National

Math, science scores rank high

Crediting policies since 2003, the education ministry declares an end to academic slide

Kyodo News

Japanese students scored relatively high on global achievement tests in mathematics and science, the results of a 2007 survey showed, prompting the education ministry to proclaim an end to the recent slide in scholastic abilities.

Eighth-graders ranked third in science among the 48 countries and regions, up from sixth in the previous 2003 survey, according to data from the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.

Just as on the last test in 2003, they ranked fifth in math on the fourth Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS. The test is conducted every four years on fourth- and eighth-graders, the Amsterdam-based organization said.

In the 2003 test, Japanese students in their second year of junior high school had fallen to sixth in science from fourth in 1999.

The fourth-graders, meanwhile, dropped to fourth from third both in science and arithmetic among the 36 countries and regions, the association said.

The scores of the students in both grades were higher than their previous surveys, yet they maintained relatively high rankings despite the increase in the number of participating countries.

The number of countries and territories taking the test in 2007 increased to 48 from 46 in 2003 for eighth-graders and to 36 from 25 for fourth-graders.

Noting growing enthusiasm for study among fourth-graders, “a declining trend of scholastic abilities has been arrested,” the education ministry said.

The same level of enthusiasm is less evident among older students. Only 40 percent of eighth-graders reported finding math studies fun. The figure was 59 percent for science. In both cases, however, the level of enthusiasm was about 30 percent lower than among the fourth-graders.

The education ministry has grown increasingly alarmed in recent years by falling academic rankings compared with other countries.

The ministry hailed the improved results as the fruit of various policies it has put forward since 2003, underscoring that its curriculum guidelines are “minimums” that should be taught.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development conducts a triennial survey on 15-year-old students, called the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which is intended to assess students’ applied skills.

In the 2006 PISA survey, 15-year-old Japanese high school students placed sixth in science among students in 57 countries and territories, down from second in 2003.

Yukitsugu Kato, a professor emeritus of education at Sophia University, said TIMSS “tends to reflect results of rote-memory type learning” and Japanese students “score low when they come across problems they are not used to.”

In Japan, about 4,500 fourth-graders from 148 elementary schools and about 4,300 eighth-graders from 146 junior high schools took part in TIMSS, which is designed to assess basic knowledge and calculation skills.

Based on the TIMSS scale, which has an average score of 500 points, Japanese fourth-graders scored 568 points on average in arithmetic, up 3 points from 2003, and 548 points in science, up 5 points.

Japanese eighth-graders scored 570 points on average in mathematics, unchanged from 2003, and 554 points in science, up 2 points.

Hong Kong placed top in arithmetic for fourth-graders, while Taiwan ranked first in mathematics for eighth-graders. Singapore occupied the top spots in science for students in both grades.

Japanese fourth-graders spent an average of a little more than an hour a day on homework, while eighth-graders allocated one hour. The time is shorter by 18 to 36 minutes than the international average.

In contrast, fourth-graders here watch television two hours on average and eighth-graders 2 1/2 hours, or 30 to 42 minutes longer than the international average.