Today, 8 September, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) issued its annual Education at a Glance (EAG) report for 2020. Although the data was gathered prior to the shock of COVID-19, the concerns expressed in the findings are only amplified by the pandemic and the economic hardship that it has generated. A key focus of the report is Vocational Education and Training (VET), which has been particularly hard hit by COVID-19.
The EAG compiles recent education statistics and organises them around a set of indicators. It does not include policy conclusions but offers a wealth of information that will inform policy discussions in the education community, including educators and their trade unions. It provides useful country comparisons. In addition to the focus on VET, it covers ‘The Output of Educational Institutions’, ‘Access to Education, participation and progress’, ‘Financial resources invested in education, and ‘Teachers, the Learning Environment and the organisation of schools’.
Information in the report shows inequalities in education inside and between countries. Reports gathered by EI from member organisations and other data show that the pandemic, for a myriad of reasons, has deepened those inequalities and has especially hit those who were already the most marginalised.
VET has been penalised by the crisis not only because distance learning is often not practicable, but also because it is linked with learning in enterprises, so it suffered from the impact of closures and slumps in production. Education is vital for the economy, but the relationship is particularly close for VET. Yet, it is, too often, the poor relation in education systems, often ignored and underfunded.
The report also points to an under-representation of women in VET, especially in those areas that are likely to lead to good, stable, and well-paid jobs. It often parallels gender patterns in employment.
In some countries, there is flexibility that eases access of VET to short-cycle tertiary education. That seems to provide greater learning and employment opportunities.
Reacting to the EAG, EI General Secretary David Edwards, said, “the work of the OECD covers economic, education, and many other policy areas. In the EAG, education is considered in the context of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 but is also judged as crucial to the economy. OECD Secretary-General Gurria writes of a pandemic-related ‘brutal recession’ that is expected to burden societies for years to come.”
“A strong recovery, if it is to happen, requires global cooperation and renewed commitment to the UN sustainable development goals. If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it is that well-funded, quality public services are not a luxury or an ‘add-on’ but are essential and fundamental to the proper functioning of our societies. Education enriches the lives of learners and gives them hope. However, the mission of education also includes healing the wounds of hatred and bigotry, narrowing inequalities, under-pinning democracy, and building strong economies.”
The report contains an editorial by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria, in which he concludes:
“More than ever, the pandemic is a call to renew our political commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. Ensuring that all young people have the opportunity to succeed at school and develop the skills that will allow them to contribute to society is at the heart of the global agenda and education’s promise to our future society. The current crisis has tested our ability to deal with large-scale disruptions. It is now up to us to build as its legacy a more resilient society.”