Flemish maths and science education slip-sliding away

A new comparison of Flemish 10-year-olds with their peers from across the globe reveals that their performance in maths and sciences has deteriorated.  A large group of pupils has no grasp of the absolute basics.

The TIMMS survey is conducted every four years and covers school performance by 10-year-olds in 58 countries or regions that have specific education policies. It attempts to map out the long-term performance of pupils in maths, geography, physics and biology. 

4,665 pupils across 147 Flemish schools took part in the test that was conducted last year and was not impacted by the pandemic.  The results are bad.  Flemish pupils slipped from 11th to 17th place as far as maths results were concerned.  In sciences Flanders fell back from 31st to 35th place in comparison with four years ago.

Flemish pupils struggle with simple arithmetic including fractions and problem sorting.  In sciences it’s especially geography results that are poor.  Asian countries, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Russia come out tops in maths and sciences.  Flanders’ performance is similar to that of the Netherlands and the States. Our35th spot in sciences sandwiches us in between Portugal and Kazakhstan.  Poland and Bulgaria outperform us by far.  Only France and Malta do worse in Europe.

The researchers speak of a significant deterioration in maths and sciences: Flanders fails to challenge the brightest pupils.

90% of pupils attend kindergarten, but few parents indicate that their offspring are very literate at the start of the first year of primary.  Few parents develop any learning activities with their children. The language spoken at home – often different from the language at school – plays a role, but the impact of social economic factors is more decisive: the presence of books in the home,  internet access, a room of your own and the education level of parents.

Schools too are lacking: There is insufficient access to computers and tablets in class.  Teachers need more ICT training and there isn’t enough emphasis on pupils getting good results.

Flemish education minister Weyts concedes the situation is far from rosy.  Mr Weyts intends to press ahead with language screening of children in the third year of kindergarten.  In this way pupils with poor language skills can be assisted. Maths and Dutch language skill goals will become more precise and more important goals pupils must reach.  Mr Weyts says it could take a decade before we see the results of reforms, but he is insistent on greater testing of pupils both in primary and secondary school.  

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