The latest PISA survey (Programme for International Student Assessment) from the OECD has shown that although many countries have made great improvements, students are continuing to shun the sciences – only 37% wanted a career involving science and only 21% would like to spend their life in advanced science.
At a time when scientific and technological know-how is helping to drive growth in advanced economies, the results of PISA 2006 reveal wide variations in skills levels. Student attitudes to science will be crucial to countries' economic potential in tomorrow's world.
Students from families with a more advantaged socio-economic background were more likely to show a general interest in science, and this relationship was strongest in Ireland, France, Belgium and Switzerland. One significant feature of a student’s background was whether they had a parent in a science-related career.
This is of specific interest to me because I am moving on to a job which is hoping to address that very problem of waning interest in the sciences.
I read about the survey originally from Développement durable le journal which was lamenting the fact that French students had lost places in all three areas covered by the survey: mathematics, science and comprehension. They performed at a level slightly below the average in spite of the weight given to mathematics in schools.
Students from Finland performed well in everything: top in sciences and mathematics, and second in comprehension. The argument that France has to cope with a multicultural population doesn't stand up though, because a country like Sweden with a large immigrant population produced excellent results.
In France 8% of students are high achievers (9% average) with 23% in academic difficulties (20% average). The UK has a similar numbers of students in difficulties but far more high achievers.
This too I find very interesting because one of the reasons heard the most for people moving from the UK to France is for a better education system. It seems they are moving out of the frying pan into the fire.
The study has also shown that the most expensive education systems do not necessarily produce the best results, nor is it automatically a case of elitism. Some of the high achieving systems are the most equitable – Finland, Korea, Canada.