Mixed results for math and science as 15 countries outperform Ireland

Children in the North scored “significantly higher” at maths than their fourth-class counterparts in the Republic, according to a major international study of students’ performance in mathematics and science.

However, while the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) study found that 15 countries outperform Ireland’s fourth-class science students, it also recorded significant improvements on fourth-class maths and science performance when compared to scores recorded in 2011 and 1995.

Last year, more than 582,000 students from 57 countries participated in TIMMS, which ranked fourth-class students in the Republic of Ireland ninth for maths and 19th in science. Older students in second year ranked ninth for maths and 10th for science compared to their international counterparts.

Fourth-class pupils from the North placed sixth internationally behind students tested in Singapore, Hong Kong, the Korean Republic, Chinese Taipei, and Japan, but ahead of Russia and Norway, which ranked above the Republic of Ireland.

Fourth-class students in Ireland were relatively weak on geometric shapes and measures and physical sciences, but relatively strong on numbers and earth science when compared to other countries.

Second-year students were comparatively weak on algebra, geometry, chemistry and physics, but strong on data and chance, numbers, earth science, and biology. The study also found improvements in the performance of students who struggle with the subjects, an advance Education Minister Richard Bruton described as “heartening”.

“It’s very encouraging to see that children who were weaker have shown very significant improvements,” said Mr Bruton. “That reflects an investment we’ve made in resource teaching for children with special educational needs and in disadvantaged schools.

He also acknowledged the study shows a gap between Ireland’s high-achieving students and their counterparts in other countries.

“It does show at the other end that perhaps we’re not stretching children enough in the curricular content and the teaching methods,” he said. “So perhaps we need to need to address that, but in no way do we want to lose or diminish the progress we’ve made with children who struggle with some of these subjects.

“Particularly heartening is the progress in primary mathematics. I think that shows real sign of improvement.

“In science, I think we have further ground to make up, and that’s clear in the various rankings.”

Mr Bruton said girls were performing as well as boys in maths and sciences, but do not keep on the subjects as they progress, something that he said required more work to address.

“We are reviewing the primary certificate maths curriculum to try and make it more challenging for children, because this shows that some of the higher performing children aren’t doing as well as we might like to see,” he said.

“We’re also introducing this year the new Junior Certificate curriculum in science, and that again is lighting the flame of what science is about.”

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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