Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary-General and Deputy Director for Education
In the global economy, the benchmark for educational success is no longer merely improvement by local or national standards, but the best performing education systems internationally.
Increasingly diverse and interconnected populations, rapid technological change in the workplace and in everyday life, and the instantaneous availability of vast amounts of information mean that all work that can be automated or digitized can now be done by the most effective and competitive individuals or enterprises, wherever on the globe they are located. Knowledge and skills have become the global currency in the 21st century.
The skills that are easiest to teach and test are also the skills that are easiest to digitize, automate and outsource.
When you could still assume that what you learned in school will last for a lifetime, teaching content and routine cognitive skills was at the centre of education. Today, where you can access content on Google, where routine cognitive skills are being digitised or outsourced, and where jobs are changing rapidly, the focus is on enabling people to become lifelong learners, to manage complex ways of thinking and complex ways of working and to live in a multi-faceted world as active and responsible citizens.
Deprivation need not be destiny. Equity in education is also the key to social mobility and democratizing knowledge.
Some of the world’s most advanced education systems have far greater levels of income inequality and social heterogeneity than, for example, the United States. Their education systems are able to moderate inequalities because they attract the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and the most capable school leaders to the most disadvantaged schools, thus challenging all students with high standards and excellent teaching. They foster new forms of educational provision that take learning to the learner in ways that allow students from all backgrounds to learn in the ways that are most conducive to their progress. The goal of the past was standardization and conformity; now it’s about being ingenious, about personalizing educational experiences.
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Modern education is about enabling professional autonomy within a collaborative culture.
In the old bureaucratic education system, teachers were often left alone in classrooms with a lot of prescription what to teach. The best performing education 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; the future is about user-generated wisdom.
In the past, the policy focus was on the provision of education; today it’s on outcomes, shifting from looking upwards in the bureaucracy towards looking outwards to the next teacher, the next school.
The past emphasized school management; now it is about leadership, with a focus on supporting, evaluating and developing teacher quality as its core, which includes coordinating the curriculum and teaching program, monitoring and evaluating teacher practice, promoting teacher professional development and supporting collaborative work cultures.
There is no future without investment in education.
Without sufficient investment in skills people languish on the margins of society, technological progress does not translate into productivity growth, and countries can no longer compete in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy. In the long term, there is no way to stimulate our way out or to print money our way out of an economic crisis. The only sustainable way is to grow our way out, and that requires giving more people the skills to compete, collaborate and connect in ways that drive our economies and societies forward.
In many countries with little in the way of natural resources, education has strong outcomes and a high status at least in part because the public at large has understood that the country must live by its knowledge and skills. Placing a high value on education may be an underlying condition for building a world-class education system and a world class economy, and it may be that most countries that have not had to live by their wits in the past will not succeed economically and socially unless their political leaders explain why they must live by their wits now even though they might not have had to do so in the past.
The world has become indifferent to tradition and past reputations, unforgiving to frailty and ignorant to custom or practice. Success will go to those individuals and nations that are swift to adapt, slow to complain, and open to change. The task for educators and policy makers is to ensure that countries rise to this challenge.
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
Andreas Schleicher is Deputy Director for Education and Special Advisor on Education Policy to OECD’s Secretary-General. He also provides strategic oversight over OECD’s work on the development and utilization of skills and their social and economic outcomes. This includes the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) and the development and analysis of benchmarks on the performance of education systems (INES).
Before joining the OECD, Schleicher was Director for Analysis at the International Association for Educational Achievement (IEA). He studied Physics in Germany and received a degree in Mathematics and Statistics in Australia. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the “Theodor Heuss” prize, awarded in the name of the first president of the Federal Republic of Germany for “exemplary democratic engagement.” He holds an honorary Professorship at the University of Heidelberg.