Australian Bureau of Statistics
4160.0 - Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, 2001
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/10/2001
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Learning needs of the population - Understanding the kind and extent of learning needs and aspirations existing within the population can be essential to informing education and training policy. Measures of learning needs can form the basis for evaluating policy and programs aimed at improving access to education and training, and/or education and training activities, outputs and outcomes. Learning needs can be quantified or measured in a number of ways. For example, the perceived demand for skills in industry or the community can indicate learning needs, as can information about social and technological change. Different regions and population groups may have different learning needs, and the more accurately these can be identified, the more readily policy and programs can be tailored to meet specific demand. Employment, unemployment and underemployment measures, particularly where these are related to occupation, industry, age and regional information, may therefore also be useful indicators of learning needs. Self-reported learning needs or aspirations could usefully inform education and training policy for particular population groups such as school leavers or older people.
Access issues - Many access issues are discussed in the 'Social Issues and Population Groups' sections of this chapter, and mainly relate to factors which may prevent an individual from undertaking education and training activity. Measures that identify barriers to education and training, and the relative impact of these, are central to informing social policy.
Learning needs met / not met - Learning needs may not be met where barriers to education and training participation are encountered. In addition, learning needs may not be met due to the quality, adequacy or appropriateness of particular education and training activities. Measures relating to this part of the model therefore provide a means of evaluating education and training activity in terms of learning needs. Time series measures of the learning needs in particular regions or of particular groups may indicate whether needs have changed over time, or in response to education and training programs or policy initiatives.
Outcomes - Within the learning needs model, outcomes refer to broad level individual, social and economic outcomes (narrower, course specific outcomes,
e.g. specific skill attainments, are addressed as 'outputs' within the learning activity model outlined below). For individuals this might include improved labour market and financial outcomes or less material outcomes, such as improved self-esteem. Societal outcomes might be increased productivity, improvements in employment and wealth levels, or improved health in specific areas resulting from a more informed population. Greater cultural diversity and enhanced social capital can result from effective education and training activity. Negative outcomes are also included. Individuals who have not been able to access education and training may have decreased social capability. Inappropriate or inadequate education and training may result in underutilisation of skills in the labour market or disparity in the distribution of skills. Tolerance or social cohesion can be diminished where education and training fail to meet learning needs. The effectiveness of the transition of graduates into work is a key outcome measure as it reflects the success of the education process in terms of supplying the labour market.
A strong focus of measurement within the area of education and training relates to the contributing factors, processes and results associated with formal and non-formal education and training activity. The activity model represented below is therefore a central element of the Framework for Australian Education and Training Statistics. This model identifies participants and providers as contributing parties to education and training activities, as well as the resources needed for such activities to take place. Resources flow into the activity, and outputs and associated broader outcomes arise from the activity.
Learners - Individuals as learners are essential for education and training activity to occur. Characteristics of individuals, including demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, and other information such as whether or not individuals have a disability, provide contextual information against which outputs and outcomes can be better understood. Information about such things as motivation to participate in education, educational experiences, and levels of social capability can also be useful. Measures associated with this element of the framework can feed into program, curriculum and policy development. In the context of the total population, there may be people who are potential learners but have not been able to access education and training. The paths of these people are illustrated in the learning needs model.
Providers - Providers of education and training may be institutions, organisations, community education providers, small groups delivering informal education and training, or individuals. Information about the number, distribution, size, etc. of providers is integral to analysis of education and training infrastructure.
Resources - Human resources, physical resources and financial resources are also generally required for education and training activity to occur (in most cases all are necessary but in some cases learning can occur with only a learner and a physical resource). Measures of resources can support analysis of the funding and costs of education and training.
Activity - This element of the model refers to the actual education and training that takes place. It can include measures of characteristics of the education and training activity, such as the type of learning or learning program, (e.g. whether formal, such as schooling, or less formal such as workplace based training; or community based hobby courses). Other characteristics of interest could include mode of learning, (e.g. whether face to face, distance, on-line), the level of course being undertaken (e.g. whether higher educational degree or non-accredited certificate), or the duration and field of study. Education participation rates provide a measure of the number of people involved in a particular education and training activity, e.g. studying within a particular field, or studying through apprenticeships or work related training courses.
Outputs - This part of the model includes measures that relate to the initial results of the education and training activity. On an individual level this might include qualifications or courses completed, pieces of work completed, or specified competencies or increases in knowledge. Outputs might also include aggregate measures such as course completion rates for particular institutions.
Outcomes - Changes which occur as a result of outputs are considered outcomes of education and training activity. Outcomes in the education and training activity model include (and are consistent with) the broad social and individual outcomes described above in the learning needs model. A key outcome is the stock of human capital within the population. Field of completed qualification is also relevant, as it can be used to assess where there is an under or over supply of labour within particular occupation groups. The differentiation between outputs (e.g. completions), and outcomes (e.g. increased labour supply in particular occupations; improved health for particular population groups; greater productivity of the work force) allows broader outcomes of education and training to be mapped and used in evaluating education and training.
The models described above can be built on in order to acknowledge the broader social and economic context in which education and training activity occurs or does not occur. The diagram below extends the activity model by representing the individual's interaction with the wider environment as they make choices to enter or re-enter an education and training activity. It acknowledges that there is a dynamic relationship between education and training resources, the activities of learners and providers, outputs and outcomes, and the wider environment. For example, flows from the workforce back into training can be recognised. Measures of the phenomena of lifelong learning and ongoing re-skilling of the workforce are thus accommodated within the framework. Family, community and other social contexts are also acknowledged as interacting with participants at all stages. A similar representation of context could be applied to the learning needs model to allow analysis of the influence of the wider environment and social contexts on whether learning needs are met or not.
Measures that relate to physical, social and economic environments are context measures. These include measures relating to an individual's core community, to employers, government policy, community services, facilities and physical environment, or to the socioeconomic and cultural setting in which individuals live.
Two other context dimensions are particularly important in explaining education and training activity. First, time brings changes to the area of education and training that can affect all the above framework elements. Thus, both time series measures and longitudinal studies provide important contextual information. Series of comparable cross-sectional measures are needed to allow analysis of change in distributions over time. Longitudinal measures that track individuals through their education and training process throughout their life facilitate analysis of interaction between individuals, education and training activity, and the wider environment.
Second, geographic location is also important in understanding education and training. For example, policy relating to education and training may be usefully guided by geographic context information (e.g. training programs may be tailored to individuals living within particular socioeconomic environments, or in particular regions). Geographical location measures can be in terms of States and Territories and other defined geographic regions; the broader notion of location (e.g. urban vs rural, or domestic vs international comparisons).
The transaction model discussed in Chapter 1 can be a useful tool in analysing the complexity of all social exchanges relating to learning. It defines some key stakeholders (individuals, education providers, and the wider community) and traces the exchanges between them, highlighting the direct interactions between parties when learning takes place. The transaction model allows education and training processes and events to be viewed within the context of all learning. It therefore maps learning that is incidental, such as absorbing knowledge, social values, survival skills, or social behaviours from family, peers and life experience. Broad outcomes are highlighted. For instance, social capital outcomes, such as improved community cohesion, or trust; and psychological capital outcomes, such as improved self-management. Thus, an individual trained in first aid may be able to assist a neighbour in need, a person who has attended ethnic cooking classes may have a greater appreciation of different cultures, or a community may have a reduced need for residential care because people with disabilities have acquired independent living skills. Examples of education, training and learning transactions are shown below.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING MEASURES
Number and characteristics of participants - Learners, as represented in the models shown above, are often described as participants, and a range of data is available about educational participation relating to numbers of learners (discussed below as activity measures). Measures relating specifically to learners
(or participants) includes an extensive range of descriptive, demographic and sociodemographic variables about the individuals participating in education and training activities.
Number and characteristics of providers - Information about providers, such as schools and universities, available from ABS and other collections, variously include details of their number, by size, location (State/Territory), sector of industry (public or private) and various other descripitive characteristics.
Number of educators - School teachers, academics, training providers or any other people providing education or training are all regarded as educators. Their numbers can be measured either as the actual number of educators (number of persons employed), or as the full-time equivalent number of educators (actual amount of time worked divided by standard full-time hours). Full-time equivalent numbers allow for a better comparison between industries, or between students and educators. Some key measures include the number of school teachers employed in Australian schools and the number of non-teaching staff employed in schools (available through the National Schools Statistics Collection). Figures on academics are available from higher education collections. The number of people employed as educators, and the number of people employed in the education industry, are also key measures (available from a variety of collections which measure employment by occupation and industry, e.g. the Census of Population and Housing and the Labour Force Survey).
Earnings of educators - The cost of educators' earnings is a major factor in assessing the financial cost of education and training. In addition, it can also be seen as a measure of the changing worth of educators in our society, and as a means of comparing the financial returns from this occupation with occupations which require comparable qualifications.
Student to teacher ratios - Student/teacher ratios can indicate change in the level of resources going into education (relative to student numbers) over time or between different sectors. However, they are not a reliable indicator of class size as some teachers may have a component of their time which is non-contact, or may be resource teachers (e.g. librarians).
Government expenditure - Information on broad government expenditure in the education industry can show changing levels of government spending on education over time by presenting the level of education expenditure as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over a number of years. (Data on expenditure is primarily available through the public finance collection published by the ABS which collates information on State and Federal Governments' finances and releases information for certain categories, including education). The level of financial support given to individual students by the government to provide for living and/or education expenses is also a useful measure.
Private expenditure - Information on private expenditure can be in the form of measures relating to employer support for education and training, support provided by an individual's family, or by professional or union organisations. Information about the expenditure of individual households on the education and training of household members may also be a useful measure of private expenditure. Different kinds of support can be provided by employers, for example payment of HECS fees, paid study or training leave, in-house training, etc.
Participation - Measures of participation in education and training provide a picture at a point in time of the number of people actively involved in recognised education and training. Current educational attendance can be collected in conjunction with a number of other factors, such as level of qualification, field of study, whether the course taken is part-time or full-time, etc. When measured over time educational participation can provide insight into expected oversupplies or short-falls in the skills required by the labour force. Participation data can also assist in understanding unemployment rates, particularly for the youth population. Information about current training attendance is also valuable. This can include information on the subject matter of the training, whether the training is formal or informal, conducted within the workplace or externally, etc.
Apparent retention rates - The apparent retention rate is an estimate of the percentage of students of a given cohort who continued to a particular level or year of school education. The term 'apparent' is used as the exact paths of all school students are not tracked, rather, the number of students in year 10 or 12 is taken as a proportion of those who entered secondary school a number of years earlier. The rate does not account for those who migrated into or out of Australia in the measurement period, or allow for the impact of students repeating years. Nor can it account for the movement of students between State or Territory borders or between the government and non-government systems. Provided these limitations are acknowledged, apparent retention rates are a useful indication of the likelihood of students staying in school to certain years.
Work based training - Work based training refers to training (either structured or unstructured) provided by employers for their employees. Structured training relates to training activities that have a predetermined plan and format designed to develop employment related skills and competencies. Unstructured training relates to informal training that does not have a specified content or predetermined plan (it is usually conducted on-the-job and is more difficult to measure). Key measures of work based training include number of training hours provided, whether the training was conducted in-house or externally, and the size, industry and sector of organisations providing training for their employees.
Apprentices and trainees - The meaning of the term 'apprentice' has changed substantially over the years, so time series measures of apprentices and trainees refer to a changing phenomenon rather than a static one. Since 1983 (when ABS measures of apprentices began), traineeships have come into existence making it increasingly difficult to differentiate between apprentices and trainees. However, in 1998 'New Apprenticeships' was created, dissolving many of the differences between the two types of contracted training.
Early childhood education - There is considerable difficulty in measuring early childhood education due to the overlapping responsibilities of preschools, child-care and other early childhood programs. Some children attend preschool and child-care facilities separately, others attend a preschool program as part of their child-care program. Also, child-care programs can differ from facility to facility, with some having a strong emphasis on education and others being primarily concerned with child minding. Adding to this complexity is the fact that preschools have different names and operating requirements in the different States and Territories.
Output and outcome measures
Completions of courses and other learning activities - A key measure of outputs is the number of courses of education and training (by type, field, and so on) that have been completed by individuals. Time series measures of completions can show whether there are trends in completions over time in response to particular programs or policies (e.g. funding and fee policy). Comparing completion data to data about the number of people entering education and training courses can provide evaluative information.
Level of educational attainment - Educational attainment is a measure of completed education in terms of the level of qualification achieved. For example, it describes whether a person completed Year 12, a bachelor degree, a doctoral degree, or some other level of education as defined by the Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED). It is a core explanatory variable used widely across all areas of social statistics, alongside other sociodemographic variables. Social indicators such as the proportion of the population with non-school qualifications, or the proportion with a degree or higher, are useful measures by which increases in the overall level of education can be monitored.
The two main aspects of education identified by educational attainment are: the highest level of schooling a person has completed and whether they have completed a non-school qualification. These measures may be combined to take stock of the highest educational attainment of the population (although 'highest level of schooling completed' is also an independent measure of the extent of schooling in the population). To allow this to be done consistently across its statistical collections, the ABS has developed a decision table which allows the selection of the most appropriate qualification in a range of different circumstances. For example, if a person has obtained both a Senior Secondary Certificate of Education (Year 12) and a Certificate III in Vehicle Mechanics, it is more useful for most statistical purposes to report the Certificate III as the highest qualification.
Field of education - Field of education is a useful measure of the types of skills available in the community, in particular those available in the working age population. In the past the ABS has developed and implemented its own standard for field of education classification which differed from that used by other agencies. However field of education is now encompassed by the ASCED which includes all fields of education available in schools, VET and higher education. Field of highest qualification is available from all major sources of education data, including the Census of Population and Housing.
Literacy measures - Measures of literacy produced by the ABS are based on the literacy framework used in the (SAL). Literacy and numeracy skills in scope of this framework are defined as 'the information processing skills necessary to use printed material found at work, at home, and in the community'. The framework focuses on 'functional literacy and numeracy' - those skills necessary to understand and use information from material printed in English and found in everyday adult life - and assesses three aspects of literacy.
Literacy is measured using a five point scale for each of the above three types of literacy. People graded at Level 1 are said to have very poor skills and could be expected to experience considerable difficulties in using many of the printed materials encountered in daily life. People graded at Level 5 are said to have very good skills.
Direct assessments of literacy and numeracy of school aged children are also made on an annual basis through tests administered to those in Years 3 and 5 of school which are organised by State and Territory Education Departments. Results of the literacy tests have been released by the Ministerial Council for Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) under the 'National Literacy and Numeracy Plan' adopted in 1997. The national plan developed national benchmarks in literacy and numeracy for selected school year groups and promoted national reporting on student achievement against the benchmarks.
Transition to work - One indicator of the worth of education is to determine its value to the labour force, and it is also important to assess the ability of graduates to gain employment and the increased earning capacity with increasing levels of education. Key measures used to indicate the transition of the population from education to work include the number of people with qualifications by their employment (and unemployment) status, labour force status measures of people who were studying for a qualification in the previous year, including whether they completed that course or left without completing it, and after allowing for age differences, average/median income by education level.
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