Skills beyond school

Education at a Glance 2002 - Chapter C: Access to education, participation and progression


A well-educated population has become a defining feature of a modern society. Education is seen as a mechanism for instilling civic values, and as a means for developing individuals' productive and social capacity. Early childhood programmes prepare young children socially and academically for primary education. Primary and secondary education provides basic skills that serve as a foundation for young people to become productive members of society. Tertiary education provides opportunities for acquiring advanced knowledge and skills, either immediately after initial schooling or later. Many employers encourage ongoing training, and assist workers in upgrading or re-orienting their skills to meet the demands of changing technologies. Chapter C sketches a comparative picture of access, participation and progression in education across OECD countries.

Indicators on the expected duration of schooling, and on enrolment rates at different educational levels ( Indicator C1 ) can help to elucidate the structure of education systems and access to educational opportunities in them. Enrolment trends at the different education levels and types of institutions show how education supply and demand are balanced in different countries.

Virtually all young people in OECD countries can expect to go to school for 11 years. However, participation patterns and progression through education vary widely. Both the timing and participation rate in pre-school and after the end of compulsory education differ considerably between countries. Some countries have extended participation in education, for example, by making pre-school education almost universal by the age of three, by retaining the majority of young people in education until the end of their teens, or by maintaining 10 to 20 per cent participation among up to the late 20s. High tertiary entry and participation rates help to ensure the development and maintenance of a highly educated population and labour force. Rates of entry to both types of tertiary education ( Indicator C2 ) are an indication, in part, of the degree to which the population is acquiring high-level skills and knowledge valued by the labour market in knowledge societies.

While the successful graduation from upper secondary education is becoming the norm in most OECD countries, routes to it are becoming increasingly varied. Upper secondary programmes can differ in their curricular content, often depending on the type of further education or occupation for which the programmes are intended to prepare students. Most upper secondary programmes in OECD countries are primarily designed to prepare students for further studies at the tertiary level. The orientation of these programmes can be general, pre-vocational or vocational. Besides the programmes primarily preparing students for further education, in most OECD countries there are also upper secondary programmes designed to prepare students for direct entry to the labour market. Enrolment in these different types of educational programmes is also examined in Indicator C2 .

There is ample evidence that more secondary and tertiary education for young people improves their individual economic and social prospects. There is also growing, albeit less direct, evidence of a pay-off for societies at large from having a more highly educated population ( Indicators A13 and A14 ). But as rapidly changing technology and globalisation transform the pattern of demand for skilled labour world-wide, increasing the proportion of young people who participate in upper secondary or higher education can only be one part of the solution, for several reasons. First, an inflow of better-educated young people can only gradually change the overall educational level of the existing workforce. Second, educational attainment is only one component of human capital accumulation since knowledge and skills continue to be acquired lifelong, not only in education settings but also through family life, from experience with communities and in business. Strategies for developing lifelong learning opportunities must therefore look beyond mainstream educational programmes and qualifications if they are to ensure optimal investment in human capital. Indicator C4 brings together evidence from the International Adult Literacy Survey (1994-1998) and national household surveys on adult education and training, which both provide some understanding of participation in job-related education and training of the employed.

The international dimension of higher education is receiving more and more attention. The general trend towards freely circulating capital, goods and people, coupled with changes in the openness of labour markets, have increased the demand for new kinds of skills and knowledge in OECD countries. Governments are looking increasingly to higher education to play a role in broadening the horizons of students and allowing them to develop a deeper understanding of the multiplicity of languages, cultures and business methods in the world.

One way for students to expand their knowledge is to attend higher educational institutions in countries other than their own. International student mobility involves costs and benefits to students and institutions in sending and host countries alike. While the direct short-term monetary costs and benefits of this mobility are relatively easy to measure, the long-term social and economic benefits to students, institutions and countries are more difficult to quantify. The number of students studying in other countries ( Indicator C3 ), however, provides some idea of the extent of student mobility.


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