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19th Nov 2018

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EU's young people lag behind on maths target

  • The EU is "seriously lagging" behind on its 2020 maths target (Photo: Marie)

The EU's 15-year olds have seen only slight improvements in their reading, science and maths skills since 2009, with worse scores in reading than US students and in all three subject areas than their Japanese counterparts.

The programme for international student achievement (Pisa), published on Tuesday (4 December), indicates the EU is likely to miss its 2020 target of reducing low-achievers to less than 15% in maths.

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But it suggests the Union may achieve its target in science and reading.

"In a global economy, success is no longer measured against national standards alone, but against the best-performing education systems," said Yves Leterme, the deputy chief of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which carried out the study.

"The results for the EU underline that the pace of improvement needs to increase if member states are to avoid falling behind other economies," he added.

There are stark differences between member states going towards EU goals.

The Pisa study and the commission's own findings indicate that Estonia is the highest achiever in all categories, with scores in reading (9.1%) , maths (10.5%) and science (5%) already well under the 15 percent benchmark.

Poland, the Netherlands and Finland also come in under the agreed threshold in all areas, although Finland's overall scores are marred by the fact its standards slipped since the last study.

While 12.3 percent of Finnish 15-year olds are considered to be low achievers in maths, this is 4.5 percent more than in 2009. It has also slipped in reading and science.

Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania had the highest percentages of poorly performing students across all subjects.

Bulgaria also clocked in with a high of 43.8 percent under-achievers in maths.

Slovakia has seen the greatest fall in performance across the board. Among its 15-year olds, 28.2% do not read well, 27.5% are poor in maths and 26.9% are not doing well in science, up 6%, 6.5% and 7.6%, respectively, on 2009.

Germany, the largest EU state, is under the agreed threshold for reading and science, but over the red line for maths (17.7).

Overall, 17.8 percent of the EU's 15-year olds could do better in reading; 22.1 percent are poor at maths and 16.6 percent are bad at science.

The EU percentages are considerably higher than those of Japan, ranked at the top of the scale.

Maths also saw virtually no change over the three years, with the score having improved by a mere 0.2 percent.

The European Commission in reaction to the study that "teachers are instrumental in promoting students' drive to engage in learning and in solving complex problems."

It points to policies in Estonia and Poland on improving teacher quality, such as making it harder to earn a teacher's license and offering higher salaries and incentives.

Meanwhile, it notes that girls "widely outperform" boys in all EU countries when it comes to reading, but there is "no striking difference" in the share of low-achievers in maths and science.

It adds that whether a child comes from a poor background is "one of the main determinants" for basic skills, but schools "tend to reproduce existing patterns of socio-economic advantage."

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