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School’s out, but what’s next?

26 June 2013
by Brian Keeley
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Click to read Education at a Glance 2013

Over the past few weeks, many young people walked through the doors of high schools and universities for the last time. For some, the next steps of their journey are well mapped out – more education, an internship, maybe even a job. For others, things are far less clear.

Their uncertainty is underlined by the latest data on “NEETs” – young people not in employment, education or training – in OECD countries. On average in 2011 (the most recent year for which internationally comparable statistics are available),  around one in six young people between the ages of 15 and 29 fell into that category. In some OECD countries, the proportion rose to as high as one in three among people in their mid to late-20s.

These numbers appear in the latest edition of the OECD’s Education at a Glance, which paints a worrying picture of the job prospects of young people in the wake of the Great Recession. But it also underlines the continuing – and growing – importance of education as they make their way in the world.

Take the figures for joblessness. Between 2008 and 2011, unemployment among people with relatively little education rose by 3.8 percentage points in OECD countries. For graduates, however, it rose by less than half that, 1.5 points. As the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher told the Financial Times yesterday, “The crisis has amplified the value of a good education.”

He repeated that point during a Tweetchat earlier this evening that discussed the educational choices facing young people as well as how we can ensure that governments actually deliver that “good education”.

One early questioner wanted to know if the rising cost of education meant it was still worth pursuing a college degree. That brought a response that regular readers here won’t find too surprising: “Yes, costs have increased, but the returns have increased even faster.” (If you want to see the numbers, turn to page 100.)

As we’ve discussed before on the blog, rising college costs are also leading many to wonder if higher education won’t rely increasingly in the future on Massive Open Online Courses – MOOCS. Andreas clearly thinks it will: “MOOCs will play an important role in the future provision of higher education, we’d better get ready for it!”

Turning to the wider world of education, Nick von Behr was concerned about teacher quality, and asked “how much should an OECD country monitor the quantity and quality of teacher training?” Andreas echoed the importance of this issue: “Our data shows huge variability in the performance of students even within schools. Evaluating teaching has a lot of promise.”

Rajagopal CV wanted to know if the OECD had “any tips or magic wand to make teaching the most sought-after work”. One answer, he was told, was to look to Finland, which gets nine applicants for each teaching post and “provides good career perspectives, great teacher collaboration, good professional development”.

And at a time of budget pressure, a number of questioners asked about education financing. The good news, said Andreas, is that “so far most countries have protected education spending well, even in crisis”. But he stressed that what mattered more was not the absolute size of education budgets but “ how you invest yr money”. In that context, he believes, the quality of teachers matters more than the size of classes.

Useful links

OECD work on education

OECD educationtoday blog

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