Skills beyond school

EAG 2001 - Chapter D


While the financial resources invested in education and the results of education in terms of student achievement and labour market outcomes are discussed in other chapters, this chapter presents indicators on teachers, on teaching and instruction time, and on information technology in schools. These go some way to explaining some of the major factors affecting how educational expenditure translates into educational outcomes. Indicators D1, D2, and D3 reflect on the demographics and the labour market situation of teachers and Indicator D6 looks at teachers' opportunities to acquire information technology skills, which are a new and urgent requirement in the current economic and social environment.

The amount of knowledge and skills learned at school depends greatly on the extent to which students have access both to teachers with specific knowledge and teaching skills, and to learning opportunities provided by new media such as the Internet. Three indicators report on students' opportunities to learn: Indicator D4 looks at the time allocated to the teaching of different subjects to students aged 12 to 14 years, Indicator D5 reports on the ratio of students to teaching staff as a measure of access to teachers' time, and Indicator D7 looks at access to new technology in schools.

The recruitment and retention of an educated and skilled teaching force is a major concern in OECD countries. Starting salaries and the structures of salary scales affect the types of people that countries are able to attract into the teaching profession, as well as the career decisions of teachers. The need for both competitive starting salaries and a reward system acknowledging new skills, the value of experience and actual performance, poses a challenge for every OECD country. A comparison of different national salary schemes provides a unique opportunity for policy-makers to evaluate their own current policies and possible alternatives. Indicator D1 examines the level of starting, mid-career and maximum statutory salaries of teachers in public primary and secondary education. The salaries are presented in equivalent US dollars adjusted for cross-national differences in purchasing power, relative to GDP per capita, and to the salaries of other workers in the public sector. This makes it possible to consider both the absolute volume of resources invested in teachers and the level of investment in teachers relative to a country's ability to pay. Besides basic salary scales, most countries use a complex system of bonuses to attract able people and to reward qualifications and performance in teaching. These are reflected in the indicator as well.

The demographics of teachers have a substantial impact both on the renewal of the teaching force and on the financing of education. Many OECD countries face the problem of an ageing teaching force, and a growing demand for secondary and post-secondary education at the same time. Indicator D2 compares age distribution patterns in different OECD countries and gives indications of foreseeable shortages of teachers.

Teachers' working time is an issue of major importance for both the financing of education and the attractiveness of the teaching profession. Even in countries with comparatively low salary levels, long vacations, flexible working time arrangements, and the relative freedom of teachers to define their working hours are advantages that attract many (particularly women) to the education sector. While part of Indicator D2 looks at gender distribution in the teaching profession, Indicator D3 examines the statutory working time of teachers at different levels of education, as well as the statutory teaching time, i.e., the time that full-time teachers are expected to spend teaching students. Although working time and teaching time only partly determine the actual workload of teachers, they do give some insight into differences between countries in what is demanded of teachers.

While Indicator D3 compares the time that teachers are expected to spend at school, Indicator D4 examines teaching time as a specific learning resource from the students' point of view, and as a gross measure of learning opportunity. Instruction time, i.e. the time which students are expected to spend being taught, is the main resource invested in the educational process and is generally assumed to have a major impact on learning achievement. Intended instruction time (in hours per year) reported in Indicator D4 is based on national curriculum documents for 12 to 14-year-olds. An examination of the time allocated to particular subjects or study areas also reveals similarities and differences between countries in the focus of teaching.

While the intended instruction time shown in Indicator D4 measures the time for which a student has access to teaching in various study areas, Indicator D5 provides a measure of students' access to teachers (in full-time equivalents). Although a low ratio of students to teaching staff does not necessarily mean better access to teaching and to educational support and may simply be a symptom of ineffective use of human resources, a very high ratio of students to teaching staff certainly suggests insufficient professional support for learning, particularly for students from disadvantaged home backgrounds. At the same time, such inferences need to be made with great care since many other factors are at work, and some of the countries with the highest ratio of students to teaching staff actually display the highest levels of educational outcomes (see Indicator F1).

Recognising that their economies are increasingly dependent on technological knowledge and skills, OECD countries have been making efforts to introduce computer technology in the school system in order to keep up with the pace of development of new technology in other economic sectors. Nevertheless, it takes time for the school system to adapt, not only because schools have to be equipped with computer technology but, more importantly, because schools have to accumulate the necessary knowledge and skills to use it effectively. Indicator D6 focuses on the availability of in-service teacher training in the use and management of IT.

Students with little or no exposure to information technology in school may face difficulties in making a smooth transition to the modern labour market. While the issue of how computers should be used by students and teachers so as to maximise students' learning is a matter of debate, measures of students' access to information technology can be an indicator of how well schools are responding to technological change. Indicator D7 compares the number of students per computer in various countries, students' access to e-mail and the Internet, and the various ways in which students are helped to make use of information technology.

Annex is a source of qualitative information on differences and similarities between countries in teachers' pay scales and bonus systems, teaching and working time definitions, and curricula. It also acts as an aid to interpreting comparisons and data on individual countries.