13/11/2002 - Reading skills are more important than ever for economic and social interaction in the modern world, and the availability of qualified and motivated teachers is a key factor in running a successful education system, according to two new publications from the OECD.
Drawing on recent research, including the findings of the OECD's ongoing PISA surveys of skills and knowledge among 15-year-olds, the OECD's annual Education Policy Analysis and a separate publication called Reading for change - performance and engagement across OECD countries analyse what helps students to acquire essential skills. They focus in particular on what education systems are learning from the PISA survey, whose first results came out last year, and for which more detailed analysis is now being published.
The publications will be released at 11.00 a.m. on Tuesday 19 November 2002. They will be available to journalists under embargo on the OECD's password-protected website as of Monday 18 November, and they will be presented at an embargoed news conference at the DBB-Forum Berlin, Friedrichstrasse 169-170, 10117 Berlin Mitte at 6.30 p.m. on Monday 18 November.
One of their main conclusions is to stress the importance of an adequate supply of good quality teachers, under threat in some countries due to teacher shortages and a lack of incentives for new entrants to the profession. They also emphasise the importance of reading proficiency for job prospects, despite the development of other new forms of oral and visual communication.
Building on the PISA analyses, Reading for change identifies some of the factors that are behind differences in students' reading literacy performances. Among other things, it shows that:
- Even in countries in which there is generally a high level of reading proficiency, some 15-year-olds lack the reading skills necessary for living in modern society. Reading proficiency is closely linked to the amount of time students spend reading in their free time and the diversity of materials they read.
- While the degree of engagement in reading varies considerably from one country to another, 15-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds who read a lot get higher average reading scores than those whose parents are of high or medium occupational status but who have little interest in reading. This suggests that finding ways to engage students in reading may be one of the most effective ways to leverage social change.
- Although the relationship between reading performance and student and school backgrounds varies from one country to another, some countries display similarities in the way student and school-context variables interact with reading. School systems that differentiate between pupils through institutionalised streaming at early ages tend to produce lower reading performances while failing to moderate the impact of social background on student attainment.
Education Policy Analysis, meanwhile, looks at the challenges facing education authorities in maintaining quality of teachers, as well as numbers. Education authorities need to design incentives that can attract strong graduates and former teachers to the pool of those who want to teach, while excluding those who lack the right skills and further developing the skills of existing teachers. Reviewing the outlook for the teaching profession, Education Policy Analysis notes that:
- In half of OECD countries most secondary school principals believe that teacher supply problems have at least some effect on student learning.
- In almost all countries, teacher salaries fell relative to national income per head in the late 1990s. InIreland and Portugal the ratio fell by over 20 per cent.
- In some countries over 40% of teachers are in their 50s and can be expected to leave soon, although this demographic crisis is far from universal.
in some countries large numbers of teachers are leaving the profession early, although in others most stay until retirement.
Other features of this year's Education Policy Analysis include:
- An analysis of the growing international trade in educational services. Over 1.5 million foreign students are now enrolled in tertiary education in OECD countries, and their numbers are growing fast. For example, one in eight students enrolled at Australian universities and other tertiary institutions is now from overseas. Increasingly, Australian universities are opening branches in other countries as an alternative to enrolling still more foreign students on domestic campuses.
- Adescription of eight key strategies to improve early childhood education and care in OECD countries. While countries have laid considerable emphasis on creating more universal access to children aged 3-5, they also need to consider how best to serve the under-3s, whether through high quality day care and other out-of-home services or through support for families.
- A proposal for a wider definition of human capital to include not just skills that make individuals more productive but also their ability and motivation to learn, their job search skills and personal characteristics that enable them to deploy skills effectively. Individuals who can plan or envisage their own futures make better motivated and directed learners, suggesting that careers education and guidance need to be developed to support long-term learning strategies.
To obtain a password for the protected website, journalists should contact the Media Relations Division . For further comment on Education Policy Analysis, journalists are invited to contact Phil McKenzie in the OECD's Education Directorate (tel.  1 45 24 92 27). For further comment on Reading for Change, journalists are invited to contact Andreas Schleicher in the Education Directorate (Tel:  1 45 24 93 66).
(Other contact details for Education Policy Analysis are: Chapter 1: Strengthening early childhood programmes: a policy framework John Bennett (Tel:  1 45 24 91 65) ; Chapter 2: Improving both quality and equity: insights from PISA 2000 Andreas Schleicher( Tel:  1 45 24 93 66); Chapter 3: The teaching workforce: concerns and policy challenges Paulo Santiago (Tel:  145 24 84 19); Chapter 4: The growth of cross-border education Kurt Larsen (Tel:  1 45 24 92 02); Chapter 5: Rethinking human capital Simon Field (Tel:  1 45 24 18 71).