Finland Soars, U.S. Slumps in Global Education Review

Canada and Japan were ahead of U.S.

Young Finns have held onto first place in an OECD science education league table published recently, tailed by Canada and Japan, while the U.S. slumped to the bottom half of the chart. The third edition of the global PISA study -- first conducted in 2000 and 2003 -- was carried out among 400,000 15-year-olds in the 30 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The 2006 edition focused primarily on science education, as well as on mathematics and written comprehension.

Finland was top performer in science, followed by Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, South Korea, Germany and Britain. Next came the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Hungary, Sweden, Poland, Denmark and France. In the bottom tier followed Iceland, the U.S, Slovakia, Spain, Norway, Luxembourg, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Turkey and Mexico.

Noting that "scientific and technological know-how is helping to drive growth in advanced economies," the survey revealed widespread pessimism about environmental challenges and limited enthusiasm for scientific careers.

While 72% of students were interested in learning science, only 37% said they would consider a career involving science. Meanwhile fewer than one in six believed that solutions to problems such as air pollution and nuclear waste disposal would be found in the next 20 years.

Finland and South Korea also came out top of the league in mathematics and written comprehension tests.

Across the OECD as a whole, student performance had stagnated although education spending rose by an average of 39% between 1995 and 2004. On average, students in private schools outperformed students in public schools, but the report noted that the best-performing educational systems were often not the most costly. Keys to success included "streaming" students into different subjects as late as possible and ensuring constant quality of teaching between different schools, both public and private.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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