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updated 10/14/2003 2:50:50 PM ET 2003-10-14T18:50:50

Teacher shortages threaten the future of school education in many of the developed economies, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said on Tuesday. In most countries in the group of industrialized nations surveyed for a new report, Education at a Glance 2003, many primary school teachers were over the age of 40. In Italy and Germany most secondary school teachers were over 50, leading to fears that the teaching population is not being replaced.

“It is very important to have policies put in place to attract new teachers,” said Eric Charbonnier, OECD education expert, launching the report in Paris.

Secondary schools in 14 OECD countries showed an average of 12 percent of teaching posts to be vacant at the start of the 2001/2002 school year, with many full- and part-time teachers failing to comply with official training requirements.

In the five-years between 1996 and 2001, teachers’ pay rates grew more slowly than gross domestic product per capita in most OECD countries - but rewards for the profession improved more in the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico and New Zealand.

The report also showed that neither small class sizes nor a higher level of state spending on education would necessarily bring better results - as measured in the OECD’s 2000 PISA study of literacy levels.

South Korea, which has displayed marked improvement at all levels of the education system, has large class sizes and relatively low public spending.

Korea had showed “spectacular” progress in reforming its education provision in the space of just one generation, an OECD researcher said.

Andreas Schliecher, OECD head of indicators and analysis, said the South Koreans had placed a strong emphasis on the value of education over the last decades, and as a result demand had driven up standards, largely through private spending by families. With public and private money taken together, Korea has top ranking for spending on education.

“There are countries like Germany, which spend a lot on education and did not do well in the Pisa study. And we see countries like Korea and Canada, [whose governments] spend moderately on the secondary level but performed well in the Pisa study,” Mr. Charbonnier said.

The study showed particular improvement in the proportion of 16-year-old South Koreans with enough qualifications to enter the labor market or move on to further or higher education (upper secondary qualifications).

Denmark and Sweden continue to spend the most public resources on their education systems, at 6.4 percent and 6.3 percent of GDP.

© The Financial Times Ltd 2010. "FT" and "Financial Times" are trademarks of the Financial Times.

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