Speech by Angel Gurría
14 April 2015
(As prepared for delivery)
Dear Vice-Minister Yamanaka, distinguished guests,
I am delighted to be at Tokyo University this afternoon for the launch of the Innovative Schools Network. As one of Asia’s foremost institutions of education, one which prides itself on moving forward the frontiers of human knowledge in the interests of society at large, Todai (Tokyo University) is the perfect setting for today’s event. And, I want to thank University President, Mr. Gonokami, as well as the Head of the Innovative Schools Network, Mr. Suzuki, for making all of this possible.
Today is a day with a long history. So, let me tell you briefly how we arrived here in Japan for the launch of the Innovative Schools Network. It is not only because Japan is at or near the top of its class when it comes to the performance of its students – although it is!* Rather, this new network follows on from the lessons learned from the OECD’s Tohoku School Project.
I was privileged to visit the Fukushima region and see the Tohoku School Project in action. I was witness not only to the devastation of the tsunami, but to the resilience of the local people, and the ingenuity of the next generation. They are an inspiration to all of us!
Soon afterwards, working closely with local schools, with Fukushima University, and with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Science (MEXT), we launched the joint Tohoku School Project. The aim was to bring together 100 local junior high and high school students from disaster areas for a programme of study at Intensive Workshops and Local Schools.
The idea was to encourage children to be independent, to help them think about the region's recovery, to foster innovative ability and to put their thinking into practice. This time last year, I saw the Tohoku School Project in action again and witnessed first-hand the impressive recovery efforts under way, and the important leadership role that the students were playing in envisioning a ‘new Tohoku’.
The students and teachers of the OECD Tohoku School Project have shown us that transformational change in education is possible, with motivated students and empowered teachers. But where did their motivation come from? What made it possible for them to take action instead of just sitting around thinking about it?
We think that the pedagogy - that is, student-designed, project-based learning focusing on real life issues - was a crucial factor in the success of the Tohoku School Project. Students and teachers worked on real life issues affecting everybody. They had to find ways to reconstruct and revitalise their communities. They discussed, night and day, possible solutions. Then they took action - both locally, and globally. Most importantly they learned how to learn – perhaps the most valuable lesson of all!
Now, the lessons learned in Tohoku are helping Japan craft a blueprint for the wide-ranging reforms its education system needs to ensure it keeps its cutting edge long into the 21st century. But, the next step is to go global!
At the OECD, we are developing a new project, Education 2030, to help define the cognitive, social and emotional skills students will need in 2030. Your Innovative Schools Network is an important counterpart to Education 2030, in that it brings together schools, universities, industries and local boards of education.
With the active support of the Japanese Ministry of Education, the network will help share the lessons from Tohoku School more widely. We envisage that an unprecedented inter-regional network of industry, government and academia will emerge to support these students, just like at the Tohoku School. Other countries may wish to join this important initiative as it gathers speed.
To equip the next generation with the tools they need to thrive, education systems around the world need to adopt innovative teaching methods to instil in children – and their teachers –the skills to define their goals, to organise themselves, to think critically, and to put their ideas into practice. These are the 21st century skills and competencies the world needs to build diverse, inclusive, and knowledge-based societies.
To do this, teachers and schools need to play a much more central role. They need to collaborate much more with their local communities. This process can strengthen local communities themselves, making teachers and schools true 21st century engines of empowerment.
Ladies and gentlemen, Japan is not alone in needing to modernise and reorientate its education system. And, in many ways, you are ahead of the curve, blazing a trail for others to follow. In 2030, we will look back at the germination here of a new education model. Of how Japan turned a tragedy into a lesson that will shine on the lives of many future generations of Japanese youth. The OECD is pround to help Japan in the design, development and delivery of better education policies for better lives.
*PISA 2012 results: Students in Japan remain higher performers in mathematics, reading, and science. They even improved significantly in reading between 2009 and 2012. Among OECD countries, Japan is now ranked second in mathematics performance and first in both reading and science performance. But, because results are based on a sample of students, its relative position could be between 2 and 3 in mathematics, between 1 and 2 in reading, and between 1 and 3 in science.