After decades in education, first as a student, then as a professor and parent of four, Bernard Hugonnier, Deputy-Director of the Directorate for Education, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), thought he knew everything there was to know about education.
But after joining OECD Education Directorate in 2003, he quickly understood how wrong he was.
“I was shocked,” Hugonnier said in a recent conversation. “There are no common philosophies, no major policy lines, and no standardized approaches on key issues.”
But he did have data – lots of it. A key part of the OECD’s education mission is to collect data globally and to translate that data into workable recommendations for policy-makers. They’re working to understand the impact of educational investment on society. And given today’s economic environment, it’s a high-stakes question, maybe the most important one of our time. What they’ve found might surprise you. Return-on-investment (ROI) for higher ed is stunning: an average of 300 percent, directly impacting GDP and creating more competitive societies for the future.
According to Hugonnier, the single most urgent investment we can make in education is to reduce drop-out rates – ideally by 50 percent in the next ten years. With 15 percent of secondary students in France failing to graduate each year (and numbers even higher in the U.S. and other countries), millions of under-educated adults are unleashed each year. The data is clear: these citizens will not be productive, engaged members of society and, in fact, will likely require governmental financial support throughout their lives.
As he approaches retirement later this month, Hugonnier does maintain hope for the future of education, despite the significant challenges. “Countries are opening up,” he notes. “There is much more willingness now than in the past to collaborate and learn from the success of others.”
With the right data, investment and focus, policy-makers have an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference. So is this happening – today – in your country? If not, what’s preventing change? Let me know what you think.