If you want to know what we’ve been doing over the past year or so, I invite you to take a look at the latest edition of Education Today 2013: The OECD Perspective. It covers the most important results and policy recommendations that have emerged from our work in early childhood education, compulsory schooling, higher education and lifelong learning. It also discusses such overarching topics as equity of opportunity, the benefits of education, and innovation.
When we think of innovation in education these days, we immediately think of technology: getting more computers into more classrooms, offering online courses to students in higher education. But as Education Today points out, while the industry for digital educational tools is growing, fewer than half of the specialised companies in that industry operate in the formal primary and secondary school sector. The report also notes that just because there are ICT devices in the classroom, it doesn’t mean that either teaching or learning strategies are changing. And while there are great expectations that online learning will attract those who have left – or have been left behind by – the education system, namely students from disadvantaged backgrounds or unmotivated students, so far there is no proof that this is happening.
New evidence (see the presentation by Patricia Kuhl here) shows that young children learn best when they make eye contact with their teachers – which means that they will never learn as much, or as well, sitting in front of a device. We’ve also found that students’ attitudes towards using new technologies in school is far from what we might expect: they are more reluctant to use them than their image as “digital natives” suggests. And PISA results show that the best-performing students are those who are motivated by their teachers.
What this evidence tells us is that no technology can replace the best teacher. But it also suggests that the best way to integrate new technologies into the classroom is to get the best teachers involved in developing the right pedagogical approaches to using them – and to include students in researching which strategies are the most effective. (This is how it’s done in Finland, a consistently high-performer in PISA.) New teaching approaches that incorporate these technologies should then be monitored and evaluated, and the results of those evaluations widely disseminated to avoid duplication of effort and begin promoting best practices. I plan to raise many of these issues in my keynote address to the LearnTec convention on “Future Learning” in Germany next month.
Looking further ahead, and towards potential lifelong learners, in late 2013 the OECD will oversee an Education and Skills Online Assessment that will help adults to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments. This assessment is linked to our Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies(PIAAC), which will issue its first set of results in October 2013. The fact that the individual assessment will be conducted exclusively on line is an acknowledgement that the ability to read and navigate through digital texts is now essential if we want to participate fully in society. All the more reason – if any more were needed – to begin developing these skills today, in our youngest students, to give them one of the basic tools for learning throughout the rest of their lives.