The average score of Japanese elementary school students in global achievement tests in mathematics and science last year showed a marked rise from the previous survey in 2007.
The average score for the fourth-graders showed an upward trend for the first time since 1995 in the tests conducted every four years by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.
The education ministry on Tuesday attributed the rise to changes in the curriculum guidelines in fiscal 2009 that led to an increase in hours spent on instruction.
In the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, the average score of Japanese fourth-graders stood at 585 points in arithmetic, up 17 points from the 2007 survey, and 559 points in science, up 11 points.
The points were calculated based on the TIMSS scale in which the average score of all participants comes to 500 points.
In the 2011 test held by the Amsterdam-based organization, the number of participating countries and territories increased to 50 from 36 in 2007 for fourth-graders but declined to 42 from 48 for eighth-graders.
The average scores of Japanese students in the second year of junior high school was 570 points in mathematics, unchanged from the 2007 survey, and 558 points in science, up 4 points.
The education ministry said it expects the average score for Japanese in this age group, which remained almost unchanged from the 2007 survey, to rise in the next TIMSS in 2015 after new curriculum guidelines take root.
Among the 50 countries and regions, Japanese fourth-graders ranked fifth in arithmetic, down from fourth in 2007, and fourth in science, unchanged from the last test.
The junior high students finished fifth in math, unchanged from the last survey, and fourth in science, down from third.
Singapore occupied the top spots in arithmetic for fourth-graders and science for eighth-graders, while South Korea came out on top in science for fourth-grade students and math for eighth-grade students.
In the 2011 survey, Japanese fourth-graders who said studying science is fun accounted for 90 percent, up from 87 percent in the previous test and above the international average of 88 percent.
But enthusiasm for studying science was below the global average among Japanese second-year junior high students. The fourth-graders interest in arithmetic was also below the world average.
Of the Japanese junior high participants, 18 percent said they want to enter professions that utilize knowledge of math and 20 percent said they will seek jobs that are related to science, both below the international average by about 35 points.