Taiwanese fourth and eighth graders rank among the world’s best in science and mathematics and achieved on average markedly better grades last year than in 2003, but at the same time generally have a negative view of the subjects or do not feel confident in them, the National Science Council (NSC) said yesterday.
When asked whether low confidence among students in those subjects could be a result of being taught concepts too advanced for their age, National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) mathematics professor Lin Fou-lai (林福來) conceded that this “could be a potential concern ... We are indeed teaching [certain] materials to our students at younger ages compared with other countries.”
Citing the 2007 Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS 2007), conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), NTNU Science Education Center director Chang Chun-yen (張俊彥) said Taiwan’s fourth graders ranked second and third among 37 countries in terms of their achievements in science and mathematics respectively.
The nation’s eighth graders ranked second and first among 50 countries in the two subjects, Chang said.
Four other Asian countries — Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan — also ranked exceptionally well.
“Compared to TIMSS 2003, our fourth graders have made significant progress in both subjects, while eighth graders did better in mathematics than in 2003 ... Eighth graders did worse in science, however, compared with four years ago,” he said.
Despite their exceptional skills in math and science, the nation’s fourth graders ranked 36 and 23 respectively out of 37 countries in terms of positive attitudes toward the subjects, while eighth graders ranked 39 and 28 respectively out of 50 countries in terms of their confidence in the subjects.
When asked whether the education system’s strong emphasis on exams might have contributed to the high achievement level and low interest level, Lin said: “Yes, the tests may have driven the performance.”
Tests are part of Taiwan’s educational culture, he said, but some countries don’t make elementary school students take tests.
“Another part of our culture is that while Western parents tend to praise their children for, say, scoring 90 percent on a test, Eastern parents tend to ask: ‘Where did the other 10 percent go?’”
Responding to comments that although the US did not rank high in any of the categories, US scientists were highly successful and innovative, Lin said: “One factor is that with a strong economy the US can attract top scientists from all over the world ... Also, US universities are much more open, while you cannot teach innovation with tests.”
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