For those of you interested in comparative research, I have just found via the Guardian’s Data Blog a fairly useful toy, that helps you visualise data across OECD/G20 countries and more; on topics including education, employment, migration, quality of life, poverty/inequality and others. It’s called Compare Your Country and can be found here.
The Guardian’s Sarah Marsh uses it to look at data from the Teaching and Learning International survey. As an exercise in sociological imagination, I took the opportunity to play with the data a little bit more.
According to their web page, TALIS is the first international survey programme to focus on the learning environment and the working conditions of teachers in schools. 31 countries- including the UK for the first time- have been surveyed in 2013, and the results can be found here. (It can also be embedded into websites; unfortunately WordPress won’t let me do this).
HOW TO USE:
Simply select the country you are interested in to compare it with the OECD average:
Another thing you can find on Compare your Country are 2012 PISA scores; follow this link and click on any country on the map to see detailed results.
Now, for example, the countries with the highest PISA scores in science are:
1. China (mainland)
2. Hong Kong
The UK ranks at no. 20, Sweden at 38, Quatar, Indonesia and Peru are at the very bottom.
With this in mind, we can go back to the TALIS data.
Now, say we want to compare Finland and Sweden, to understand why the discrepancy in PISA scores in science.
We’ve got a handy graph showing us how both countries compare to each other and OECD averages; now all we have to do is look for relevant information. (I have highlighted on the graph what seemed potentially interesting to me).
So, it looks like while class sizes are smaller in Finland, both countries have class sizes well below the OECD average. Teachers in Finland are younger than those in Sweden, but still older than average. The main difference seems to be in terms of training and experience: while the typical Swedish teacher has more years of experience than the typical Finnish teachers, Finnish teachers are much more likely to have tertiary education and teacher training.
Also notice that Swedish teachers are more likely to be employed with a permanent contract, but Finnish teachers more likely to work full-time. Could it be that teaching, being a particularly well-respected and reasonably well-paid profession in Finland, is a more competitive and selective field, which attracts better-qualified people- whom, in turn, achieve better results for their students?
Nonetheless, Finnish teachers are not particularly likely to participate in professional training (apart from observation visits to other schools, which 20% of Finnish teachers participate in ), so we can’t merely infer “teachers more up-to-date with latest teaching models and techniques = higher student achievement”.
The “use of time” tab shows a different aspect: Finnish teachers, compared to Swedish teachers as well as to pretty much everyone else, spend more time actually teaching and less time doing anything else.
Could it be the case that an organisational culture that allows teachers to focus on what they are best qualified for, instead of assigning them admin and organisational work that takes away necessary teaching time translates into (or at least has a positive effect on) better and more efficient teaching, which in turn means better outcomes by students? We would have to analyse and compare many more countries in order to infer it, and other factors about each country’s educational system would have to be taken into consideration, but it’s certainly food for thought.