The data that the OECD collects can help countries map their strengths and weaknesses in education. But what's the best way to capitalize on the strengths and address the weaknesses? Policy makers might find the answer to that question in another country.
A new OECD series of individual Education Policy Outlook Country Profiles describes how countries are responding to key challenges to improve the effectiveness of their education systems. The idea is to offer policy makers easily accessible profiles of countries' education systems, and the policies adopted to improve those systems, that could inspire reforms at home.
For example, the profile on Australia reports that, while the country is a top PISA performer and has high completion rates in upper secondary and tertiary education, its PISA scores have not improved since 2000. In addition to targeting teacher and school leadership quality and evaluation and assessment, the country has been focusing on defining a more transparent and fairer funding model for schools presented recently in a national plan for school improvement.
New Zealand, also a top PISA performer, has some of the most autonomous schools and universities of all OECD countries. A key challenge for the country has been better integrating the growing indigenous population in its schools. In response, the government has adopted targeted education strategies for Maori and Pasifika Islanders, and defined national standards and a national curriculum for English and Maori schools.
In a different hemisphere, Ireland, which is an average PISA performer and has a growing immigrant population, adopted a policy in 2005 to support low-performing schools, Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, which has helped to increase the number of students who complete secondary education in participating schools. A wider national literacy and numeracy strategy was introduced more recently to increase instruction time in reading and mathematics and offer professional-development activities for teachers and school leaders. Perhaps the country's greatest challenge now is ensuring that these programmes do not suffer as public spending shrinks as a result of the financial crisis.
In the Czech Republic, where PISA performance in reading, mathematics and science has been deteriorating, the government has introduced evaluation and assessment initiatives that include national standardised tests. To improve the quality of teachers and school leaders, it has raised the salaries of young teachers, introduced a new teacher-career system, and changed the process for appointing and dismissing school leaders.
These four examples alone show how governments around the world are trying to improve their education systems to better prepare their young citizens for full participation in the global, knowledge-based economy. Every six months, the OECD will publish a new set of education policy country profiles as part of its Education Policy Outlook series. The series can be a valuable source of information -- and inspiration -- for policy makers everywhere.