Behind the Data: OECD's Education at a Glance Report
The OECD's Education at a Glance report is the authoritative source for accurate data and analysis on the state of education around the world. We've partnered with OECD to challenge designers and programmers to visualize the economic costs and returns on education. The winner will receive a $2,500 cash prize courtesy of GE and be invited to attend the OECD Forum in Paris in May 2013. As part of the challenge, we've asked one of the experts at OECD to explain the process of collecting this data and to suggest some avenues for research and visualization.
Visualizing: The OECD collects data on education from countries around the world. What is the scope of this data, and how do you manage to collect and normalize it for country-to-country comparisons?
Andreas Schleicher: OECD’s education data is collected through the ‘Indicators of Educational Systems’ (INES) programme in which OECD member countries, its key partners and other G20 countries collaborate. Most of the indicators are based on annual data collections: the UNESCO, OECD and Eurostat (UOE) survey (data on the enrolment of students, new entrants, graduates in various levels of education, educational personnel, class size, educational finance, and other aspects of education); the OECD NESLI data collection (teachers and the curriculum, collecting data on instruction time, teaching and working time of teachers); and the OECD LSO data collections (labour market outcomes, transitions from education to work, and earnings). All these data collections are based on international and standardised definitions and methodologies (such as the international Standard Classification of Education, ISCED or the UNESCO/OECD/Eurostat manual on education systems), discussed and agreed with representative of all countries, and these ensure the comparability and consistency of data across countries.
V: What are the specific advantages and difficulties unique to working with data of this scope? What sorts of insights can we pull out of the data?
AS: Data published in Education at a Glance provide an authoritative source for accurate and relevant information on the performance of the education systems around the world. The challenges faced by 21st century economies and societies are daunting: addressing the human and social consequences of an international financial crisis, meeting development goals, encouraging green growth and responding to climate change, ageing societies and the knowledge economy. Education is a critical part of any response. Skills increase both wealth and well-being. Our research shows that people who complete upper secondary education are much more likely to be employed, earn more or report good health than those who do not. Yet education systems differ a lot in their capacity of providing equitable educational opportunities – starting in early childhood, and continuing throughout life.
V: The OECD/Visualizing.org challenge focuses on the economic investments and returns associated with education. How are these values calculated?
AS: All indicators and data published are based on international and standardised concepts and definitions. The methodology used for the computation of indicators is also standardised. The difficulty for the calculation rests on the fact that it should be complex enough to grasp the specificities of the education systems of the different countries participating but also ensure the comparability of data between countries. For example the ‘net present value’ indicator – representing the total net value (lifetime benefits minus costs) over a lifetime – of an education qualification is computed by adding gross earnings, grants and the unemployment effect, and distracting foregone earnings, taxes and social contribution effects. All cash flows are discounted back to the beginning of the investment with a set interest rate.
V: What are some useful tips for designers working with this data?
- Interpretation of data should always be made carefully, taking into account the specificities of the definitions and methodologies used, and also the context.
- Quantitative data published should be complemented with analysis and qualitive information provided in the different publications.
- Use and interpretation of trend data is complex due to possible changes in methodologies and contexts and therefore trend data developed in the database are the only one ensuring the comparability and consistency over time.
- Data collections and indicators computation on education implies that the reference years used for these indicators are always one or two years back in time.