OECD Forum Virtual Event: “Equity in Education: Unlocking Opportunities Throughout Life”

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As part of an OECD Forum series, our virtual event Equity in Education: Unlocking Opportunities Throughout Life will take place on Friday, 17 September 2021, 9:00 - 10:30 ET | 15:00 - 16:30 CEST—register your place now!

As part of an OECD Forum series, our virtual event Equity in Education: Unlocking Opportunities Throughout Life will take place on 17 September 2021 at—register your place now!

Education has been immensely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as children worldwide struggle with school closures and many adults are faced with the necessary task of reskilling. The pandemic has been an alarm for more than just equal opportunities; it’s also a plea for greater equity in the distribution of respect and status. Governments must rethink the ways they approach education, what skills are deemed valuable and how dignified work is defined.

Factors such as gender and socio-economic status influence educational performance and future career outcomes. School closures have tended to last longer in low-income countries that have lower learning performance. Disadvantaged children have had less access to adequate tools for online learning, and often lack quiet study environments and support of their parents. Such inequalities in education have lasting effects that reinforce persisting education gaps around the world.

OECD member countries are putting forth plans to change course. The United States, for example, aims to invest billions of dollars to address disparities in resources and funding distribution in schools across the country; it also intends to create over 800 community-based schools to give disadvantaged communities the resources they need to learn. Korea has provided internet subscription fee subsidies and free device rentals, and has expanded educational content on television, to ensure no student is left behind as new outbreaks threaten plans to return to in-person schooling in the fall.

Read the report: The State of School Education: One Year into the COVID Pandemic

Read the report: The State of School Education: One Year into the COVID Pandemic

Children aren’t the only demographic experiencing an education equity crisis. Even before the pandemic, governments faced the challenge of upskilling workers into new technological areas where quality job growth has emerged. On average, around one in two adults in OECD countries was already disengaged from adult learning before the pandemic. During COVID-19, digital literacy, in particular, has proved critical, with remote job postings surging along with the demand for digital skills. Workers who already mastered these skills, or had the means to learn them, could benefit—but many workers who lacked such skills were left behind.

A shift toward lifelong learning should be at the fore of an equitable education recovery. Lifelong learning allows individuals of any age to acquire the skills and knowledge needed in changing labour markets, and it makes people—and their societies—more resilient during times of global and economic crises. Yet access to lifelong learning remains unequal: higher skilled workers are more likely to have undertaken training than lower skilled workers, and COVID-19 has only made this trend worse. Women are also more likely than men to engage in formal adult learning, while older people continue to receive less training than other population groups when they often need it most.

Read the publication: Ten Principles for Effective and Equitable Educational Recovery from COVID

Read the publication: Ten Principles for Effective and Equitable Educational Recovery from COVID

Digitalisation is pushing many of these learning opportunities online, which poses challenges for some learners as well as for traditional vocational education providers. And whilst innovative competency-based “micro-credentials” represent promising and more accessible pathways, quality criteria and standards may prove needed to tame “the wild west of adult education”. To address their inconsistent returns and the pervasive outcome inequities for women and minorities that online credentialing has largely failed to solve, striking the right balance between accessibility, speed and flexibility, and the demands of both employers and learners will be essential. 

The COVID-19 crisis is also an opportunity to rethink how vocational professions are viewed, and valued. Meritocracy may have become the linchpin of societal worth, but the OECD finds that social mobility has stalled. In what the philosopher Michael Sandel describes as “the Tyranny of Merit”, blue-collar jobs tend to be seen as less worthy than those requiring post-secondary degrees. From nurses providing critical care to grocery store clerks keeping society running during lockdowns, the pandemic has shed light on the disconnect between the contributions of essential workers to the common good and the wages, working conditions and societal recognition earned in return.

More on the Forum Network: The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World by Adrian Wooldridge, Political editor & Bagehot columnist, The Economist
More on the Forum Network: The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World by Adrian Wooldridge, Political editor & Bagehot columnist, The EconomistMore on the Forum Network: The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World by Adrian Wooldridge, Political editor & Bagehot columnist, The Economist

In Sandel’s words, “credentialism” has become the last acceptable prejudice in increasingly discrimination-averse societies, with college degrees too often regarded as a precondition for dignified work and social esteem. This diploma divide not only devaluates the contributions of those without higher education, but also makes little economic sense. As a society, we need to do more to ensure that people can develop their skills and professional prospects through company initiatives, and redefine job listings so that unrealistic—and often unnecessary—degree expectations do not preclude individuals from being able to contribute productively and advance professionally.

The OECD Forum virtual event Equity in Education: Unlocking Opportunities Throughout Life will explore these topics, and ask the most pressing questions: How can we ensure that the COVID-19 crisis reshapes both our practices and attitudes toward education at all ages, for all career paths, and how can we create lasting solutions to ensure equity in education? Register your place now to join the discussion!

Willemien Bax

Head, OECD Forum, OECD

Willemien Bax is currently Head of the OECD Forum, the Organisation's largest annual public event. Ms Bax, a Dutch national, has over 20 years of experience in public affairs, working with governments, as well as non-governmental organisations and the private sector. Prior to joining the OECD, from 2001 to beginning 2010, Ms Bax worked with the European Consumers Organisation (BEUC) as Deputy Director-General where she oversaw BEUC’s public affairs and media relations strategies in a number of public policy areas ranging from transparency and governance to food, environment, health, economic and legal affairs. In 2004, she initiated a training programme financed by the European Commission, for all consumer organisations in the EU, as well as potential EU-candidate countries. The training focused on giving consumer organisations the tools to develop effective public affairs and communication strategies. In 2009, in her capacity as European Chair of the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, she contributed to debates on major international public policy issues such as financial regulation, innovation and energy efficiency.