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World Class: How to Build a 21st-Century School System


World Class: How to Build a 21st-Century School System

Andreas Schleicher
, Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
Bob Wise, President, Alliance for Excellent Education

 In a world where topics that are easy to teach and test also have become easy to digitize and automate, what qualities will shape the rapidly changing world for the better?

On July 12, 2018 the Alliance and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) held a talk to discuss this key question which is a central point of Andreas Schleicher’s new book, World Class: How to Build a 21st-Century School System. He writes, “Every economic age has its core asset. In the agricultural age that asset was land; in the industrial age it was capital; and in our times, it is the knowledge, skills and character qualities of people. This core asset remains largely untapped and undervalued. It’s time for us to change that.”

While improvement in education is far easier to proclaim than achieve, Schleicher examines the many successes from which to learn, looking seriously and dispassionately at good practice in countries around the world, all to understand what works in which contexts. The Financial Times states in its review of the book, “Schleicher rightly stresses that PISA results should not be ‘about copying prefabricated solutions from other countries,’ but rather exploring good practices domestically and abroad. While the debate on reform is far from settled, his effort to bring figures and comparisons to the discussion is extremely useful.”

Watch this spirited and thoughtful conversation between Schleicher and All4Ed’s president Bob Wise. They also answered questions submitted by online viewers.

Please direct questions concerning the webinar to If you’re unable to watch it live, an archived version will be available at 1–2 business days after the event airs.

The Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) is a Washington, DC–based national policy, practice, and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those underperforming and those historically underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship.

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Bob Wise:                    Good afternoon and welcome. My name is Bob Wise, and I’m the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. As many of you know, All4Ed is a national policy and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those who’re traditionally underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, a career and citizenship. On behalf of All4Ed and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, welcome to today’s Webinar or, more accurately, our book talk. This book today is called World Class: How to Build a 21st-Century School System, and its author is my friend, Andreas Schleicher.


Andreas is known across the U.S. and the world as the director for education and skills and special adviser on education policy to the secretary general at the OECD. The OECD is a forum in which governments work together to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. A key member of OECD’s senior management team, Andreas supports the secretary general’s strategy to produce analysis and policy advice that advances economic growth and social progress. He promotes the work of the directorate for education and skills on a global stage and fosters cooperation, both within and outside the member nations of the OECD, just as he’s doing today with us.


The work of the directorate includes the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, the Teaching and Learning International Survey, TLIS, and the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or PIAAC, among others. In his new book, he writes, “Every economic age has its core asset. In the Agricultural Age, that asset was land. In the Industrial Age, it was capital, and in our times it is the knowledge, skills and character qualities of people. This core asset remains largely untapped and undervalued. It’s time for us to change that.” While improvement in education is far easier to proclaim than achieve, in his book, Andreas examines the many successes from which to learn, looking seriously and dispassionately at good practice in countries around the world, all to understand what works and in which context.


Now, before we get into the nitty-gritty about World Class, a few technical details: We encourage you to join the conversation via Twitter using the hashtag #worldclass. Today’s event will be archived on And, lastly, grab your free – yes, you heard correct, your free digital copy of this book by going to the link below. I wanna congratulate you, Andreas. You were the first person I’ve ever seen who does a international book tour for a book that online is free so people can download it as we speak right now from the site just given and engage in the discussion. So, thank you very, very much for preparing this. So, let’s just jump right in to questions, and my first question is, you’ve been making presentations. You’ve been talking and educating governments, policymakers, educators. We’ve worked together almost 14 years now. I know you’ve been doing much longer. What’s the impetus for the book now?


Andreas Schleicher:    I think I have an incredibly privileged position at the OECD. I’ve been accompanying educational leaders all around the world over the last 20 years, seeing how they design, how they implement education policies. And I thought it’s time to give something back, to put something of that experience down on paper so that we can actually learn from good experience elsewhere. And, actually, the moment I decided to write this book was when I saw some of the poorest children in Shanghai learning from some of the world’s best teachers, really, and actually achieving results that were on par with what we achieve in very wealthy communities in our countries. And that’s when I understood we can give a future to millions of children who currently don’t have one. It’s something that is not impossible that is actually doable. And building on PISA, that was already available. We have those kinds of data. We know what counts. We can measure high-quality learning outcomes, and we can now make that accessible and to derive lessons from this. So, that’s also why I devote a large part of the book not just on what to do but also how to get to start and how have the most advanced education systems got to where they are now.


Bob Wise:                    And so, you have always, of course, been an advocate of using data, as I believe you’re the one who coined, “Without data, you’re just another opinion.” And so, is there something that’s happening in the world now that was a further impetus for writing this book?


Andreas Schleicher:    Well, we live in a dramatically changing world. If you think about the power of artificial intelligence, changing how we think, how we work, and we need to figure out how to respond in education to this. And it’s a lot easier to educate students for our past than for their future. Education is a kind of inherently conservative social enterprise, and as parents, we are part of the problem. We get very nervous when our children learn things that we haven’t really learned when we went to school, and we get even more nervous when children don’t learn things that were so terribly important for us at this time. Teachers are much more likely to teach how they were taught and how they were taught to teach. And, as you know really well, for policymakers, you can lose an election over education, but you rarely win one over education, because it just takes so much more time to get good ideas and a good practice in classroom.


So, I think there’s a lot of change that is happening. Some people say changing education is like moving a graveyard. You can’t just rely on the people out there to help you with this. It is really, really hard, and the biggest risk to schooling today is not just its inefficiency. It’s that schooling is risking to lose its currency, its relevance. And when fast gets really fast, being slow to adapt makes you fall behind very, very quickly. The kind of things that are easy to teach, easy to test, have also become easy to digitize, to outsource. Now those things are no longer relevant. Education sort of has won the race with technology throughout human history, but there’s no automaticity that that’s gonna continue this way. I think there’s a real risk for education to lose out, for technology to get so far ahead of people that we’re not catching up.


When we could still assume that what you learn in school is lasting for your lifetime, teaching educational content was rightly at the heart of education. Today in the world of Google, it doesn’t matter what you know now. Google actually knows everything. What matters a lot more is what you can do with what you know. In the time of artificial intelligence, the question is how we can pair capacities that we have created in our computers with the human qualities that make us different, the cognitive, the social and emotional qualities. I think it requires very, very different education kind of experience.


The one thing that artificial intelligence really does is make us think much harder of what makes us human and then to think about what education needs to be to deliver in this. Now, tomorrow’s students need to be able to think for themselves, to work with others, to appreciate how different people think and work in a different – sometimes in different cultures to have a good sense of right and wrong, being ethical in their judgment, to have a deeper understanding of other people. And whatever tasks machines may take over at work – lots of people talk about the future of work. The requirements to be an active participant in our societies is actually gonna continue to rise in terms of the demand it places on students. And that’s where the current model of schooling really gets to its limits. Schooling was invented in the Industrial Age, when it was actually effective and efficient to educate students in batches, giving them all the same kind of education, moving them through the same experience and so on.


I started my career in medical research. In medicine, the first thing you think about is, what is wrong with you? How can I help you? What kind of prescription will be – make you happy and healthy again? In education, we start by giving everybody the same medicine, putting everybody through the same kind of treatment. And then maybe by the year of graduation we try to think about, “Was it really successful?” I think we have to change that model of education, get to a much more personal, individual education if we wanna be successful today.


And I think that’s something where particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds are falling through the cracks of current systems. They are not made for this kind of standardized approach. And you come from a wealthy background, you always find open doors to life, even if you don’t succeed so well in school. But if you come from a disadvantaged background, you really have only one chance in life, one card to play, and that is a good schooling. You miss that boat; you’re not gonna get a second chance. And that’s why it is so important for us to rethink that model of schooling, to design learning experiences that capitalize on the potential of all learners. And that’s what I learned from PISA. There are education systems that actually are successful to move from sorting human talent to really developing human talent, to realize that ordinary students can have extraordinary talent and to actually make sure that those come to bear.


Bob Wise:                    So what are some of the elements that you’ve observed that successful education systems are employing to reach this?


Andreas Schleicher:    Well, it starts with the value they place on education. That’s the first thing that you can really see. Most high-performing education systems value their future more than the present. Singaporean parents will spend their last time, the last resources, on the future, on the education of their children. In our parts of the world, we have already spent the money of our children for our own consumption today. So that value is very important. You can see that reflected in high performance. But, more important, it’s also about placing a value in education gets you only so far. The other part of the equation is the belief that every student can learn. Now, that sounds almost trivial, but it’s a big part of the secret of success of high-performing systems.


Now, they are not tracking and streaming and sorting students. They’re not actually personalizing learning experience. They have high expectations for every learner. They attract the most talented teachers into the most challenging classrooms. They match resources with needs. They find out how different students learn differently and, actually, without lowering performance expectations. That’s one thing.


The third thing is about teaching. They succeed in making teaching not just financially attractive but intellectually attractive. They get best and brightest people becoming teachers because they offer an amazing work organization. You go to countries like Finland or Japan, as different as them, there’s a career for teachers. And as a teacher, you’re not only sitting in the classroom teaching students, but you’re also investing in the profession. You’re advancing professional knowledge. You’re working with your colleagues to frame good practice. Invest in your own professional development and in the development of your colleagues. So I think that combination of a high degree of professional autonomy and a collaborative culture in the kind of education workforce is very, very key to this. And that’s then reflected in work organization. You see much less vertical accountability but a lot more knowledge-sharing and lateral accountability in the system, a lot more innovation. Good ideas get scaled and spread in this system, get developed at the front line.


And last thing is about resources. Those systems are very careful. They don’t spend actually often a lot on education, but they spend their money really carefully, making sure that the money arrives where it can really make most of a difference.


Bob Wise:                    You write in your book about choice, school choice, and you make some observations about where it’s successful and where it’s not. Can you talk about that some?


Andreas Schleicher:    Yeah. In some education systems like the Netherlands, like Belgium or Hong Kong, actually, choice and vouchers are very successful, actually. Those systems have succeeded in reconciling flexibility and choice in the systems with quality, coherence and equity. And in a way, what I’ve learned is that choice in itself neither assures quality, nor undermines quality necessarily. What is actually the key to success is a kind of regulatory frame and policy set we use to actually, again, link choice with equity in the education systems. When market mechanisms are in place, public policy needs to shift from overseeing individual schools to providing oversight over the system, providing the mechanisms that parents only have good choices. You can’t put that all on the burden of parents to figure out what are the good, well-performing schools, actually. The system has a lot of responsibility to ensure that parents have only good choices. The system has a lot of responsibility to provide parents with good information about, “What’re the criteria for quality? What is the right school for my child?” to ensure that every child benefits from excellent education.


I really see sort of the Netherlands as a great example, where most schools are run by philanthropic organizations, sometimes religious organizations, but every private school considers itself part of the public system. They are not atomized. They’re not isolated. They are all part of the system. There’s a lot of mobility among teaching staff across the different school providers, so in one way, what I’ve learned is that the more choice and flexibility you have, the stronger public policy really needs to be to moderate that system and to ensure that choice and equity are going together. It can be done. I mean, there are good example. Compensatory finance is very important. How do you make it attractive for schools to deal with difficult kind of situations with maybe difficult students, disadvantaged students? Linking our resources with needs is very important. Formula-based funding often is very important in choice-based and voucher-based systems, but I think the world is great example for this. The world also has some very poor examples of that choice has actually led to social segregation and actually sometimes to decline in quality. Look to Sweden as an example.


Bob Wise:                    And throughout the book you address the various misconceptions in education about the abilities of historically underserved children to learn and perform particularly among the more privileged peers. Would you talk some about what you consider these misconceptions to be?


Andreas Schleicher:    Yeah. I think there are lots of misconceptions. The first is the poor will always do badly in school. And that’s simply not true. In fact, again, the ten percent most disadvantaged students in the province of Shanghai do as well as the ten percent wealthiest students in large American cities, or more immigrant students will drag down the performance on international comparisons. It’s not true. There’s actually no relationship between the share of immigrant students in a system and the performance of their country on PISA. Now, actually what we see is that the country where you go to school has a much greater impact on your success than the country where you come from – or misconception about class size: Smaller class size is always better for results. Actually, smaller classes have often driven the kind of tailoristic work organizations, where we have taken away from teachers very important non-teaching working time.


By focusing on small classes, we have pushed teachers to teach many more hours and taken away the time, the need for professional development, for professional collaboration, for working with individual students, for working with parents. So, there are many myths in education that hold us back in current practice, and international comparisons are a great way to think outwards, to think out of the box, to look at what we can actually do to learn from best practice in this.


Bob Wise:                    And PISA, in the more recent data, has that – is that able to capture the impact of the great wave of immigration that we’ve seen both in Europe and somewhat in the United States?


Andreas Schleicher:    Well, currently it goes up to 2015. We see what’s happened. Now, that includes significant increases in immigration in Europe, not all of that. That’s gonna be coming out in a 2018 _____. But once again, I think what these data show very clearly is that it’s a lot more to do with what we do to integrate those students. You can see countries like Canada in North America or Sweden in Europe that – the Netherlands again that have been very, very good in ensuring that those students quickly integrate into the system. They have very high expectations, high standards for them, but they often embed the cultural origin of those students in the curriculum materials so the students can find themselves. And if you do not manage that transition in the first couple of years for students, you face an uphill struggle. But I think, actually, again, the world provides plenty of really good examples, and I discuss many of them in the book, very impressive kind of examples.


Bob Wise:                    So another recurring theme in the book is that of crowdsourcing, which interested me greatly, crowdsourcing education or grassroots education. Can you talk some about how education systems are able to maintain accountability when they also have a bottom-up approach to curriculum?


Andreas Schleicher:    Yeah. I mean, most educational systems that are doing really well have credited a strong sense of ownership of professional practice among its teachers. And I meet many people who say you cannot give teachers more kind of discretion and professional responsibility in the schools, because they may not have the capacity to deliver on that. And I think there’s always sort of a difficult kind of trait of imbalance in this, but simply perpetuating a kind of prescriptive model of teaching with vertical accountability will not produce more creative teachers. In fact, those who are trained only to heat up precooked hamburgers are never gonna become a master chef. So, again, how do you create the conditions that allow teachers to grow? How do you create the space in schools for them to experiment, to develop ownership over their classrooms, ownership over learning processes? This is where we see really good outcomes at scale.


Now, the challenge is really to combine transparency, professional autonomy, collaborative culture and also trust in the system. When I visited Shanghai in 2013, I saw teachers sharing their lessons, their plans, their projects on a digital platform. And, actually, one of the things that struck me there is that they didn’t only allow people to upload the lessons, but they combined that with reputational metrics. So the more other teachers will download your lessons, criticize your lessons, improve your lessons, the more status you would obtain in the system. And at the end of the school year, your principal will not only ask you, “How well did you teach the students in your class?” but also, “What contribution do you make to the education systems? How do you help other teachers? How do other people regard you in the system?” And those kinds of systems of lateral accountability are often much more powerful than the kind of vertical accountability, top-down accountability that we have.


So I don’t necessarily see a contradiction in this. In fact, China’s or Japan’s approach to what I call Q-rated crowdsourcing of education practice is a great example for how we can identify and share good practice among practitioners. It’s also, in a way, much more powerful than things like performance-related pay, the kind of systems that we often put in place, or bureaucratic accountability. It might even be fairer, because being judged by the whole profession might actually give you a more reliable assessment than just being judged by one person in the system, and so on. And sometimes we can unlock the creativity of teachers simply by tapping into the desire of people to contribute, to collaborate and also to be recognized for this. There is a lot of good ideas happening. If we would only know what are the good ideas in the system, we could actually do a lot more in improvement. But the most important reason why ownership, in my view, is so important is that the kind of traditional approach that we have – someone designs a curriculum, and then it trickles down through the system until it arrives in the classroom. That was really good enough when it took decades to change workplaces and so on.


Today, in the kind of rapid changes that we live through, that kind of long kind of process no longer works. We need to have much more agile, much more flexible education systems. And that requires a much higher degree of professionalism. And what I mean by this is high level of professional knowledge. Teachers need to be really good in their subjects. They need to really understand how students learn, and they need to know a lot about their students. Professional collaboration, the mechanisms that teachers have and the time they spend to work with their colleagues to frame good practice, the investment they make in designing innovative learning environments and working with other teachers and to _____ professional autonomy. Do teachers have the room and space, actually, to be designers of new environments?


Bob Wise:                    I remember visiting a school one time to look at the technology, and the superintendent said to me, and these words are always in my memory, “You came to look at technology, but remember that this is about the teaching, and we don’t look at teachers as sages on the stage. We don’t look at ’em even as facilitators or guides on the side.” It’s exactly what you said. We look at them to be educational designers. How does –


Andreas Schleicher:    Technology is an interesting part in this. Technology is unlikely to ever replace poor teaching, but what can technology do is to amplify great teaching, great experience, and this can elevate the role of teachers from simply disseminating, imparting knowledge to working as co-creators of knowledge with peers and with students to be good coaches, to be mentors, to be facilitators, to be evaluators, to be designers of innovative learning environments. And I think that’s really what technology can do today. Intelligent digital learning systems cannot just teach you science. They can also study how you actually learn science. They are very, very good in sort of thinking through and finding out what problems you find difficult, where you’re good at, where you get stuck, what your metacognitive approaches to learning is.


We have so much more potential than in the kind of traditional classroom setting to personalize learning styles with much, much greater granularity. And think about virtual laboratories. Today, as a student you don’t just need to hear about an experiment. You can do an experiment. You can play with things and find out new things. Inquiry-based learning, new pedagogies, all of that is possible with technology. But, once again, it will not diminish the demand for teachers. It will actually make teaching a much more demanding professional kind of knowledge. Again, technology isn’t gonna replace teaching. It’s gonna amplify the best, very best teaching and elevate the role of teachers, making it a much more demanding job, as happens in other professions as well. One teacher can now educate millions of people also. You can now learn from the teacher that matches your personal learning style as opposed to just relying on the teachers who happens into your own classroom. So, this is the potential, but, again, I think we will not get around in building the best kind of teaching force for that.


Bob Wise:                    In order to build that teaching force, the collaboration, the peer interaction, much of what you’ve discussed, that takes time. And am I correct that it – different countries vary on how much time they give teachers to do that. As I recall, and I forget whether it’s TLIS or other data, that the United States teacher is on his or her feet teaching, spending more hours than almost any other developed nation, meaning that that’s not time that they have to be interacting with each other.


Andreas Schleicher:    Yeah. There are several factors that come together. First of all, teacher pay is still relatively low. And then, indeed, the focus on relatively small classes has meant in the U.S. that teachers have to spend more time teaching than in other countries, that relative teaching load is very high, giving teachers a lot less time. To give you an example, if you’re a teacher in China or Japan, you teach about half the number of hours that an American teacher will teach. But, actually, Japanese and Chinese teachers work even more than American teachers. They can spend a lot more time working with individual students, working on design of new kind of lesson plans, lesson study. They can observe a classroom of another teacher every week and so on. There’s a lot of space to actually advance and elevate the teaching profession. I think that’s very, very important.


Bob Wise:                    So you –


Andreas Schleicher:    And, again, technology can be very powerful in designing ecosystems for this. It can connect students. It could connect teachers. It can actually scale and spread good practice. I think there’s a lot of potential here for us to use new technologies to build the kind of ecosystems for learning in the system. You can’t expect your students to become lifelong learners if they do not see their teachers to practice lifelong learning and advancing.


Bob Wise:                    So you write about the United States that – you talk about untapped potential, and you write that the U.S. was an education superpower in the 1960s but failed to move forward quickly enough as more and more countries surpassed the United States’ average level of education. So, in what areas has, in your view, the United States failed to move forward quickly enough?


Andreas Schleicher:    Well, I think there’s no question that the U.S. helps some students to do really, really well. That’s true in school. That’s true in university education. But other countries have moved faster to help all students learn at high levels, to basically ensure that education is not just elevating a few but really providing every student with access to excellent teaching. Second, the instructional system in the U.S. has become somewhat a kind of mile wide but just an inch deep. Lots of things are being taught at relatively shallow depths. The curricula, the instructional systems, are negotiated with lots of players. Some of them don’t have students, actually, or student learning needs at the heart of their interests. So that’s a big challenge for teachers teaching lots of stuff.


When you look to the highest-performing education systems, you see more rigor. That is basically a higher emphasis on cognitive demand, cognitive activation of students. You see a lot more focus, fewer things being taught at much greater depth. Go to a Japanese or Finnish classroom. They will deal with 1 concept in an hour, not in 20 or 30 exercises to be done by students. They focus really on, “Can you think like a mathematician?” as opposed to teaching lots of formulas and equation. Can you think like a scientist as opposed to just making sure you know lots of things in biology and chemistry? So I think those emphasis and coherence in the learning system – you see learning systems where – which are designed around how student learning progresses, actually.


There’s a lot of learning neuroscience built into the design of instructional systems, which we don’t find in the U.S. We are sort of more patched together and also often built in very local levels. Third, the U.S. is still a very industrial approach to education, again, all students taught in similar ways, kind of teachers more seen as the one who implements practice rather than to design and contribute to the profession. And when teacher quality is low, governments are more tempted to tell teachers exactly what to teach and how they want to get this done. And other countries have moved faster to make teaching a higher-level knowledge profession, where teachers have greater ownership over the content of their teaching and a more collaborative teacher culture so that they – teacher autonomy doesn’t mean, “I do what I like,” but, “I do what I know is right in the name of my profession.” So that level of profession as a practice is greater in countries. I think those are three areas.


And then, last but not least, you can look at spending patterns. Most high-performing countries are better than the U.S. in aligning resources with needs, making sure that the students with the greatest needs get the best educational opportunities, those things. Together, I think those are the areas where the United States has fallen behind over the years. And the industrial approach to education actually was very effective for its own time, but today, where education really needs to have all students to succeed, we need to think about new ways of – teaching new ways of learning. And that requires a renewed emphasis on education.


Bob Wise:                    I note that sometimes yesterday’s reform is today’s impediment.


Andreas Schleicher:    Absolutely. And one other thing is the hardest thing in education is not what to do. It’s actually about how to get things done. The knowledge about what works in education is only as good as our capacity to really act on that knowledge. And to transform schooling at scale, we don’t just need a good vision of what is needed but also really good policies to make change happen. And the road of educational reform is littered with good ideas that were poorly implemented. And actually to take the time to see reforms through is the key, and, actually, the laws, regulations, institutions, they are just a tiny tip of a very large iceberg. And that’s where we focus. We focus on this small sector, but actually under the trouble is that – why it’s so hard to move education systems forward is that there is much – there’re much larger invisible part of the education system that is under the waterline. And that’s where the kind of collisions occur.


Bob Wise:                    And so, can you give some examples?


Andreas Schleicher:    Yeah. This is about the motivations, the fears, the attitudes of people. If you do not engage teachers in the design of change and reform and the design of the instructional system, they’ll always be suspicious, and they’ll rarely help you with implementation. So being really transparent about objectives, making sure that reforms are designed with very strong bottom-up support, professional support by the teaching profession, is very, very important. And it’s also policy can do a lot to inspire innovation, inspire ideas. That’s, again, something we can learn from countries as far away as China. If you want to explore something in the system, the government will actually give you as a teacher or as a school a grant or do an experiment. And if you are successful at the end of the year, they will not say it’s good or bad. They will say, “Wow. Actually looks interesting. Show us you can replicate this into another school system, to other teachers and to other places.” And if you’re successful, well, you become an experimental school, so relying on the innovative practice.


And accountability is about spurring innovation, creativity in the system, not about compliance and conformity. So I think these devices are very, very important. Dealing with the asymmetries between winners and losers in the reform processes, now, that’s always the most difficult part, making sure that people understand what the goals of reform are, why we are going through this, parents included. And reform takes time, and you need to bring people on board. And those systems that have actually successful, they address the political economy of reform. That’s what I devote much of the book to, because that’s the hardest part in change. It’s not about finding out what the right ideas are. Research and analysis has really helped us to understand that really well. It’s about making change happen.


Bob Wise:                    So, as you’re talking, I’m struck, because I think that – I believe there’s a spectrum that I call from tradition to transformational. And systems and people come – enter at different points on that spectrum. We wanna be moving towards the transformational, but we also have to understand the traditional. Teacher quality is still uppermost. That’s a very traditional value. What that teacher does is something else and what we’re asking that teacher to do. But, to me, the biggest challenge in the United States, at least, is to be able to move from on that spectrum and to get large numbers to move as opposed to just the 10 to 15 percent that are always out front.


Andreas Schleicher:    Yeah. But don’t underestimate the number of people in the system with great ideas that currently don’t have great careers. How can you actually mobilize the best ideas in the education systems? How you can give those teachers and school leaders the kind of role that allows them to actually ensure that others are kind of participating in this? How you can create incentives for schools to share with practice and collaborate and so on? So I think actually public policy can do a lot to mobilize the many good ideas that’re already in the system.


Bob Wise:                    So, we’ve neem talking about challenges. What changes are you seeing and emerging trends in the delivery of education or the way populations are learning? Are we moving in the right direction as a world?


Andreas Schleicher:    I think in many parts of the world we see very interesting things. I think the big shift that we have from imparting content knowledge to what we call competency-based learning, the greater focus on social and emotional outcomes, character qualities, that’s the kind of thing that actually computers are not as good at these days. And how we can sort of pair the artificial intelligence with the kind of human qualities. So a lot of thought is going into this curricula, and instructional systems are advancing.


I think also many countries have made good progress in professionalizing the teaching force, understanding that we need a very different caliber of teachers to deliver on a 21st-century kind of learning system. I think those are areas where I’m encouraged that education systems are advancing. On technology, and I talked about the potential of technology, we don’t see that much happening. Education is sort of lagging behind and capitalizing on the potential transformative powers of technological innovation. But I think those are areas where maybe the next years will show us progress. But my assessment overall is that, on balance, the world is moving faster than our school systems. The gap between what societies really need these days, despite the progress that we see in education and what schools provide, is becoming larger, not smaller.


Bob Wise:                    So, some quick questions that’ve been sent in from viewers. Margie in Illinois asks, “What do you see as the role of project-based learning in building world-class education systems?”


Andreas Schleicher:    Innovative learning environments play an important role. Finland would be a country that has moved almost entirely to project-based or theme-based learning. The benefits of that is that it brings together not just students on projects; it creates sort of a greater sense of ownership over learning, more control, more self-regulated learning. It often also brings teachers together. Suddenly the science teacher works together with the history teacher on framing problems, working on problems. That’s the opportunity. At the same time, we need to understand that the opportunity costs of project-based learning are high as well. So they are good learning environments to foster higher order to thinking, collaboration and so on. They are not ideal learning environments for very simple kind of tasks. They are an important part of the mix of good instructional philosophies, and that’s how we see them in the highest-performing countries. But it’s not that all learning should necessarily be project-based. Teachers understanding the different learning needs and opportunities and embracing a variety of pedagogic strategies, those are the teachers that are most successful.


Bob Wise:                    And from Washington, D.C., Alice asks, “What’re the most important things state legislatures can do to build world-class education system?”


Andreas Schleicher:    Well, I think public policy is really the key to advancing in education. Public policy decides, how do we align resources with needs? How do we make the necessary investments in education, providing the regulatory frameworks that actually ensure that there is peer learning among schools, that the education systems advance. They are the ones that actually design at least the frameworks for what students learn, the curricular design, important role in this. They can spur innovation, build research capacity in the system, the kind of knowledge that education systems need to advance. You can really see no education system in the world that has come to be a leading system that doesn’t have a very, very strong systems of public policy.


Bob Wise:                    So, I guess the final question I have is, if it is so clear about what the need – you mentioned the world getting ahead of the education systems. It’s so clear about what the needs are, whether it’s workforce needs, need to – students to learn how to learn, the economic needs to have a quality workforce. If these needs are so apparent, which I believe they are, then why is it that – why aren’t – what do we need to do to make sure education systems keep up with these?


Andreas Schleicher:    What is really hard in life and in society is to balance the future with the present. Education is an investment in the future, is an investment in the long term, and there’re a lot of destructors that keep us focusing on the present. And I think that’s the first way really good education starts with, ensuring that all children have the opportunities to develop their potential to ensure that we prioritize this when we think about how we allocate social spending in education, how we mobilize talent. In a way, if you think about capitalism, the source, the key to success in our economies is that everybody is on a level playing field. Otherwise, our societies become very quickly fragmented and unequal and so on.


And I think that is about ensuring educational opportunity. And it’s sort of easy to say, really hard to do, but that’s where you can see the big dividing line between those education systems advance – sometimes countries like Vietnam, they’re actually poor. They would have lots of reasons not to prioritize education. They have put education first. Korea in the 1960s used to be – to have the – at that time had the level of economic development as Afghanistan today, one of the least kind of developed education systems. That’s when they put education first. They wanted to ensure that every person has the chance to actually live a successful life. And today they’re one of the star economies around the world. That’s I think where everything starts.


Bob Wise:                    So, PISA will be administered this fall. What can you tell us about the iteration of this assessment, and will it be – how will it be, if it will be, different from the 2015 administration?


Andreas Schleicher:    Yeah. No, every PISA assessment adds a novel component. In 2012, we focused on problem-solving skills, creative problem-solving skills. In 2015, we added social skills, collaborative problem-solving. In 2018, we’re gonna look at global competency, the capacity of students to see the world through different lenses, perspectives, appreciate different ways of thinking, different ways of working, different cultures. So that’s a new element. But we’re also reframing our assessment of reading skills. We have tested reading skills many times before, but today we live in a digital age. In the kind of print age, literacy was about extracting information from texts that were pretty _____. You read them from beginning to end. Today in the digital age, it’s much more about validating information, triangulating different sources. In the past, when you didn’t know the answer to a question, you could look it up in an encyclopedia, and you could trust the answer to be true. Today, you look something up on Google, you find 50,000 answers to your question, and nobody tells you what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s true, what’s not true. The construct of literacy is about constructing knowledge, not about extracting knowledge. Really, we ramped our reading assessment for 2018 to reflect that difference.


Bob Wise:                    Andreas, this discussion obviously reflects a lotta the interesting, incredible, stimulating, I should say, material in your book World Class: How to Build a 21st-Century School System. As we wrap up, any summary or thoughts that you’d like to leave us with?


Andreas Schleicher:    Well, I think while I wrote this book and looked through all the examples of successful change that we have seen in so many parts of the world in poor and wealthy countries, among disadvantaged students, among privileged students, I’ve become really optimistic that this is a manageable agenda. The challenge is not to make the impossible possible but to make the possible attainable. We have lots of really good examples. What we can do is learn from those examples. This is not about copying and pasting experiences from others. That’s not what this book is about. It’s about looking seriously and dispassionately at good practice in our own countries but also around the world and then figuring out, how can we borrow and learn from those experiences to help every student attain an excellent education?


Bob Wise:                    So, that’s all the time we have today for this discussion, which has proven to be, as always with Andreas Schleicher, lively and rich. I want to thank Andreas Schleicher very much for his work on this new book and for being with us in Washington today to discuss it. Now, I do want you to keep in mind that today’s event will be archived on And be sure to visit, where you can get a free – I’m stressing that again, free online copy of Andreas Schleicher’s new book, World Class: How to Build a 21st-Century School System. I’m Bob Wise for the Alliance for Excellent Education. Thank you for joining us.


[End of Audio]

Categories: Education and the Economy, Education Technology, High School Reform, International Comparisons

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