Skills beyond school

Education at a Glance 2002 - Chapter D: The learning environment and organisation of schools


Chapters A , B and C examined financial resources invested in education, patterns of participation, and the results of education in terms of student achievement and the labour market outcomes of education. Chapter D now looks at teaching and learning conditions in education systems. Learning in schools is mostly organised in classroom settings where teachers are the primary agents for planning, pacing and monitoring learning. In the first five indicators, school conditions are analysed from the learners' point of view, while the last two indicators present system-level information on the working conditions of the teaching force.

How effectively learning time is used depends on how appropriate study programmes are, and on how much instruction time a student receives. Indicator D1 examines instruction time available for various study areas for students between 9 and 14 years of age. The size of the learning group that shares teacher time is another variable for measuring the use of classroom learning time. Indicator D2 looks at the variation in average class size, and the ratio of students to teaching staff across OECD countries to estimate the human resources available for individual students.

In addition to classroom time and human resources, new technologies assume an increasingly important role in education. They not only equip students with important skills to participate effectively in the modern world, but also foster the development of self-regulated learning strategies and skills, as part of an essential foundation for lifelong learning. The mere presence of modern information and communication technology (ICT) in schools does not guarantee its effective use, but its availability is critical for improving teaching and learning conditions in schools and for providing equitable education for all. Indicator D3 looks at the availability of ICT in students' homes and schools, and the use of technology in teaching and learning. Indicator D4 goes further by analysing the attitudes and experiences of young males and females in using information technology.

Teachers act as professionals with a relatively high degree of freedom to organise students' learning activities and to evaluate their progress. Their subject knowledge, pedagogical skills, discipline, enthusiasm and commitment are important for determining the learning climate of the classroom and, more generally, the school. Other factors such as student discipline, the availability of educational resources, and school autonomy also influence the working climate of the school which, in turn, significantly affects education outcomes. Indicator D5 first examines those aspects of classroom climate that appear to favour learning of 15-year-olds, and the differences between countries with respect to these. Next, the indicator presents indices on the working climate of schools showing patterns of differences between countries with respect to relevant school climate factors.

Chapter D concludes with a comparative review of teachers' working conditions. Education systems employ a large number of professionals in increasingly competitive market conditions. Ensuring a sufficient number of skilled teachers is a key concern in all OECD countries. Key determinants of the supply of qualified teachers are the salaries and working conditions of teachers, including starting salaries and pay scales, and the costs incurred by individuals to become teachers, compared with salaries and costs in other occupations. Both affect the career decisions of potential teachers and the types of people attracted to the teaching profession. At the same time, teachers' salaries are the largest single factor in the cost of providing education. Teacher compensation is thus a critical consideration for policy-makers seeking to maintain the quality of teaching and a balanced education budget. The size of education budgets naturally reflects trade-offs between a number of interrelated factors, including teachers' salaries, the ratio of students to teaching staff, the quantity of instruction time planned for students, and the designated number of teaching hours. To shed light on these issues, Indicator D6 shows the starting, mid-career and maximum statutory salaries of teachers in public primary and secondary education, and incentive schemes and bonuses used in teacher rewards systems.

Together with class size and ratios of students to teaching staff ( Indicator D2 ), hours of instruction for students ( Indicator D1 ) and teachers' salaries ( Indicator D6 ), the amount of time that teachers spend in the classroom teaching influences the financial resources which countries need to invest in education. While the number of teaching hours and the extent of non-teaching responsibilities are important parts of a teacher's working conditions, they also affect the attractiveness of the profession itself. Indicator D7 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.

At the lower secondary level, teachers teach an average of 720 hours, but the figure ranges from 555 hours to 1 182 hours. Regulations of teachers' working time vary. In most countries, teachers are formally required to work a specific number of hours. Some countries specify teaching time in lessons per week, in others, time is set aside for non-teaching school activities, and in some countries, the hours when teachers are required to be at school are specified.