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Improving evidence on vocational education and training (VET): OECD’s new International VET Assessment

By Andreas Schleicher || El Iza Mohamedou, , OECD

8 Apr 2023

OECD Education and Skills Today || Global perspectives on education and skills || By Andreas Schleicher OECD Director for Education and Skills and El Iza Mohamedou, Head of the OECD Centre for Skills VET is essential, but comparative data are lacking

Vocational Education and Training (VET) is a vital part of a country’s education system. It contributes to meeting the skill demands of the economy and provides an alternative route to academic learning for young people and adults. There is ample evidence that shows that high-quality vocational programmes smooth school-to-work transitions and contribute to reducing dropout rates. However, in contrast to general schooling, which has benefited in recent decades from considerable coverage by international large-scale assessments, there is very little internationally comparative data available for VET.

More than one in three 15- to 19-year-olds in upper-secondary education are enrolled in vocational programmes across OECD countries and 17% of first-time entrants into tertiary education are in short-course programmes that are mostly professional in nature.

The lack of comparative assessment data on vocational programmes is constraining countries in evaluating their performance in this area and learning from international best practices. Currently, comparative data on VET are patchy, and often do not go much beyond enrolment and labour market outcomes data (if any). There is increasing demand from policy makers for data that would enable them, for example, to compare relative achievement status by country and VET domain, identify policy implications in one VET system from determinants of achievement in others and consider per student expenditures and outcomes in one VET system compared to another.

Building on Programme for International Student Assessment(PISA) to assess the professional skills of learners in VET programmes .

To meet this demand and to fill these important data gaps, the OECD is starting the international VET assessment initiative, commonly referred to as PISA-VET. Building on its PISA assessment experience and its VET policy experience, the OECD has begun working with a range of countries and experts to develop an international assessment of the professional skills of learners in VET programmes. As part of its development phase – in which the feasibility of the new assessment will be tested – the initiative will focus on learners that are about to complete their initial vocational programmes in the fields of i) business and administration, ii) car mechatronics, iii) electrician, iv) healthcare, and v) tourism and hospitality. The assessment will focus on professional skills, including practice-oriented or technical skills as well as employability skills.

Over the course of the next two years, the OECD will collaborate with the participating countries and experts to refine the focus of the assessment in terms of “who will be assessed?”, “what will be assessed?”, and “how will they be assessed?”. At the end of the two-year development phase, a framework document answering these questions will be prepared, as well as a first set of proven and valid assessment instruments. Depending on the outcomes of the development phase, the initiative will then enter its pilot phase.

This initiative builds on a range of national and industry-specific efforts to measure applied skills, but it would be the first time to apply these methods at scale and across countries. PISA-VET has the potential to pay huge dividends in terms of improving the labour-market relevance, quality and social status of vocational education and training. To achieve these benefits, the OECD and its members, but also the industries whose skills will be evaluated, must confirm the validity of the metrics and the international comparability of results that will come from this assessment. To address this, the OECD has established a step-by-step approach to the development of the assessment framework and the instruments with multiple opportunities for countries to review progress and decide on subsequent work.

These six key steps will help education systems become more equitable and inclusive – to the benefit of all students. This will help create greater multicultural awareness, support students with different backgrounds and needs to succeed, and better prepare students for life in an evolving world. As diversity in and out of the classroom is likely to continue to grow, it is crucial for policymakers and teachers to respond to the challenges.

Better data will contribute to improving the quality and attractiveness of VET

By assessing the professional skills of vocational learners, PISA-VET will help countries assess the quality of their VET programmes. Not only will the data allow for between-country comparison, it will also be possible to analyse differences between programmes with different design (e.g. school-based vs. work-based learning) and between learners with different characteristics – contributing to stronger and more inclusive systems. By collecting background data from learners and VET institutions, as well as system-level data, PISA-VET will greatly expand the variety and level of information collected.

The ultimate goal of PISA-VET is to improve VET, both in terms of quality and attractiveness. By giving due attention to this important part of the education system, the OECD and its partners are committed to making vocational programmes an attractive choice for learners regardless of their background– including young students who aspire to a particular profession, learners who want to use VET as a pathway into higher education and adults who are in need of upskilling or reskilling.

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