workforce.
Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen:
We are all committed to a prosperous, inclusive, highly-skilled Slovak Republic.
We present you with this analysis and these recommendations to support that ambition, and we will keep working with you towards better education and training policies, for better lives here in the Slovak Republic.