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International Institute for Educational Planning. Policy choices in secondary education in OECD countries. Can they provide useful lessons for Africa ? Françoise Caillods UNESCO IIEP. Why would they be relevant for Africa?.

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Policy choices in secondary education in OECD countries

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policy choices in secondary education in oecd countries

International Institute for Educational Planning

Policy choices in secondary education in OECD countries

Can they provide useful lessons for Africa ?

Françoise Caillods


why would they be relevant for africa
Why would they be relevant for Africa?
  • OECD countries represent a variety of models and experiences : these models have to a large extent influenced the way education is organized in Africa
  • Secondary education in OECD countries and in Nordic countries has undergone major structural changes in the past years to be open for all, to increase quality and to adapt to the needs of the knowledge society.
  • Beyond divergences, major converging trends are worth studying : a chance to leapfrog for Africa.
a word of caution the contexts are very different
A word of caution: The contexts are very different

There are major differences in the

  • Economic context:
      • The level of resources and possibilities of financing cannot be compared;
      • The fiscal base is very narrow in Africa;
      • The labor market needs are very different (agriculture predominates).
  • Education context:
      • Primary completion is far from being implemented in many countries;
      • Learning levels are low.
  • The demographic context
      • The dependency is much higher in Africa
  • The cultural capital and the capacity of organization
      • In OECD countries 75% of the adult population has completed secondary education or more ; in many African countries 10% only of an age cohort finish secondary education (2% in West Africa).
learning from the past when did oecd countries expand their secondary education
Learning from the past When did OECD countries expand their secondary education?
  • Most European countries had achieved UPE well before the end of the XIXth century: Nordic countries before southern countries.
  • Primary education for all satisfied the needs of nation building, religious education, and labour market requirements (first of agriculture, then of industry);
  • But they did not consider expanding secondary education before the 1940s/1950s
  • Yet in most European countries upper primary courses ran in parallel to academic lower secondary.
  • They only implemented this expansion in the 60s/70s for lower secondary and in the 1980s for upper secondary.
  • Expansion was often planned by the State.
expansion of secondary education in france
Expansion of secondary education in France
  • Universal elementary education existed as early as 1870s
  • Until the 1960s in France, the structure of primary and secondary education remained largely unchanged. Two subsystems operated in parallel:
    • A primary subsystem for the vast majority of students under the responsibility of municipalities. Education was free and compulsory until the age of 14 (7 years).
    • A secondary subsystem under the responsibility of the state ; with secondary school teachers, specialized by subjects; leading to the baccalaureate and university.
  • As of 1936 debate on unifying the system which was considered largely unequal: which system should be expanded: the upper primary (emphasizing the 3rs; practical contextualized content and life skills)? or the lower secondary one (humanities; specialized topics)? ***
  • In 1959 compulsory education was prolonged from 14 to 16. It took 16 years to implement this policy and to set in place the college unique (comprehensive lower secondary).
  • Mass expansion of upper secondary was decided in 1985 .
  • This expansion, based on tracking, was largely the result of a central government policy, followed later by strong social demand.
expansion of secondary education sweden
Expansion of secondary education : Sweden
  • Universal elementary education was a fact as early as 1842 .
  • Until the 1950s, Sweden had a system of compulsory elementary education of 6/7 years, followed by various types of lower secondary schools. Compulsory elementary ran parallel to the academic secondary with different selection points.
  • Secondary was attended by fewer than 25% of all primary school leavers. Only 10% of an age group completed secondary. Technical and vocational education was provided in different schools.
  • The decision to extend compulsory education to age 16 and get rid of the dualistic system was taken in 1950 .
  • 9 year compulsory and comprehensive schools were to be managed by municipalities .
  • Policy was designed by the central government and carefully steered .
  • The reform was experimented from 1950 till 1962; and implemented from 1962 till 1972.
  • Comprehensivization of upper secondary took place as from 1971.
  • Access to upper secondary largely open as from 1970.
expansion of secondary education usa
Expansion of secondary education : USA
  • In the US, secondary education was expanded much earlier. By 1900 mass secondary education was more or less implemented in several states.
  • Expansion was done applying a certain number of principles:
      • Public provision (free tuition law in most states)
      • Public funding through decentralized fiscally independent districts
      • Open access and forgiveness for poor grades ( no standard; no examination)
      • Largely academic curriculum although modern and practical.
      • Limited tracking introduced later on
  • This policy – and the high level of education attainment of the adult population –largely explains the economic development of the US.
preliminary lessons
Preliminary Lessons
  • Lesson 1: It takes time to prepare and to implement changes.
  • Lesson 2: Expansion can be done in stages.
  • Lesson 3: Creating systems where inequalities are built in should be avoided (such as second rate “upper primary” courses parallel to academic lower secondary).
  • Lesson 4 : There should be no serious compromise on quality.
  • Lesson 5: Role of the State .Significant expansion of secondary education require that the state plan it and that the public sector finance it.
lesson 1 it takes time to implement changes
Lesson 1 : It takes time to implement changes
  • Should African countries wait 50 years, as European countries did, before expanding secondary education after UPE? The answer is No. Economic change is accelerating; technology is spreading fast. Africa cannot be left out of the knowledge society revolution. It cannot miss the opportunities arising from globalization.
  • Expansion can be done in stages : it is necessary to consolidate basic education. No big bang on secondary.
lessons 2 3 move in stages but avoid creating systems with built in inequalities
Lessons 2&3 : Move in stages but avoid creating systems with built-in inequalities
  • European countries were offering 7 years basic education long before they expanded secondary.
  • But running upper primary courses parallel to secondary for the elite is highly unequal.
  • Inequalities created at secondary level last for the rest of adult life ; they are transmitted from generation to generation
  • Attention has to be paid to the education of girls and the brightest kids from rural and disadvantaged backgrounds
lesson 4 do not compromise too much with quality
Lesson 4: Do not compromise too much with quality
  • A recent International study on adult literacy in OECD shows that it is the level of literacy, not the number of years of study, that explains differences in economic growth.
  • In Africa the early years of secondary have to be remedial because of low quality at primary level
  • Substantial reform emphasizing quality have to be planned as the same time as opening access .
  • Reform is needed to respond to a wider range of abilities: it is not a question of providing more of the same.
  • The evaluation of World Bank projects on EFA says that too much emphasis has been put on access and not enough on learning achievements. Danger that we shall say the same on secondary in future
lesson 4 role of the state
Lesson 4: Role of the State
  • Significant expansion of secondary education require that the state plan it and that the public sector finance it, at central or community level .
  • Could communities play the same role in Africa as they did in the US?
some more recent trends relevant for secondary education in africa
Some more recent trends relevant for secondary education in Africa


  • Goals and structure of secondary education
  • Curriculum changes
  • Enhance quality of learning
  • Monitoring quality
  • Governance
  • Cost and finance

Relevance to Africa will be signaled**

goals of secondary education
Goals of secondary education
  • Secondary education builds on primary education and enhance learning with the view to:
    • Providing basic and general education for further learning **
    • Starting prepare young people for the world of work **
    • Inculcating cultural and ethical values to prepare them to become active citizen **
  • At lower secondary the emphasis is on providing basic, general citizenship education. **
  • At upper secondary, preparation for higher education and/or the world of work becomes more important. **
  • Secondary education should be accessible to all. It should be adapted to the needs of the individuals so as to develop each student’s potentials; **
structure of secondary education
Structure of secondary education
  • Practically all countries offer basic education in three stages : primary, lower secondary and upper secondary
  • Efforts are made to smooth the transition from primary to lower secondary **, and from lower to upper secondary .
  • There are several models of lower secondary
    • Nordic model: integrating primary and lower sec
    • English model : integrating lower and upper sec
    • German speaking model: diversified lower sec
    • US model : continuous integration from primary to upper sec

The overall trend is toward comprehensive lower sec **

structure of secondary education1
Structure of secondary education
  • The Nordic model which emphasizes the connection between primary and lower secondary, is worth studying for Africa **:
    • combining the curriculum ,
    • keeping students in the same school, ** sometimes in the same class;
    • lower secondary teachers teaching several subjects; **
structure of secondary education2
Structure of secondary education
  • At upper secondary there is a great variety of structure and no real trends emerge.
  • Most European countries have a large proportion of their student body in technical and vocational schools at upper sec.
  • A trend is to -increase the age when students specialize

-encourage work base experience

  • More and more youngsters are also encouraged to continue at post secondary level ( blurring of the frontiers).
  • Q : School-based vocational education is expensive. Its size should depend on labor market needs. In the absence of well identified jobs, emphasis on generic skills in Africa may be more relevant for future livelihood than low quality vocational subjects
curriculum of secondary education
Curriculum of secondary education
  • All countries studied have a triple objective in terms of content. Curricula stress :
      • knowledge and skills in the traditional subject areas such as language, foreign language, mathematics, science **
      • Teaching and learning of personal skills and life skills **
      • Teaching and learning of ethical values **
  • More and more importance is attached to generic and process skills (communication skills, ability to solve problems, creative thinking, analytical skills, team work; how to learn, use information) **
  • A debate is going on what should be emphasized most:
      • The basics –literacy, numeracy, science, generic skills- vs the traditional content area to develop a ‘well rounded human being”
      • How basic should the basics be? **
curriculum of secondary education1
Curriculum of secondary education
  • Lower secondary :
    • the number of compulsory subjects varies from 7 to 15. Some countries try to regroup them in learning areas to reduce the dispersion. **
    • Yet options are increasingly offered
    • emphasize transversal and process skills deserve attention
      • Q: How to prepare students so that they can fit into various possibilities when leaving school? **
      • Q: How to develop their competence so that they can respond to change? **
ensuring quality and relevance
Ensuring quality and relevance
  • All OECD countries are concerned with increasing quality
      • To improve learning achievements
      • To be more competitive
      • To retain more students in schools until the end of secondary
  • Quality is no longer a question of bringing more inputs and raising costs. Efforts are made to
      • professionalize teachers **
      • give them more autonomy to innovate **
      • develop new teaching methods (team work, projects..) **
      • bring them more support (inspection, school based support **, assistant teachers ** );
      • Provide individual support to students (instead of repetition)
      • increase ICT
ensuring quality and relevance1
Ensuring quality and relevance
  • Quality is increasingly considered as an issue of management and accountability : more responsibility is devoted to local levels and to schools **
  • Develop standards and monitor learning achievements **
  • Developing a system of quality assurance:
      • School self evaluation **
      • Evaluation by an external body **
      • The two combined
management of secondary education
Management of secondary education
  • Decentralization is a mantra in OECD countries ; but there are as many different ways of decentralizing as there are countries (different functions are decentralized to different bodies : regional or school)
  • Teacher management, financial management are decentralized in an increasing number of countries
  • School based management is gaining momentum
  • But some functions remain centralized/or are recentralized in certain countries (policy, curriculum framework and standards, monitoring and quality assurance, examinations)
  • Centralization works better with a strong centre
  • African countries will try to achieve what European countries have taken more than 100 years to achieve .
  • The context has changed and countries need to move faster
  • Strong and tough decisions will have to be taken which go beyond financial resources : they have to do with changing the content, changing behavior, changing teaching and management practices . African countries can be inspired by some of the OECD reforms, adapting them to their own context.
  • Briseid O., Caillods F. 2004. Trends in industrialized countries : are they relevant for African countries. IIEP UNESCO .
  • Coulombe S. , Tremblay F. and Marchant S. 2004 : Enquête internationale sur l’alphabétisation des adultes; performance en litératie, capital humain et croissance dans 14 pays de l’OCDE . Ottawa , statistics , Canada
  • Lewin K., Caillods F. : Financing secondary education in developing countries ; strategies for sustainable growth IIEP UNESCO 2001
  • OECD 2005 : Education at a glance.