“You can’t get around the need for great teaching” – France

According to US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Andreas Schleicher “understands the global issues and challenges [of education] as well as or better than anyone I have ever met.” And Schleicher is using this knowledge, based on global testing data, to galvanize change.  An outspoken critic of government policies that don’t prioritize education, Schleicher has been influential in translating hard data into real-world guidance for policy-makers struggling to prepare students for the demands of the 21st century.  Schleicher’s views are represented in a great New York Times editorial on the correlation between a country’s resources and the success of its students (hint: it’s not the story you think it is), and I was fortunate to speak with him recently to get his views on what PISA is telling us, and what needs to change.

What are some of the outcomes and lessons learned coming from the PISA work?

Lower performing countries are paying a lot of attention to raising performance. Higher performing countries are looking at raising or changing standards. Overall, while policy responses have been different (depending on the country), PISA has sparked an enormous amount of debate and discussion, along with concrete policy initiatives. If you look at some of the countries with the most rapid improvements, clearly PISA made an impact. Countries have used the opportunity of having comparative data to raise learning outcomes.

PISA seems to be making clearer connections between academic performance and economic conditions – would you agree?

Yes, there is a growing awareness of that link, and an understanding that education
is a key lever for social and economic progress — not just for individuals but for the aggregate.

How can we integrate a more holistic foundation of skills, including collaborative problem-solving? How do you see that work evolving?

There is a very significant awareness among schools and governments that skills that
matter most are not sufficiently emphasized in curriculum or evaluation. Teachers are getting mixed messages – they are told to teach 21st century skills, but assessments are backward-looking. And the education community is looking at what parents expect from the schools, and 21st century skills don’t feature as high on the list as you might think. We are facing challenges on two fronts – convincing educators that this is a relevant agenda and developing instruments that support it.

What have you learned about good systems/good practice?

The essence of what I’ve learned is that you can’t get around the need for great teaching. All the 21st century skills ultimately depend on teachers who understand what learning is, have an in-depth understanding of what learning processes are, and are capable of personalizing learning through understanding that different students learn differently at different stages in their life.
For example, there has been a belief that technology will bypass teaching. I don’t agree, but what we do see is that good technology can leverage great teaching. The principle lesson I’ve learned is that focusing on teaching is going to be key. The second lesson is that there’s been an increase in educational spending (especially in industrial countries), but if we look at the way we spend the resources, they’re often focused on lowering class size rather than creating more engaging learning environments and raising the quality of teaching. The systems that are doing well are making more intelligent spending choices. There’s no way to short-circuit the need for upgrading teaching policies and practices.

Are there any trends you see from countries looking to take these findings forward? 

The trend is to give greater emphasis to skills that are harder to teach, like advanced thinking, creative thinking and innovation. At least that’s the desire. Also, a lot more attention is being paid to equity in education. We know that countries have to capitalize on students from all backgrounds.
There’s also a realization that in order to deliver all of this, we must make teaching a profession of high quality knowledge workers rather than the industrial work organization that we currently have. Finally, 21st century learning environments. This isn’t exactly a trend, but giving people more room to figure out when, how and where they learn is clearly an issue.

About Andreas Schleicher
Education Policy Advisor of the Secretary-General of the OECD and Deputy Director of the OECD Directorate for Education

Andreas Schleicher joined the OECD in 1994, where he has held the posts of Head
of the Indicators and Analysis Division of the OECD Directorate for Education (2002-2011), Deputy Head of the Statistics and Indicators Division in the former Directorate for Education, Employment, Labour and Social Affairs (1997-2002) and Project Manager in the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) (1994-1996). Before joining the OECD, Schleicher served as Director for Analysis at the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) within the Institute for Educational Research in the Netherlands (1993-1994) and International Coordinator for the IEA Reading Literacy Study, at the University of Hamburg, Germany (1989-1992).

Originally a graduate in physics, Schleicher subsequently studied mathematics at Deakin University in Australia, where his master’s thesis received the Bruce Choppin Award. He also holds an honorary professorship at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.
A German citizen, Andreas is married, with three children. He speaks German, English, Italian and French.

Main activities and responsibilities:

* Advancing the strategic agenda of the OECD in the field of education and skills, identifying new strategic priorities and developing high impact policy advice, and providing leadership of the work of the OECD Education Directorate.
* Oversees the design, management and analysis of OECD’s comparative assessments of the performance of education systems, including the:

  • OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an evaluation system through which the 30 OECD countries assess and compare student knowledge and skills in key subject areas on a three-yearly basis. Responsibility for extending this assessment to now 44 non-OECD countries.
  • The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), through which OECD countries seek to assess key skills needed for adults to participate in society and economies to prosper, measure their impact on individual and aggregate social and economic outcomes, and help policy makers better understand how education and training systems can nurture these skills.
  • The OECD education indicators program (INES) through which the OECD evaluates educational outcomes, the policy levers and contextual factors that shape these outcomes, and the broader private and social returns that accrue to investments in education, from early childhood education up to continuing education and training in adult life.
  • The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) through which the OECD evaluates the learning environment in schools as well as aspects of teaching and learning.

Awards and Honors:
* Honorary professorship at the University of Heidelberg (2006)
* “Theodor Heuss” prize, awarded in the name of the first president of the Federal Republic of Germany for “exemplary democratic engagement”, in association with the public debate on the results from PISA and their policy implications (2003)
* Award of the prize “educación y libertad en el ámbito educativo” by the Spanish organization of private schools (2002)
* Bruce Choppin Award for the Master’s thesis “A Computer Based Approach to Survey
Design” (1993)
* National award by the Minister of Telecommunication for the conceptualization of a
“Speech Recognition System” in the German national competition “Y0ung researchers” (1984)

Additional resources:

 

 

 

OECD Insights series explains the important issues facing society in a way that is clear and comprehensible. The Insights blog gives you a voice in shaping those explanations.

 

Learn more about Assessment and Teaching of the 21st Century Skills

Sponsored by Cisco, Intel and Microsoft, ATC21S aims to help educators around the world enable students with the skills to succeed.

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