More effort needed to improve equity in education

Classroom 2018

Bringing education to Myanmar’s conflict-affected children. © European Union , 2017 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Pierre Prakash.

This article is brought to you in association with OECD.

Social background remains the main factor impacting participation in education and learning, and on economic and social outcomes, according to a new OECD report.

Education at a Glance 2018 says that children without tertiary-educated mothers are less likely to be enrolled in early childhood education and care (ECEC) programmes. Although it is widely acknowledged that a child’s cognitive development begins well before he or she reaches school age, governments still spend a smaller share of public money on ECEC than on higher education.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are also less likely to go into further education. Those without tertiary-educated parents are more likely to enrol in vocational education and training than in general upper secondary programmes and are less likely to complete those programmes. This, in turn, affects their subsequent participation in higher education, where the share of entrants without a tertiary-educated parent is small.
Participation in higher education today matters more than ever, says the OECD. Technological change, digitalisation and innovation have placed a significant premium on advanced skills, as lower-skilled jobs are being squeezed out of the market. Those who have attained only upper secondary education will earn 65% as much as a tertiary graduate, on average, perpetuating this vicious cycle over future generations. Thus, it takes four to five generations for children of families in the bottom earnings decile to attain the mean level of earnings across OECD countries. Disadvantages in education and in the labour market translate into differences in socioeconomic outcomes and overall well-being that transmit from parents to children.

“Every individual has the potential for success, and deserves the opportunity to grow, develop and contribute fully to society,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report in Paris. “We­ have the responsibility to ensure that personal or social circumstances do not impede students from realising such potential. This should be education’s promise to all.” Read the full speech.

To achieve equity in education, countries should target funding and resources for education to the most vulnerable, prevent grade repetition and encourage people from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter mainstream education. Teachers should have good opportunities for professional development and the right pedagogical knowledge to identify and support students of all abilities, and there needs to be access to and provision of affordable, high-quality early childhood education. The importance of investing in ECEC, especially for disadvantaged children, is also a major recommendation of the recently presented OECD’s Framework for Policy Action for Inclusive Growth, as a measure to reduce inequalities.

Gender differences also remain a reality, finds the report. Boys are more likely than girls to repeat a grade, drop out of school, and not attain a tertiary education. However, despite their better performance at school, women still have worse employment and earning outcomes. Women remain less likely to enrol in and graduate from high-paying fields at the tertiary level. For example, even though engineering skills are in high demand today, only 6% of women graduates complete an engineering degree compared to 25% of men.

Fostering a cohesive society also depends on the capacity to integrate immigrants and ensure that they develop the skills needed to contribute to the labour market and their communities, says the OECD. However, first- and second-generation immigrants are less likely to enter and graduate from bachelor’s or long first-degree tertiary programmes in countries with available data; and foreign-born adults are also less likely than their native-born peers to participate in formal education throughout their lifetime.

The report reveals that while education pays off for individuals financially, the public sector also benefits from having a large proportion of tertiary-educated individuals through, for instance, greater tax revenues and social contributions. Across OECD countries on average, governments earn –only through tax revenues– an internal rate of return on their investment of 10% for each man and 8% for each woman that completes tertiary education.

This year’s edition of Education at a Glance also assesses where countries stand on achieving their equity objectives as part of the Sustainable Development Goals for education. Results show that achieving equitable participation in education and quality in learning outcomes remains a challenge for many OECD countries.

The gender gap in the participation rate of adults in formal and non-formal education varies greatly across countries, with women in some countries, and men in other countries, less likely to participate. Disparities in achieving equity in learning outcomes are also stark: in all OECD countries, the mathematics performance of 15-year-olds is strongly associated with students’ socioeconomic status and the location, urban or rural, of their school. In most countries, this association has not weakened at all over the past decade.

Education at a Glance provides comparable national statistics measuring the state of education worldwide. The report analyses the education systems of the 36 OECD member countries, as well as of Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Other key findings:

Education spending

Between 2010 and 2015, expenditure per student across the OECD increased by 5% at the primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary levels, and by 11%­ at the tertiary level.

In 2015, 90%­ of funding for primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education and 66%­ of funding for tertiary education came from government coffers.

With more 3-5­ year-olds participating in early childhood education, public investment in pre-primary schools is also increasing, amounting to 83% of total funding in 2015. Over the past decade, this share rose by 4­ percentage points across countries with available data. However, on average across OECD countries, one in three children enrolled in pre-primary school attends a privately funded institution – a larger proportion than observed in any other non-tertiary level of education.

Teaching profession

Nearly all pre-primary teachers are women, but fewer than one in two is a woman at tertiary level. Over the past decade, this gender gap has widened at primary and secondary levels, and narrowed at the tertiary level.

Attracting male teachers to the profession is particularly difficult: while the average actual salary of female teachers is equal to or higher than the average salary of other full-time, tertiary-educated women, primary and secondary male teachers earn between 77% and 88%­ of the average earnings of other full-time, tertiary-educated men.

Teachers have strong incentives to work to become school leaders: the actual salaries of school heads across the OECD and analysed countries are at least 35% ­higher than the salaries of teachers and at least 20%­ higher than the average earnings of other tertiary-educated workers. In half of the OECD countries and economies with available data, school heads and teachers working in a disadvantaged or remote area are rewarded with additional compensation.

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