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18th Jan 2019

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Estonia and Finland have best EU science teaching

  • Estonia and Finland only EU countries where “at least nine out of 10 15-year-old students master the basics” (Photo: Bureau of Reclamation)

Estonian and Finnish high school students do best at science out of the EU according to a study by the OECD, a Paris-based club of industrialised nations.

The so-called Pisa survey, carried out last year, tested the science, maths, and reading skills of 540,000 15-year old students in 72 countries - the 37 OECD members and a sample list of “partner states” from around the world.

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Singapore was highest in all three skill areas. Canada and Japan also came near the top, while the Dominican Republic was bottom or near bottom.

Zooming in on OECD science studies, Estonia came third, Finland came fifth, and Slovenia was 13th.

Most EU states ranked in the top half of the table, but Croatia, Malta, Slovakia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Cyprus fell into the bottom half.

Science skills in Romania and Cyprus were on a par with those in Moldova and Uruguay.

In terms of broader Europe, Macedonia and Kosovo did the worst, ranking between Algeria and Tunisia near the bottom of the table.

The results were more or less replicated in the maths and reading areas.

Angel Gurria, the OECD secretary general, said in London on Tuesday (6 December), said that standards had not improved much since 2006.

“Standards in science have flat-lined… and that’s despite a spending increase in OECD countries of 20 percent per primary and secondary student,” he noted.

He said it was “shocking” that not a single country in the survey had managed to improve its performance on science and its performance on greater equity for financially disadvantaged students at the same time.

He cited Estonia, as well as Hong Kong and Japan, as places where poorer students tend to do better.

“We know how they do it. They set high and universal expectations for all students. They keep an unwavering focus on great teaching. They target resources on struggling students and schools. And they stick with coherent, long-term strategies,” Gurria said.

He also said disadvantaged immigrant students tend to be more “resilient” than native ones and that the difference in science performance between immigrant and native pupils shrank over the past nine years.

In other findings, the study noted that Finland was the only country where girls did better at science than boys.

“The story here is not about abilities. It’s about different interests, confidence levels and career expectations,” Gurria noted.

The OECD urged Croatia and Italy to provide additional teaching at schools with poorer children because better-off pupils had so much extra home schooling.

It also said that Estonia and Finland were the only countries out of the EU where “at least nine out of 10 15-year-old students master the basics that every student should know before leaving school”.

University rankings reveal two-speed Europe

British, German and Dutch institutions do very well in the latest university rankings, with Oxford named the world's best. But the French and much of the rest of the EU are lagging behind.

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