The UK has slipped further down world education rankings as teenagers fall behind their peers in reading, maths and science.
Countries including Poland and Norway have overtaken the UK in the last three years as education here has “stagnated”.
Britain has fallen from 17th in 2006 to 25th for reading skills among 15-year-olds, according to a major study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
In maths, the UK has dropped from 24th to 28th place, it shows.
Around half a million 15-year-olds from more than 70 countries took part in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study 2009, with the results for 65 published.
The study assessed how students could use their knowledge and skills in real life, rather than just repeating facts and figures.
The findings showed that the UK’s score for reading was 494, about the same as the OECD average, 493. The top performer for reading was Shanghai-China with a score of 556.
For maths skills, the UK’s score was 492, again similar to the OECD average of 496. Shanghai-China was again top-ranked with a score of 600.
In science the UK received a score of 514, placing it 16th. The OECD average was 501, and Shanghai-China was again top with 575.
The UK’s results remained similar to those in the 2006 PISA study, when the UK was ranked 17th for reading skills, 24th for maths and 14th for science.
One of the questions is whether of schools are just mediocre, or the kids we are teaching are. Not nice thoughts, yet part of the problematic we should engage with. Does taking such a large percentage (8%) of better students out of the state system weaken the learning environment? Does the elitist form of private schooling and top universities spoil standards for the rest? Have we diluted our IQ pool through ‘breeding’? One can even ask whether these numeracy and literacy scores matter much, in a world in which information is so widely available in other forms.
We have definitely had more and more and more education, yet most of us oldies think ‘things’ have been getting worse. Do we keep our kids in schools they can’t benefit from too long? My grandson says many of his classes are pointless because of disruption. I see no sign he gets special help with his special needs problem. There is a bullying problem and he and his friends say that where this has been confronted, the school has let them down and made matters worse. Much the same is true of policing.
My guess is that we have got the organisation of our secondary schools wrong. They need to be smaller to allow more nurture and discipline. Government needs to be out of sight once some basics have been got right, but this would include facing up to the fact that most university education is wasted and massively expensive. I doubt that the PISA studies tell us much more than that all the improvement we have been told about is mythical. I would say youth unemployment and under-employment is another sign of this and has been for three decades. We have all but destroyed work-based, paid education in our companies. They were good at it. Students who get good degrees in business and go off to study nursing say this is much harder than their degree. Of course it is, there’s some science and actual contact with real work and people.
The Germans have been getting their knickers in a twist about the PISA reports for over ten years now, since they showed up badly – the latest one says they have improved a little.
One of the constant observations made is that in no other OECD country does class/social and educational background of the parents make such a difference as in Germany. Kids go to secondary school at the age of ten and are mostly streamed into a three-tier system; grammar school, “modern” and something called “Hauptschule” which is for the remaining 15% to 20%. These kids already know by the age of ten that society has labelled them as losers, which generally turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.
I sympathise with your views on universities. My older daughter is currently doing a general arts degree in “Kulturwissenschaft” [basically History and Literature] at the German equivalent of the Open University, as well as raising an almost 4 year old son on her own. Having so much time on her hands (!), she also works part-time as a free-lance journalist for a local newspaper. She recently commented that one of the most annoying things about producing written work for University is the extent to which she has to pad her papers (for which she usually gets As or B+s) with waffle, just to get them up to the required length. At this stage she is becoming convinced that most academics would prefer to have root-canal work done without anaesthesia rather than discipline themselves to write clearly and concisely.
The attitudes embedded in all this are deep and dire. Much academic work looks like statistics without correlation – utterly linear. The academic game is now very corrupt again, and not much to do with helping people find and develop talent.
The real issue is that we have no modern economics. Given technology and productivity advances we can now clearly ‘afford’ more resources in education. It obviously suits ‘power’ to prevent this.