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The following OECD assessment and recommendations summarise chapter 5 of the Economic survey of Luxembourg published on 1st July 2008.
Education reforms are needed to upgrade skills and improve the transition into the labour market
The previous Survey contained an in-depth chapter on how to improve the relatively poor outcomes in education as measured in the PISA 2003 test results. Within this Survey’s main theme of how to improve public sector efficiency, the current focus is on how to better use available (ample) resources in the education sector. The last Survey identified the education sector’s two main challenges as to be a very heterogeneous background of pupils in terms of nationality and a curriculum with a strong focus on language education. The main recommendations of the last Survey centred on: improving the language skills of children with non-Luxembourgish background, both by de-emphasising language education in all three languages and by providing more remedial support; postponing tracking decisions; and increasing the permeability between tracks. Since then, a more nuanced picture of the education system has emerged. International tests at the primary school level (PIRLS tests) show a relatively good performance. On the other hand, tests at the secondary school level (PISA 2006 tests) show no relative improvement in the educational performance of 14-15 years old pupil – who at that stage have lost almost half year of schooling compared with their peers in other OECD countries. This achievement should be seen in the background of pupils having learned two foreign languages (French and German) since the beginning of primary school. At the same time, the drop-out rate has decreased, but nevertheless remains relatively high and the transition into the labour market has not improved as the increase in youth unemployment in the early 2000s has not been reversed. This reflects a distribution of instruction times that is heavy on certain goals, such as acquiring academic knowledge of four languages, and light on competences deemed useful on the labour market, such as maths and science or creativity and independence. Indeed, many job offers do not require fluency of all languages taught at school, particularly in the financial sector. Thus, the government could focus more on the objective that students build up their human capital and in particular achieve competencies that are in greater demand by the labour market.
The authorities are well aware of these issues and have responded by implementing a number of pilot tests: in primary education, the introduction of competence cycles aims at lower class repetition; in technical secondary education, the PROCI-programme refocuses teaching from content to competences by allowing greater school autonomy; and selected schools have introduced full-day schooling and interdisciplinary learning. Moreover, language education is being reworked to increase language support. While these measures are welcome, they do not fully address the core problem of pupils having a heterogeneous background. The education system is highly centralised and tends to deliver identical educational services across schools. The Ministry of Education takes important human resource decisions, such as hiring and firing, as well as methods of teaching and curricula. As a result, schools have little autonomy for developing the most appropriate teaching environment to cope with their heterogeneous student populations.
In order to concentrate available resources on improving education outcomes, the schools should have more autonomy in setting their educational priorities and selecting instruction material. Moreover, the headmasters should be accountable for school performance. Thus, the trend of hiring headmasters on time-limited contracts with a performance related element in the remuneration should be continued. To pursue the objective of improving school performance, headmasters need greater managerial autonomy, including greater influence on hiring and firing decisions. Wages are another potential managerial tool to improve performance. However, individual wage increases are based almost exclusively on seniority. Thus, salaries and career paths of teachers should include merit-based elements. Moreover, the success of the schools in improving educational outcomes should be transparent. This requires that the number of tests is increased and that test results corrected for socio-economic background variables should be published. Part of the balance between granting greater autonomy to schools and improving accountability includes parents, who can provide an important interaction with schools to ensure that developments are on the right course. Thus, the role of parents should be enhanced by, for example, giving them a greater say in tracking decisions. Transparency in school results would be an additional instrument to enhance school choice and stimulate competition between schools. This would make it easier for parents with low socio-economic background to identify good performing schools. The above measures should be complemented by earlier detection and implementation of remedial courses. As hours taught per teacher are relatively low and declining with seniority, the scope for early detection and remedial courses can be enhanced – as currently discussed – by increasing the number of teaching hours per teacher. This would allow more room for interactions between teachers and students as well as providing more possibilities for extra-curriculum work.
How to obtain this publication
The Policy Brief (pdf format) can be downloaded in English. It contains the OECD assessment and recommendations.The complete edition of the Economic survey of Luxembourg 2008 is available from:
For further information please contact the Luxembourg Desk at the OECD Economics Department at firstname.lastname@example.org. The OECD Secretariat's report was prepared by Jens Christian Høj, Ekkehard Ernst, Arnaud Bourgain and Patrice Pieretti under the supervision of Patrick Lenain. Research assistance was provided by Laure Meuro and secretarial assistance by Heloise Wickramanayake.