Tagged: OECD

My brief reflections on the OECD Report: Students, Computers and Learning

OECD Report

So we have just seen the publication of a new report from the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills – Students, Computers and Learning: Making the connection (OECD, 2015). First, let’s mention that this is probably going to be an important document which will not only gain international interest, but will also be a discussion point somewhere in Government. Second, this post seeks to provide some of my own thoughts on what it says. You do not need to agree with me on everything and that is a point worth illustrating. When it comes to technology and learning, the infrastructure (which also includes the teacher and curriculum, etc) is very different from one country to the next. Likewise, so the research differs too. There are many variables at play and as such we often need to look at the smaller detail locally than the big picture holistically. For example, if you are doing something with your class in your school and it works, this does not mean it will work for everyone nor should you stop doing it if someone else says so.

My main point throughout is thus: that the impact of technology on attainment is dependent on effective agency between the teacher and the learner. I would also point out that simply throwing gadgets into schools is not good enough. I am concerned here (and time will tell) that the media will pick up on some of the conclusions and make sweeping statements such as: tablet computers do nothing for learners or schools need to do more reading and numeracy and less IT. That (in my humble opinion) is a load of tosh.

I believe that there is a fundamental flaw in the terminology that we use. The impact of technology on attainment is statistical in nature and fairly easy to map over time. But the impact of technology on learning is far more complex and open. It is experiential and the cognitive process by which a learner engages with technology can bring around new experiences. It is human nature that this will differ from one person to the next but we could use theories of connectivism as an example in relation to driving new skills and information seeking.

On the whole, the authors have done a good job on pulling together the data that sits behind the report… but I also take some of the conclusions with a pinch of salt.

Here is the background:

Are there computers in the classroom? Does it matter? Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection examines how students’ access to and use of information and communication technology (ICT) devices has evolved in recent years, and explores how education systems and schools are integrating ICT into students’ learning experiences. Based on results from PISA 2012, the report discusses differences in access to and use of ICT – what are collectively known as the “digital divide” – that are related to students’ socio-economic status, gender, geographic location, and the school a child attends. The report highlights the importance of bolstering students’ ability to navigate through digital texts. It also examines the relationship among computer access in schools, computer use in classrooms, and performance in the PISA assessment. As the report makes clear, all students first need to be equipped with basic literacy and numeracy skills so that they can participate fully in the hyper-connected, digitised societies of the 21st century.

  1. The kind of things that are easy to teach are now easy to automate, digitize or outsource. I am not really sure what that means or if I agree with it. It seems to be a random statement made with intent but with little context. Let’s use augmented realities as an example. My premise is that we only make things digital (and I hate using that term too) if there is a need and a recognised benefit in doing so. The benefits of course, should be with the learner.
  2. The comparison between digital literacy and print reading is interesting and worthy of further study.
  3. Access to a computer. It would seem that 50% of participants in the UK have access to at least 3 computers and that this is wide ranging from almost 0% in Indonesia to around 85% in Denmark (lowest to highest) yet there is more equity across the sample countries when one looks at access to a single computer. The scatter diagram is stable for the most part with major variation appearing only where there is lower access to 3 computers but there appear to be gaps here. It does not look to study the type of computer and how powerful/new it is. Between 2009 and 2012, it looks like there has been an upward trend. I would expect this to continue as web infrastructures are developed and the costs of computing become lower. There are many issues of equity on the school online environ that I would like to pursue.
  4. The time spent online has many stories sitting behind it. I could ramble on here for hours but I wont. Too many connections around technology and society but I will point out that a significant whack of online activity will happen in the home or elsewhere outside of school. Given that many devices are now connected to the internet (PCs, games consoles, TVs and even fridges) there needs to be further discussion about what we mean with the term ‘online’. Without a doubt there are many questions regarding the impact of social media technologies. As a society, I’d argue that we are becoming increasingly bored with simply using technology for technology sake and that we are now looking for meaningful purpose.
  5. Now when it comes to attainment we have some sweeping conclusions again. Students who use computers at school only moderately score the highest in reading. Again, the agency and use of the computer is important here. There are many unanswered questions around what, when, where, how and why the technology has been used to support learning.
  6. Students who do not use computers in maths lessons score highest in mathematics. Now, the data suggests that paper-based maths will equate to a higher score but up pops the variables again. The actual score points are very close and we need more detail. For example, how much time is spent on the learning in both contexts, what is the instructional pedagogy? Really, I want to know more – why is there a difference between the two? Is this an equity issue? Is it cultural or are there socio-economic factors at play?

There is a lot to digest from the report and no doubt I will come back and rethink certain aspects over the coming weeks. I do like the fact that the report picks up on emerging technologies, experiential learning and interactive and metacognitive pedagogies. Some of the concluding thoughts are valid and I totally agree that we do need to put more thought into what we are doing with technology. There is a clear role in research informed teaching and this needs to be a local enquiry based approach from one teacher to the next. There must be renewed focus on learning with technology rather than teaching with technology and this is something that I have written about in the past.


OECD, (2015) Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection. PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264239555-en (last accessed 15/09/2015).



Developing an Education Performance Framework – Part 1: Measuring the Learner’s Journey

This is part one of an article on developing an education performance framework for the 21st century.

Firstly, a quick reminder that what I write here on my blog, does not always reflect the policy or current aspirations of Government. Simply put, they are my own personal ideas, based on my experience and expertise in such things. Secondly, my thoughts do not explicitly recommend indicators which could be used to measure success, but rather my high level expectations which I believe must be applied to the education system. Although widely based on education in Scotland and ergo inherent to Curriculum for Excellence, the principles could be applied in any other setting, in most countries undergoing some degree of transformational curriculum change.

The purpose of this article (presented in 2 parts), is to stimulate thinking and generate discussion; specifically related to testing and measuring education through a transparent, robust and effective performance framework which measures the impact and value of education on young people.

Current priorities are centred around the continuing implementation of education reform; modernising national qualifications and assessment, including greater recognition of wider achievement; developing a teaching profession which is modern, adaptive and driven to excellence; improving leadership, transformational and strategic, both within schools and across lifelong learning; breaking the link between poverty and low achievement and attainment; enhancing services for vulnerable young people such as those who are looked after or have Additional Support Needs; raising attainment – specifically in literacy and numeracy but also across other areas of knowledge and skill; and producing better outcomes for those children and young people who require partnership intervention to improve their life chances.

We don’t need to scrap everything and start from scratch. Schools – and the wider lifelong learning system – are already familiar with the process of self-evaluation and quality improvement. Demonstrating effectiveness and identifying areas for development is a practice which must continue and there are already firm foundations which can be built upon.

Broadly speaking, I define an ‘education’ performance framework as two separate, but harmonious elements:

  • The ability to test, analyse and measure the learning system: adaptability, responsiveness and effectiveness to meet the changing needs of children and young people. This must be embedded in the culture, structure and processes of learning and teaching whilst supporting individuals through a modern approach to integrated services, incorporating education, social work and health etc.
  • Robust monitoring of both the individual and collective progress of children and young people and their achievements: measuring progress throughout the learner’s journey and recognising their outcomes upon leaving school, an episode of learning and when reaching the end of the statutory curriculum (or later for those who remain in school post-16).

Education is being increasingly framed in lifelong learning terms, from pre-birth and prior to the early years of nursery and primary school, through to the later stages of adult learning. A high priority has been placed on providing children and young people (hereafter young people) with the skills for learning, life and work; whether through compulsory education, post-school study or non-formal learning opportunities. Focus must be steered towards the quality of learning and teaching and ergo the experiences of young people as they make their way through their journey. By applying better service synergy and improving the parity of agency portfolios – roles and responsibilities – young people will develop as successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

Indeed, I have written about this before in some depth and you can read more here.

This perspective implies a different conception of the data and information needed for policy development and monitoring by:

  • focussing on the whole age cohort to capture the full variety of learning experiences at two key stages within the learner’s journey (perhaps a minimum requirement);
  • accumulate data on achievement and other measures of attainment, rather than just the highest level attained; and
  • where feasible, measure non-formal learning activities as well as formal education; this might include participation in a range of activities outwith school which contribute to the holistic education experience.

Here is the Scottish context: The OECD recognised the need for Careers Scotland (or Skills Development Scotland) to investigate approaches to providing schools, local authorities and colleges with comprehensive point-in-time data on school leaver destinations. Developing the capacity, through 16+ Learning Choices, to track learning pathways and transitions into and through the Senior Phase curriculum will become increasingly important in the years to come, and this is underpinned in my Policy and Practice Framework. Not only does this allow schools and local partners to plan and deliver a more cohesive and relevant curriculum which meets the needs of young people, it also produces robust and timely data for national analysis and statistics. An education system which is flexible, responsive and adaptable, especially during economic recovery is desirable and we must be able to test this, challenge it and support continuous improvement across all of its components. Equally, partnerships with other learning providers and agencies which offer young people support to sustain learning is common across the international landscape and is not unique to Scotland.

In part 2, I will explore this concept in more detail and focus on some of the key principles required to create an effective performance framework. I’ll complete this series by drawing together conclusions to support the principles outlined within and tidy it all up with a nice, rounded explanation of what needs to happen next.

Curriculum innovation and reform: an inclusive view to curriculum change

In January 2011, the International Bureau of Education participated in an international workshop that was entitled “Curriculum innovation and reform: an inclusive view to curriculum change” organized by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop). In the recently published Briefing Note, Cedefop presents the conclusions of the workshop, outlining the main conditions to design and deliver outcome-oriented curricula in various European countries as well as the potential benefits to learners.

Outcome-based curricula found to benefit learners

Recent evidence suggests that curricula based on learning outcomes can increase learner motivation, forge stronger links between theoretical and practical learning, raise participation rates and improve learners’ prospects on the labour market. But to ensure success, these curricula need to be carefully designed, delivered and assessed – a process which requires the involvement of key stakeholders and well-trained teachers.

Outcome-based curricula are currently being introduced across Europe – not just in vocational education and training, but also in higher education and, increasingly, in general education. Cedefop is currently carrying out a comparative research study to identify and analyse current curriculum policies and practices in 32 countries.

The requirements for success in developing outcome-based curricula were discussed at Cedefop’s 2nd international workshop, Curriculum innovation and reform: an inclusive view to curriculum change, held on 20-21 January 2011 in Thessaloniki with the participation of 45 senior experts from 20 European countries.

More information

  1. Cedefop Briefing Note: When defining learning outcomes in curricula, every learner matters

Building a High-Quality Teaching Profession

The OECD has recently published a document Building a High-Quality Teaching Profession – Lessons from around the world, which was commissioned as a background report for the International Summit on the Teaching Profession. The report has four broad sections:

  • Recruitment and initial preparation of teachers
  • Teacher development, support, careers and employment conditions
  • Teacher evaluation and compensation
  • Teacher engagement in education reform