November 2013


  • 21st Century Revolution
    Global comparisons reveal just how radically the demands of education are changing, says Andreas Schleicher, and how the UK and other systems need to respond or be left behind. More
  • Digital dangers
    Students with special needs are among the most a at risk online but it’s also the area where guidance and examples of good practice are in short supply. Julie Nightingale highlights some of the good practice around for students with special needs and other ‘vulnerable’ groups while they are online. More
  • Don't panic!
    A death or accident can knock an institution sideways but a good disaster plan will enable you to control the immediate fallout and also avoid lasting damage to students, staff and/or reputation, says Richard Bird. More
  • Closing the gap
    From lifts to school to personal mentors and subsidised music lessons, Dorothy Lepkowska looks at the different approaches that schools are taking to maximise the effect of the Pupil Premium. More
  • Take your partners
    If you’re not already a sixth-form collaborator then maybe it’s time to start, says Stephan Jungnitz. More
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Global comparisons reveal just how radically the demands of education are changing, says Andreas Schleicher, and how the UK and other systems need to respond or be left behind.


In a global economy, the benchmark for educational success is no longer improvement by national standards alone but the best-performing school systems internationally.

Global comparisons show what is possible in education; they take away excuses from those who are complacent, and they help to set meaningful targets in terms of measurable goals achieved by the world’s educational leaders. But they also give us a perspective on how the demands on education are changing and how education systems respond to those changes.

Labour demand in the industrialised world has altered significantly over the last decades. The steepest decline in skill demand is no longer in the area of manual skills but in routine cognitive skills – memorising something and expecting that it is going to help us later in life.

When we can access the world’s knowledge on the internet, when routine skills are being digitised or outsourced and when jobs are changing rapidly, success becomes increasingly about ways of thinking. It’s about creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and judgement; it’s about ways of working, including collaboration and teamwork; and it’s about the socio-cultural tools that enable us to interact with the world.

Making connections

Conventionally, our approach to problems in schooling was to break them down into manageable bits and pieces and then to teach students the techniques to solve the pieces. But today we create value by synthesising the disparate bits, by integrating different fields of knowledge.

It is about curiosity, open-mindedness and making connections between ideas that previously seemed unrelated, and it requires being familiar with and receptive to knowledge in fields other than our own. If we spend our whole life in a silo of a single discipline, we will not gain the imaginative skills to connect the dots that enable the next invention or breakthrough to emerge.

The world is also no longer divided between specialists, who know a lot about very little, and generalists, who know a little about a lot. What matters is our capacity to keep learning and growing, to build new relationships, to assume new roles, and to re-position ourselves every day anew in this fast-changing world.

Last but not least, much of the time in school is spent learning individually. But the more interdependent the world becomes, the more we need great collaborators and orchestrators.

Innovation today is rarely the product of individuals working in isolation but an outcome of how we mobilise, share and link knowledge. Everything that is our own proprietary knowledge today will be a commodity available to everyone else tomorrow.

Expressed differently, we are seeing a shift from a world of stocks – with knowledge that is stacked up somewhere depreciating rapidly in value – to a world in which the enriching power of collaboration and communication is increasing.

So the premium in education needs to shift from qualifications-focused education upfront to skills-oriented learning throughout life.

Our data also show that skill development is far more effective if the world of learning and the world of work are linked.

Compared to purely governmentdesigned curricula taught exclusively in schools, learning in the workplace allows people to develop ‘hard’ skills on modern equipment, and ‘soft’ skills, such as teamwork, communication and negotiation, through real-world experience. Hands-on workplace training is also a great way to motivate disengaged youth to re-engage with education and to smooth the transition to work.

Achieving this is no doubt difficult and it requires a very different approach to education.

User-generated wisdom

In the old bureaucratic school system, teachers were often left alone in classrooms with a lot of prescription about what to teach. Modern enabling school systems set ambitious goals, are clear about what students should be able to do and then provide teachers with the tools to establish what content and instruction they need to provide to their individual students. The past was about delivered wisdom but the future is about user-generated wisdom.

In the past, different students were taught in similar ways. Today, the challenge is to embrace diversity with differentiated pedagogical practices. The goal of the past was standardisation and conformity; now it’s about being ingenious and personalising educational experiences. The past was curriculum-centred; the future is learner-centred. In the past, the policy focus was on the provision of education but today it is on outcomes, shifting from looking upwards in the bureaucracy towards looking outwards to the next teacher, the next school.

In the past we emphasised school management. Now it is about leadership with a focus on supporting, evaluating and developing teacher quality as its core. This includes coordinating the curriculum and teaching programme, monitoring and evaluating teacher practice, promoting teacher professional development and supporting collaborative work cultures.

We also need to take to heart that learning is not a place but an activity. School systems need to recognise that individuals learn differently and that people learn differently at different stages of their lives. They need to foster new forms of educational provision that take learning to the learner in ways that allow people to learn in the ways that are most conducive to their progress.

Last but not least, we need to look outward. We can no longer ignore countries like China. Today, the talent pool is roughly equal in Europe, the US and China, but in 2020, a few years from now, China alone will have more highly educated young people than Europe and the US have young people.

Who pays?

All of this is everybody’s business and we need to deal much more creatively with the question of who should pay for what, when and how, particularly for learning beyond school.

Employers can do a lot more to create a climate that supports learning and to invest in learning. Some individuals can shoulder more of the financial burden. And governments can do better in designing more rigorous standards, providing more effective financial incentives and creating a better safety net so that all people have access to high-quality learning.

It’s worth getting this right. If the industrialised world could raise its learning outcomes by 25 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) points – the level of improvement that we have witnessed in countries like Brazil and Poland over the last decade – its economies could be richer by more than 100 trillion Euros over the lifetime of today’s students.

I know that many countries still have a recession to fight. But the cost of low educational performance is tremendous. It is the equivalent of a permanent economic recession.


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Have your say on this article

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  • Andreas Schleicher is deputy director for Education and Skills and special adviser on education policy to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD’s) secretary general