• Opinion
  • 16 de May de 2024
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  • 7 minutes read

OECD 1 – UNESCO 0. Has employability taken over education?

OECD 1 – UNESCO 0. Has employability taken over education?


Has employability taken over education?


License Creative Commons


Enrique Benítez Palma


Forgive the football headline with which I have sought to draw your attention. In times of overrabundance of news and opinions, it seems inevitable to resort to such tricks or gimmicks to get a few readers. However, the underlying content is serious: why is the educational debate in Spain and in so many other countries increasingly revolving around the PISA Reports, produced by the OECD, and not so much around the documents of UNESCO, a more global, inclusive and education-focused organisation? In a context of increasing preoccupation with rankings, productivity, competence and results, it may be an interesting exercise for those concerned about education, with all its ramifications, to spend a few minutes reflecting on this question.

First of all, let us remember that the OECD is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Founded in 1961, it is currently made up of 38 states and its interests are mainly related to the economy. Hence, its areas of interest include both education and the skills needed for a good job performance. Economic development researchers have proven that there is a leap in quality when an age cohort has access to secondary education, and of course a good economic use of a country’s resources and opportunities depends on achieving high employment rates and skilled jobs.

Thus, the OECD itself explains on its website that its work on education helps individuals and nations identify and develop the knowledge and skills that drive better jobs and better lives, generate prosperity and promote social inclusion. Without neglecting digital skills, the organisation is now focusing on sustainability, stating that “education systems must redouble their efforts to develop young people’s environmental sustainability skills. Only around one out of three young people in OECD countries combine basic levels of scientific literacy with the attitudes and behaviours that enable them to be thoughtful consumers and future workers in the green economy”.

UNESCO, for its part, published in 2023 a new edition of its “Global Education Monitoring Report”, which has not had the media coverage of the waves of PISA Reports, despite the fact that it deals in depth with the hot topic of the use of technology(ies) in education. Some of its conclusions are highly relevant: it acknowledges that “reliable and unbiased data on the impact of educational technology are scarce“, recalls that “technology offers an educational lifeline to millions of people, but excludes many more“, and concludes that while “some educational technologies can enhance some kinds of learning in certain contexts”, it is no less true that technology in the classroom “can have detrimental effects if it is inappropriate or excessive“. On this last sentence, his references are specific national reports and also the PISA Reports.

In this reflection, it should not be overlooked that UNESCO is an organisation with its own dynamics. Founded in 1945, it has 193 members. South Africa withdrew in the mid-1960s, only to return under Nelson Mandela. The admission of Palestine in 2011 prompted Israel’s exit and the withdrawal of US funding. In 2023, the country expelled was Russia. The fundamental differences between the OECD and UNESCO are thus evident.

In order to explain these differences and delve into the different orientations of the reports of the two institutions, it is necessary to delve into history. In the book Global Governance of Education, Maren Elfert and Christian Ydesen look at the role of UNESCO, the OECD and the World Bank in the global governance of education since the post-war period. In the manner of Sergio Leone’s mythical film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, for these authors UNESCO is “the idealist”, the OECD is “the master of persuasion”, and the World Bank is “the master of coercion”. The humanist-idealist approach promoted by UNESCO since its creation (1945) was opposed from the mid-1950s (Cold War) by a conceptual framework centred on the idea of “human capital“. Indeed, UNESCO’s proposals for universal literacy were seen from the outset by the World Bank as a threat. Thus, the authors conclude, “while UNESCO promoted education as a right and a public good with intrinsic value, the World Bank viewed education primarily as a means to an end, that is, as an investment in productivity and economic growth. The OECD’s position is similar to that of the Bank, although there are periods in the OECD’s history when it has maintained a sort of mean between these two positions.

The dilemma between educating and training, therefore, has its genesis in the 1950s, and a clear ideological background. In subsequent articles we will explore other issues related to this first reflection.

Source: educational EVIDENCE

Rights: Creative Commons

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