International Opinion

Deeper Learning Is a Global Concern

By Robert Rothman — January 20, 2015 3 min read
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While schools and school systems in the United States have been retooling their curriculum and instruction to develop a broad set of knowledge and skills among students, other countries have been doing the same thing. That’s one conclusion from a newly released report issued by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The report analyzed some 450 policies adopted by industrialized countries over the past few years, and found that they generally fell in six categories: ensuring equity and quality in education; preparing students for the future; school improvement; evaluation and assessment to improve student outcomes; reforming governance; and reforming funding.

The plurality of the reforms (29 percent) were in the area of preparing students for the future. Here, many of the policies were aimed at developing and strengthening vocational education and training programs. Portugal, for example, in 2013 created a network of Centres for Qualification and Vocational Education to enhance the links between education and employment. Denmark, meanwhile, launched an initiative to provide more attractive vocational education programs.

Countries also revised their curriculums to improve the preparation of students for higher education and the workforce. One notable example is Poland, which began in 2008 to revise its national curriculum to reflect the needs of the future. Specifically, as the report notes, the curriculum shifted from “narrow, subject-related requirements...to more general transversal skills and competences defined by learning outcomes.” These emphasis now, the report continues, is on “experiments, scientific inquiry, problem-solving, reasoning, and collaboration.” It is notable that Poland began this effort after it demonstrated substantial improvement on the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

In the area of school improvement, the second-most prevalent policy area, countries also revised curriculum to place a focus on a broad set of knowledge and skills. In Japan, for example, the Ministry of Education revised curriculum guidelines to “increase children’s fundamental knowledge, skills, and capacity to think and communicate,” according to the OECD report. The report also notes that, although Japan has long been considered a high-performing nation on international assessments, recent PISA results showed a decline in performance in reading comprehension and the application of knowledge and skills.

Some countries also revised assessment policies and practices to measure a broader set of competencies. Here, the report notes the widespread adoption in the United States of the Common Core State Standards, which set expectations for learning outcomes for all students. One notable new assessment is in Luxembourg, which in 2009 introduced student portfolios as part of a comprehensive education reform. The portfolios include a formative component, to provide information on student progress throughout the year, and a summative component.

This policy activity around the world suggests that the idea that has motivated the interest in deeper learning in the United States--helping prepare students for higher education, a changing workforce, and a complex society--is not unique to this country. Policy makers and educators across the globe have read the same research and come to the same conclusions. As educators look for examples of practices to help guide their revisions, they might consider practices in Poland, Japan, and Luxembourg, among others. And educators in those countries would find a lot to learn in this country as well. The OECD report is an important document to open our eyes with a global lens.

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