Innovation in the public sector in general, and in education in particular, could be a major driver for significant welfare gains. Innovations to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of such a large area of government spending could yield important benefits.
Innovation in Education
Innovation in education is a highly contentious issue. Talking to education ministers one quickly gets the impression that education systems, in general, are very reluctant to innovate, and that there is strong resistance to change among teachers. Education is sometimes perceived as one of the most conservative social systems and public policy fields. But talking to teachers gives one the opposite idea – that there are too many changes imposed on them
without much consultation or the necessary preconditions for successfully implementing change. In some countries, innovative change has been implemented without the care and diligence needed or the appropriate prior testing, experimentation and evaluation.
This controversy should not deter us from looking at the facts. And the facts clearly demonstrate that education systems are running up against very serious problems which, if left untouched, could result in serious risks not only for education itself but also for future economic growth, social progress and well-being. Since the mid-20th century, education systems have expanded enormously and human populations have never been more highly educated than today. Emerging economies and developing countries are now also relentlessly expanding their education systems, seeing education as an indispensable ingredient of modernisation and progress. Indeed, the benefits to individuals and societies of ever more education remain very impressive. Yet, although many policymakers may consider the continued expansion in numbers as the best route forward, a closer look into the data reveals that this may as well lead us into difficulties.
The problem education is facing is mainly one of productivity and efficiency. Here, efficiency means the balance between resources invested and the outcomes in terms of students’ performance and equity. Over the past decades, ever more resources have been invested in education.
The problem of productivity and efficiency in education is even more striking when education is compared with other public policy sectors, which have realised enormous productivity gains in the past decades. In sectors such as health, technology has been a major driver of increased productivity and efficiency with much improved outcomes even if the cost has also gone up. Many observers wonder why enormous advances in technology has not yet led to similar improvements in education. Governments have invested a lot in bringing technology, mainly information and communications technology (ICT), to schools.
Innovation in Education as Part of Innovation in Economies and Societies.
In the last few decades, innovation, in general, has been increasingly regarded as a crucial factor in maintaining competitiveness in a globalised economy. Innovation can breathe new life into slowing stagnant markets, and act as a mechanism to enhance an organisation’s ability to adapt to changing environments. Both policies and theories on innovation have mainly focused on the business sector. Businesses need to innovate in order to keep up with their competition by introducing new products or services, improving the efficiency of their production processes and organisational arrangements, or enhancing the marketing of their activities in order to guarantee their survival.
Much more recently, policy interest has extended this “innovation imperative” from private organisations to the provision of public services. Although public services, including education, tend neither to operate within competitive markets nor have the same incentives to innovate as businesses do, there are important arguments to push for innovation in education to maximise the value of public investment. Several recent national innovation strategies include provisions for more innovation in the public sector (such as Australia, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom). Demographic pressures, burgeoning demand for government services, higher public expectations and ever-tighter fiscal constraints mean that the public sector needs innovative solutions to enhance productivity, contain costs and boost public satisfaction.
Why Innovation in Education Matters
How could innovation add value in the case of education? First of all, educational innovations can improve learning outcomes and the quality of education provision. For example, changes in the educational system or in teaching methods can help customise the educational process. New trends in personalised learning rely heavily on new ways of organising schools and the use of ICT.
Second, education is perceived in most countries as a means of enhancing equity and equality. Innovations could help enhance equity in the access to and use of education, as well as equality in learning outcomes.
Third, public organisations are often under as much pressure as businesses to improve efficiency, minimise costs and maximise the “bang for the buck”. There has been a tendency for costs in all public services to rise faster than those
in the rest of the economy, and education is no exception. While this could be attributed to a “cost disease, inherent to any public-service provision which faces ever-rising labour costs and limited scope for transformative productivity gains, this may also be due to a lack of innovation. Innovation, then, could stimulate the more efficient provision of these services.
Finally, education should remain relevant in the face of rapid changes to society and the national economy. The education sector should, therefore, introduce the changes it needs to adapt to societal needs. For example, education systems need to adopt teaching, learning or organisational practices that have been identified as helping to foster “skills for innovation”.
Improvements in education can be perceived differently depending on which objective is examined or on the point of view of the observer. Moreover, cultural values, social policies and political goals can mean countries prioritise these
objectives differently. Priorities can also change over time as circumstances and citizens’ expectations change.
The article is a part of the document: OECD (2016), Innovating Education and Educating for Innovation: The Power of Digital Technologies and Skills, OECD Publishing, Paris. (pp 12-17) http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264265097-en
The picture on the top: Bruno Scramgnon
Categories: Education, Technology, Future work