Harvard Educational Review
  1. Education at a Glance

    OECD Indicators

    By the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation.

    Paris: Organization for Economic Co-operation Development, 1995. 373 pp. $54.00 (paper).

    Recent studies show that the phenomenon of regional cooperation and cooperation among countries has been growing with the emergence of new worldwide political structures and advanced technology. The recently published Education at a Glance describes new cooperative efforts made by the twenty-five member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (commonly known as OECD) in the field of education.

    This volume, now in its third edition, offers more diversified and comprehensive information on educational development in the OECD countries than did its predecessors. It presents a set of forty-nine international education indicators covering the 1991–1992 school year. The indicators, as defined at the General Assembly of the Indicators of Education Systems (INES) Project in Switzerland in 1991, provide regularly updated information on the organization and operation of education systems. They provide information on the way the systems react to the changes in policy priorities and contemporary developments in each society. Therefore, this report serves two purposes: to "provide the basis for a better understanding of the variety of factors and relationships that determine educational performance" (p. 7), and to "facilitate the comparison of education systems and the study of possible extensions" (p. 3).

    Besides data on the twenty-five member countries, this report also includes data on four non-OECD countries: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Russia. In addition, for the first time, it uses data from a public survey of attitudes towards education carried out in twelve OECD countries.

    The data included in the report is organized into five sections. The first section contains data on the context of education, and features three indicators on the demographic context, three on the social and economic context, and seven on opinions and expectations. The second section covers information on costs, resources, and school processes, including five indicators on educational expenditures, three on sources of educational funds, seven on participation in education, two on instructional time, one on school processes, six on human resources, and two on educational research and development.

    The third section deals with the topic of educational results, with indicators relating to outcomes for students, systems, and labor markets. In section four, the education system in each country is introduced by an annotated organizational chart and a brief explanation. This helps readers to understand some of the reasons for differences in data for a particular indicator among different countries. Finally, the last section of the report contains some appendices dealing with data sources and technical notes. To meet policymaking needs, each indicator is tied to some specific educational policy issue in the report. This information, as well as a brief summary of key results, description, interpretation, and necessary definitions, is provided for each indicator in the report.

    In addition to continuing the series of existing indicators, Education at a Glance introduces a number of new ones. For instance, in order to explore further the close relationship between education and the labor market, the indicator "labor force status for leavers from education" is introduced. By examining labor market status both one year and five years after departing school, this indicator treats the employment of those leaving education in a dynamic context and gives an indication of the relationship between the supply and demand for different types of education in the labor market. Data under this indicator suggest that there is not much demand for youth with low educational levels in all reporting countries (p. 247). Another example is the indicator "teacher compensation." The most striking differences between countries in salary structure have to do with ratios of maximum to minimum pay (from 1.2 in Norway to 2.6 in Portugal) and the time needed to reach the maximum (from 9 years in the United Kingdom to 45 years in Spain) (p. 8). The seven newly added indicators of public attitudes to education reveal that it is no longer possible to regard education as a "closed" system and that future policy development is bound to be influenced by the interaction between professional and public opinion. The indicators "importance of school subjects" and "importance of qualities/aptitudes," for example, present interesting information on the public's view of what schools should be teaching and how well subjects are taught. These data show that skills and knowledge that will help students to get a job are among the public's highest priorities for schools in almost all reporting countries (p. 8).

    Readers can find some interesting and illuminating results in the tables and charts throughout the volume. For example, while Americans praise educational achievement in Japan and Germany, they should note that these two countries, plus the Netherlands, are the countries investing the least percentage of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in education among all reporting countries, according to data on the indicator "educational expenditure relative to GDP" (see Chart F01, p. 77). To those who believe that increasing public funds is fundamental for improving school performance, this message may urge them to think about alternatives.

    Overall, Education at a Glance reveals the similarities and differences among the reporting countries under each selected indicator. However, this does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that some countries are performing "better" than others. Furthermore, it would be more informative if the report could provide information on national educational goals and standards. Finally, the current country averages allow comparison only of overall levels of investment or participation in education. Consequently, further development of indicators reflecting intra-country variations is needed to present a more complex and comprehensive picture of educational systems.

    Nevertheless, this report is a useful reference book for political lobbyists, policymakers, consultants, and researchers in the field of education. It may also be useful for OECD-watchers and for those who work or study in the area of comparative education.

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