Summary on Education at Glance 2021

Summary on Education at Glance 2021

Written by Ivan Evstatiev

Edited by Olga Ruiz Pilato 




Nowadays, governments are looking more and more to international comparisons of education opportunities and outcomes as they develop policies to enhance individuals’ social and economic prospects as well as providing higher efficiency for schooling. The OECD Directorate for Education and Skills contributes to these efforts by developing and analysing the quantitative, internationally comparable indicators that are published annually in ‘Education at a Glance’.

Education at a Glance helps a range of users, from governments to the general public, to find out more about the quantity of world-class students their country produces. This publication examines the quality of learning outcomes, the policy levers and contextual factors that shape these outcomes, and the broader private and social returns that accrue to educational investments. 

Education at a Glance is the product of a long-standing, collaborative effort between OECD governments, the experts and institutions working within the framework of the OECD Indicators of Education Systems (INES) programme, and the OECD Secretariat. This publication was prepared by the Innovation and Measuring Progress Division of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills’ staff. 

Despite the significant progress in recent years, country members and the OECD are still trying to make the best outcome of the data available and the policy needs. Firstly, indicators should respond to the education issues that are high on national policy agendas, for them to be comparable. On the other hand, the data should be as country specific as possible, so that there can be clear differentiation between cultures. Indicators need to be clear but should present the complex realities. Overall, the goal is to keep the indicators set small, but usable for different countries. 


The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our health, economic, and social sectors significantly. It has also exposed and highlighted some systemic weaknesses hampering genuine social mobility. Equality of opportunity is a key ingredient for a strong and cohesive democratic society. Unlike policies that address the consequences, education can tackle the sources of inequality of opportunity, by creating a more level playing field for people of all ages to acquire the skills that power better jobs and better lives.

On average across OECD countries, a child from a disadvantaged family is expected to take five generations to reach the average national income. 

Gender, socio-economic status, and other factors, influence performance and trajectories. The theme of this edition of Education at a Glance is equality of opportunity for access, participation, and progression in education. It includes a spotlight on COVID-19 by exploring measures implemented to ensure continuity and equitable learning during school disruptions.

Differences in educational progress and outcomes

Students with a more difficult background face greater challenges adapting to the changes imposed by the pandemic. School closures have tended to last longer in countries with lower learning outcomes. Moreover, disadvantaged children are less likely to have access to adequate tools for remote learning, a quiet place to study at home, or the support of their parents or guardians.

Those students without at least one tertiary-educated parent are more likely to enrol in upper secondary vocational programs than in general ones and less likely to complete the level. In 2020, the unemployment rate of young adults that had not completed upper secondary education was almost twice as high as for those with higher qualifications.

Children from immigrant backgrounds are at a disadvantage when it comes to access to and participation in education. Labour market outcomes vary greatly for foreign-born adults with different levels of education. A report by the OECD states that gender disparities persist and influence educational trajectories and opportunities in the labour market. Boys are more likely to repeat a grade and less likely to complete upper secondary education. Even though women outnumber men in participation to formal adult learning, men still tend to earn more and are more likely to be employed. 

Rethinking equity in education in today’s digital world

Comparisons show that improved social mobility and better equality of opportunity is indeed possible, with lessons from the most equitable education systems highlighting the importance of starting early, so that children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, acquire solid foundations, including cognitive, social and emotional skills, and a sustained habit of learning which will carry them through life. 

Towards this, investment in teachers is needed to develop capacity in understanding individual students’ needs. However, while 94% of teachers across the OECD countries participating in the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) reported having participated in continuous professional development activities over the past 12 months, only around 20% reported participating in training on teaching in a multicultural or multilingual setting, with significant cross-country variation. 

Technology is changing the whole education sector. During the pandemic, it was noticed that there was stress in the students without access to adequate tools for regular learning. On the other hand, technology can make learning more granular, more adaptive, and more interactive for students. It can help teachers better understand how different students learn differently and it can assist educational systems better match resources to needs.

We know that preparing students for lifelong learning is key to ensuring they are resilient to mega trends and shocks. Participation in adult learning by low skilled individuals is 40 percentage points below that of high-skilled adults. Older adults are 25 percent less likely to train than 25–34-year-olds.

Introduction: The indicators and their framework

The organising framework

Education at a Glance 2021: OECD Indicators provide a comprehensive, comparable, and up-to-date set of indicators that represent a professional agreement on how to assess the current level of education throughout the world. The indicators give data on the human and financial resources spent in education, as well as the operation and evolution of educational and learning systems. The indicators are organized in a framework that separates the many actors in education as seen below. (Figure A).

The OECD’s Indicators of Education Systems (INES) program aims to assess how well national education systems are performing. Many crucial characteristics, however, may only be measured through a knowledge of learning outcomes and their links to inputs and processes at the individual and institutional levels.

To account for this, the first dimension of the organising framework distinguishes the three levels of actors in education systems: 

• Education systems.

• Providers of educational services (institutions, schools), as well as the instructional setting within those institutions (classrooms, teachers).

• Individual participants in education and learning, the students. These can be either children or young adults undergoing initial schooling and training, or adults pursuing lifelong learning programs.

Indicator groups 

The second dimension of the organising framework further groups the indicators into three categories: 

• Indicators on the output, outcomes, and impact of education systems: Outcome indicators examine the direct effects of the output of education systems, such as the employment and earning benefits of pursuing higher education. 

• Indicators on the participation and progression within education entities: These indicators assess the likelihood of students accessing, enrolling in, and completing different levels of education, as well as the various pathways followed between types of programs and across education levels.

• Indicators on the input into education systems or the learning environment: These indicators provide information on the policy levers that shape the participation, progression, outputs, and outcomes at each level. 

Indicator analysis using the framework 

This versatile framework can be used to understand the operation and functioning of any educational entity, from an education system to a specific level of education or programme, or even a smaller entity, such as a classroom. This versatility is important because many features of education systems have varying impacts at different levels of the system. 

The analysis of each element of the framework and the interplay between them contribute to understanding a variety of policy perspectives:

• quality of education outcomes and education opportunities

• equality of education outcomes and equity in education opportunities

• adequacy, effectiveness, and efficiency of resources invested in education 

• relevance of education policy measures to improve education outcomes. 

Sustainable Development Goal 4 

Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seeks to ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education”. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization oversees the education SDG agenda. The OECD’s education programs have a key role to play in the achievement of – and measuring progress towards – SDG 4 and its targets. 

Equity in Education at a Glance 2021

Equity in education means access, participation, and progression to obtain a quality education are available to all. A new indicator sheds light on how resource allocation mechanisms can support efforts towards greater equity in schools among students. The second indicator analyses the equity between teachers. Maintaining equity has been particularly challenging in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Table A. Indicators including an analysis of equity in Education at a Glance 2021, by equity dimension


Indicator number 


Equity dimensions 


Socioeconomic status 

Country of origin 


Chapter A:  The output of educational institutions and the impact of learning 


To what level have adults studied? 






Transition from education to work: Where are today’s youth? 






How does educational attainment affect participation in the labour market? 






What are the earnings advantages from education? 






What are the financial incentives to invest in education? 






How are social outcomes related to education? 





Indicator number 


Equity dimensions 


Socioeconomic status 

Country of origin 



To what extent do adults participate equally in education and learning? 





Chapter B:  Access to education, participation and progression 


Who participates in education? 






How do early childhood education systems differ around the world? 





Who is expected to graduate from upper secondary education? 






Who is expected to enter tertiary education? 






Who is expected to graduate from tertiary education? 






What is the profile of internationally mobile students? 





Chapter C: Financial resources invested in education 


How much is spent per student on educational institutions? 






What proportion of national wealth is spent on educational institutions? 






How much public and private investment in educational institutions is there? 






What is the total public spending on education? 






How much do tertiary students pay and what public support do they receive? 






On what resources and services is education funding spent? 





Which factors influence the salary cost of teachers per student? 





Chapter D: Teachers,  the learning environment and the organisation  of schools 


How does time spent by students in the classroom vary over the years? 






What is the student-teacher ratio and how big are classes? 





How much are teachers and school heads paid? 






How much time do teachers and school heads spend teaching and working? 





Who are the teachers? 






How are public funds allocated to schools? 






What proportion of teachers leave the teaching profession? 





Reader’s guide

Coverage of the statistics

Although a lack of data still limits the scope of the indicators in many countries, the coverage extends, in principle, to the entire national education system. Vocational and technical training in the workplace is not included in the basic education expenditure and enrolment data. Educational activities classified as “adult” or “non-regular” are covered. More information on the coverage of the indicators can be found in the OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparable Statistics on Education.

Comparability over time

The indicators in Education at a Glance are the result of a continuous process of improvement aimed at improving the robustness and international comparability of the indicators. When analysing indicators over time, it is strongly advised to do so within the most recent edition only, rather than comparing data across different editions.

Country coverage

This publication features data on education from all OECD countries; two partner countries that participate in the INES programme, namely Brazil and the Russian Federation; and other partner G20 and OECD accession countries that are not INES members (Argentina, the People’s Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa). 

Note on subnational regions 

When interpreting the results on subnational entities, readers should consider their population as well as their geographical size. Additionally, national and subnational entities are referred to as “countries” and “economies” throughout the publication. Territorial and subnational entities are referred to throughout the publication by their subnational name and country, e.g., England (United Kingdom).

Calculation of international means

The main purpose of Education at a Glance is to provide an authoritative compilation of key international comparisons of education statistics. While overall values are given for countries in these comparisons, readers should not assume that countries themselves are homogeneous. The country averages include significant variations among subnational jurisdictions, much as the OECD average encompasses a variety of national experiences. 

Classification of levels of education

The classification of levels of education is based on the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), an instrument for compiling statistics on education internationally. ISCED 2011 was formally adopted in November 2011 and is the basis of the levels presented in this publication. Table B lists the ISCED 2011 levels used in Education at a Glance 2021 (OECD/Eurostat/UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2015[4]). 

Terms used in this publication 

ISCED classification  

Early childhood education 

Refers to early childhood programmes that have an intentional education component and aim to develop cognitive, physical and socio-emotional skills necessary for participation in school and society. Programmes at this level are often differentiated by age. 

ISCED 0 (sub-categories: 01 for early childhood educational development and 

02 for pre-primary education) 

Primary education 

Designed to provide a sound basic education in reading, writing and mathematics and a basic understanding of some other subjects. Entry age: between 5 and 7. Typical duration: six years. 


Lower secondary education 

Completes provision of basic education, usually in a more subject-oriented way with more specialist teachers. 

Programmes may differ by orientation, general or vocational, though this is less common than at upper secondary level. Entry follows completion of primary education and typical duration is three years. In some countries, the end of this level marks the end of compulsory education. 


Upper secondary education 

Stronger specialisation than at lower secondary level. Programmes offered are differentiated by orientation: general or vocational. Typical duration is three years. 


Post-secondary non-tertiary education 

Serves to broaden rather than deepen the knowledge, skills and competencies gained in upper secondary level. 

Programmes may be designed to increase options for participants in the labour market, for further studies at tertiary level or both. Programmes at this level are usually vocationally oriented. 


Short-cycle tertiary education 

Often designed to provide participants with professional knowledge, skills and competencies. Typically, they are practically based, occupation-specific and prepare students to enter the labour market directly. They may also provide a pathway to other tertiary education programmes (ISCED levels 6 or 7). The minimum duration is two years. 


Bachelor’s or equivalent level 

Designed to provide participants with intermediate academic and/or professional knowledge, skills and competencies, leading to a first degree or equivalent qualification. Typical duration: three to four years full-time study. This level is referred to as “bachelor’s” in the publication. 


Master’s or equivalent level 

Stronger specialisation and more complex content than bachelor’s level. Designed to provide participants with advanced academic and/or professional knowledge. May have a substantial research component. 

Programmes of at least five years’ duration preparing for a long-first degree/qualification are included at this level if they are equivalent to a master’s level programme in terms of their complexity and content. This level is referred to as “master’s” in the publication. 


Doctoral or equivalent level 

Designed to lead to an advanced research qualification. Programmes at this level are devoted to advanced study and original research, and exist in both academic and professional fields. This level is referred as “doctoral” in the publication. 


In some indicators, intermediate programs are also used. These correspond to recognised qualifications from ISCED 2011 level programs which are not considered as sufficient for ISCED 2011 completion and are classified at a lower ISCED 2011 level.

Standard error (S.E.) 

Some of the statistical estimates presented in this report are based on samples of adults, rather than values that could be calculated if every person in the target population in every country had answered every question. Therefore, each estimate has a degree of uncertainty associated with sampling and measurement error, which can be expressed as a standard error. In this report, the result for the corresponding population would lie within the confidence interval in 95 out of 100 replications of the measurement on different samples drawn from the same population.

Symbols for missing data and abbreviations 

These symbols and abbreviations are used in the tables and figures: 

a Data are not applicable because the category does not apply.

b There is a break in the series. 

c There are too few observations to provide reliable estimates. 

d Includes data from another category. 

m Data are not available – it is either missing or the indicator could not be computed due to low respondent numbers. 

q Data have been withdrawn at the request of the country concerned. 

r Values are below a certain reliability threshold and should be interpreted with caution.

x Data are included in another category or column of the table (e.g. x(2) means that data are included in Column 2 of the table). 

The statistical software used in the computation of indicators in this publication may result in slightly different values past the fourth significant digit after the decimal point when compared to national statistics.

Abbreviations used in this report 

AES Adult Education Survey 

ECEC Early childhood education and care 

EEA European Economic Area 

ESS European Social Survey

GDP Gross domestic product

ICT Information and communication technologies

ISCED International Standard Classification of Education LFD Master’s long-first degree 

NEET Neither employed nor in education or training 

NPV Net present value

PIAAC Survey of Adult Skills PISA Programme for International Student Assessment 

PPP Purchasing power parity 

R&D Research and development 

S.E. Standard error STEM Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics 

TALIS Teaching and Learning International Survey

UIS UNESCO Institute of Statistics 

UOE Refers to the data collection managed by the three organisations, UNESCO, OECD, Eurostat 

VET Vocational education and training


Achieving basic education and equitable education outcomes is still a challenge 

Young adults are required to have a minimal level of education in order to contribute effectively to society. In nearly a quarter of OECD nations, at least 10% of school-aged kids were not in school in 2019. Gender and place of origin had less of an influence on 15-year-olds’ reading ability than socio-economic background. Young adults who had not finished upper secondary education had nearly double the unemployment rate as those with higher degrees in 2020.

Immigrant background tends to influence learning trajectories while employment prospects of foreign-born adults vary greatly across countries

Being a first-or-second-generation immigrant affects students’ likelihood of completing upper secondary education. In most OECD countries, employment rates are lower among tertiary-educated foreign-born adults than among their native-born peers. The opposite is often observed among those with lower educational attainment.

Financial support can facilitate access to non-compulsory levels of education

On average, educational institutions spent USD 9 300 per student at the pre-primary level, USD 10 500 at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary non-tertiary level, and USD 17 100 at the tertiary level across nations. In most OECD nations, the public sector supports 90 percent of total expenditure on basic and secondary education, which is typically obligatory. In certain nations, when a bachelor’s degree costs more than USD 4,000, at least 60% of students received a government grant, scholarship, or government-backed commercial loan. However, public financing for basic through higher education has been increasing. It grew by 10% between 2012 and 2018, albeit at a slower rate than overall government spending (12%) during the same time period.

The rise in education of recent decades has not benefited men as much as women 

Young men are more likely than young women to lack an upper secondary qualification on average across OECD countries. Men are also less likely to enter and graduate from tertiary education. Women are less likely than men to enter a STEM field of study, although this share has increased.

Men are less likely to enter and remain in the teaching profession

Between 2005 and 2019, the gender gap among teachers widened at the primary and secondary levels and narrowed at the tertiary level. In 2019, less than 5% of pre-primary teachers were men, compared to 18% at primary level, 40% at upper secondary level and more than 50% at tertiary level on average. While female teachers’ average real salaries are equivalent to or greater than full-time, tertiary-educated female employees’ average wages, primary and secondary male teachers earn just 76-85 percent of full-time, tertiary-educated male workers’ typical earnings.

Youth in the Education Sustainable Development Goal

Ensuring equity in school participation 

Participation in early childhood education and care 

The SDG 4 agenda reaffirms the importance of children’s participation in ECEC, by dedicating an entire target (4.2) to “ensuring that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education”. Indicator 4.2.2, in particular, investigates the participation rate in organised learning one year before the official starting age. As shown in Figure 1, on average across OECD countries, about 95% of boys and girls are enrolled in ECEC one year before the official primary school entry age. There is, however, significant cross-country variation, with values ranging from less than 80% in Saudi Arabia and Turkey to at least 99% for both genders in Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Figure 2. Upper secondary out-of-school rate (2005 and 2019) 

SDG Indicator 4.1.4, in per cent 

One way the SDG agenda monitors participation in education is through out-of-school rates, which are defined as the percentage of children in the official age range for a given level of education who are not enrolled in school (SDG Indicator 4.1.4). As shown in Figure 2, on average across OECD countries, there is a 7% upper secondary out-of-school rate. While most nations managed to keep the proportion of out-of-school kids below 5% in 2019, almost a quarter of OECD and partner countries still had a high proportion of out-of-school youth in 2019 (over 10%). With nearly 25% of upper secondary school-aged kids not enrolled, Mexico has the highest out-of-school rates among all OECD and partner nations.

Figure 3. Reading performance and gender, ESCS and immigrant status parity indices (2018) 

SDG Indicator 4.1.1: Proportion of 15-year-olds achieving at least a proficiency level 2 (PISA) 

Students’ reading performance also varies significantly by socio-economic background. On average across OECD countries, the percentage of students achieving PISA level 2 is around 30% lower for students from the bottom quartile of the PISA economic, social, and cultural status (ESCS) index than for students from the top quartile.

Figure 4. Percentage of lower secondary teachers who participated in professional development in the following areas in the 12 months prior to the survey (2018) 

SDG Indicator 4.c.7, in per cent 

SDG Indicator 



Participation rate in organised learning one year before the official starting age 


Upper secondary out-of-school rate 


Proportion of children and young people at the end of lower secondary achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in reading and mathematics 


Parity indices for all education indicators that can be disaggregated 


Percentage of teachers who received in-service training in the last 12 months by type of training 

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