Closing remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General
2 October 2013, Istanbul, Turkey
Minister Avci, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you Minister Avci for that excellent summary of our discussions on skills. I firmly believe that the Survey of Adults Skill, like the case of PISA, will provide countries with the analysis and policy guidance necessary to make a concrete difference in people’s lives.
Before I formally close this ministerial, I have been asked to provide you with a summary of our discussions earlier today on the future development of PISA for your approval. Let me share the main conclusions with you:
“First, we acknowledged the unique nature of PISA as a tool for policy making, in particular that:
- PISA has become a powerful tool to track how countries advance in raising quality and improving equity in education.
- It measures the ability of 15-year-old students to use their knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges.
- But we have also discussed many reform efforts that show that PISA is far more than a test of key skills: its policy orientation is also one of its main features. For example, it draws attention to differences in performance patterns, can help identify the characteristics of schools and education systems that have high performance standards, and can shed light on students’ motivation and learning strategies. As some Ministers noted, PISA has also been a powerful tool to build consensus on difficult policy issues by reducing ideological biases in national debates.
- The three-year PISA cycle enables countries to monitor progress in meeting learning objectives over time.
Secondly, we noted some of the key messages that have emerged from PISA so far:
- PISA has shown that, while money is important, it is not enough to secure high quality education. The data shows that money explains less than 20% of the performance differences among countries. In other words, PISA shows that two countries with similar spending can produce very different educational results.
- Perhaps most importantly, PISA has revealed a surprising number of features which the world’s most successful school systems, the so-called “Top Performers” all share:
- Their citizens are encouraged by their leaders to make choices that value education and their future, more than consumption.
- There is a genuine belief that all children can achieve. In some countries, students are segregated at early ages, reflecting the notion that only some children can achieve world class standards. In countries like Finland or Japan parents and teachers are committed to make sure that all students achieve high standards. Not only that, but they embrace diversity with differentiated instructional practices, recognising that ordinary students have extraordinary talents.
- They share clear and ambitious standards across the board. Everyone knows what is required to get a given qualification.
- They pay attention to how they select and train their teachers, taking time to improve the performance of teachers who are struggling and to structure teachers’ pay. They provide an environment in which teachers work together to frame good practice. And they provide intelligent pathways for teachers to grow in their careers.
- They support their teachers to find new and innovative ways to teach, to improve their own performance and that of their colleagues, and to pursue professional development that leads to stronger educational practice. The goal in the past was standardisation and compliance, but top performers enable teachers to be inventive. They also prioritise the quality of teachers over the size of classes, which is challenging popular wisdom.
- Perhaps the most impressive outcome of world class school systems is that they deliver high quality across the entire school system so that every student benefits from excellent learning. You have seen that Finland is doing very well on PISA, but what makes Finland really special is that only 5% of the performance variation among students depends on schools. Every school succeeds. To achieve this, these countries invest resources where they can make the most of difference; they attract the strongest principals to the toughest schools and the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms.
- Last but not least, high performing systems tend to align policies and practices across all aspects of the system;, they make them coherent over sustained periods of time, and they ensure that they are consistently implemented.
Thirdly, we welcomed the progress that had been made in driving PISA forward and recognised areas for improvement, in particular that:
- PISA has proved appealing to a growing number of countries: from 33 countries in the first round, to almost 80 now. And from the very beginning the PISA programme has evolved, exploiting technology and extending the assessment to include thinking and problem-solving skills. But there are areas where we can do better.
- We will need to work harder to embrace a wider range of globally relevant knowledge and skills that are key to the future success of students and can drive innovation in economies - while at the same time recognising the value of foundation skills in reading, mathematics and science. Ministers asked to pay more attention to social, cultural awareness and non-cognitive skills which strengthen students’ engagement in learning and improves well-being. Ministers highlighted the importance of foreign languages skills and entrepreneurial skills and countries are encouraging us to pay closer attention to vocational skills which have so far been left out of the picture.
- Some Ministers have underlined the importance of achieving greater regional and local differentiation in the PISA results.
- It is vital that we further develop the dual impact of PISA - as a tool which tells us where our countries stand, and how they are progressing. But we also need to ensure that PISA provides actionable insights to inform policy and practice and stimulate further improvements in quality, equity and efficiency of education. To achieve this we need to establish better links between PISA and other sources of international and national evidence. We also need to find ways to more closely integrate PISA with national educational standards and evaluation systems.
- We need to make sure that the picture PISA provides of education better reflects the perspectives of all stakeholders, students, teachers, parents, policy-makers and the business sector. The quality of education will never exceed the quality of teachers, so linking the results from PISA more closely with the work of teachers will help us identify ways in which we can improve teaching and the organisation of school.
- To achieve all of this, we need find ways to make PISA more adaptable and flexible to the priorities of participating countries, and we encourage the PISA Governing Board to work towards this goal”
I will now move on to conclude the ministerial.
Minister Avci, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I began this Ministerial by saying that we need to “kick-start a global skills revolution and build the policies that will save a whole generation”. Well I believe we have made some important progress in that direction.
We have seen from the results of our adult skills survey and our discussion on PISA that there is much work to be done. Unemployment is high and large numbers of children and adults do not have the basic skills necessary to thrive in today’s global economy. And no country can say that it is immune to these challenges.
I have heard some excellent discussions over the past two days on possible ways forward. From ideas to better join up the world of learning with the world of work, to programmes that will allow working-age adults to continue developing their skills so that they can advance their careers, and meet the changing demands of the labour market.
The challenge now is to put these ideas into action. The OECD stands ready to help you interpret the findings of the Adults Skills Survey and PISA for your country and come-up with a road-map for future reforms. In particular, the OECD can work with countries in a collaborative approach, using the OECD Skills Strategy in ways adapted to their national context.
We are already working with Austria, Korea and Norway, and are exploring the development of skills strategies with several other countries. In each case, we take a ‘whole of government’ approach to strengthening national skills systems with the engagement of several ministries – such as education, labour, finance, tax, industry and economics, and local development. We also actively engage the range of stakeholders who have a key role to play in the skills system, such as business associations, trade unions, education institutions and local government associations. This is just one way in which we can help you to take our discussions from this ministerial and put them into action.
Finally, let me thank every one of you for taking the time to join us here over these two days. I know how difficult it can be to get away from pressing business, but I also know the value of taking time to reflect. I hope you will find that the investment of your time will pay off.
I also want to express our deep gratitude to Turkey and Minister Avci for their foresight in proposing this meeting and their hospitality in organising it. We will not forget our time here, nor will we forget the inspiring words with which Prime Minister Erdogan began our meeting.
Our attention now turns to the launch of the Survey next week, and soon after the release of the 2012 PISA data. These will enrich our work, and enable us to serve you better in our mission to create “better education policies for better lives”.
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