The impact of career development activities on PISA mathematics tests: An analysis of data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

By Elnaz T. Kashefpakdel (Head of Research, Education and Employers), and Matteo Schleicher

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As governments around the world seek to tackle stubbornly high levels of youth unemployment, new attention has been focused on the relationship between education and employment. Both researchers and policy-makers have looked afresh at the capacity of employers to engage in education and training to improve young people’s preparation for the adult working world. New studies have asked, can employer engagement enhance student educational performance and if so, how?

This paper tests the hypothesis that greater teenage engagement in career development activities organised by schools and including elements of direct exposure to the contemporary working world, will be associated with higher student scores in the PISA mathematics assessment. The hypothesis originated from a 2014 interview with the OECD’s Director of Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher, and makes use of a unique OECD dataset to test it. Within the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a series of questions explore teenage participation in career development activities such as job fairs and career advice at school.

In the analysis, four activities are isolated: participation in internships, job shadowing, job fairs, and speaking with a careers advisor in school. Only a minority of countries taking part in PISA 2012 opted into these questions and of these, six have been selected for analysis (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland and Ireland). Analysis considered the scores of students aged 15-16 in the 2012 PISA mathematics assessment. Drawing on existing OECD analytical practice, a series of control variables were applied to the analysis enabling account to be taken of the typical social and demographic factors which can determine student engagement and success in education.

The analysis found in some cases a strong, statistically significant relationship between participation in career development activities and higher scores in the PISA mathematics test. The most consistent positive effects are found in relationship to speaking with a careers advisor in school. Relationships are particularly strong in Ireland and Finland.

This paper follows an earlier paper which used the same PISA dataset to assess whether participation in employer engagement activities results in more positive attitudes towards schooling.


Access the findings here.