x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

UAE students fall behind international peers, study shows

Early indicators show that children in the UAE are not as equipped as their peers in other countries to apply maths and science concepts.

Dubai // Children are unable to apply what they learn in school to real-life situations and lack problem-solving skills, a new international study has found.

Dubai released its results for the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) yesterday, and Abu Dhabi and the rest of the country are expected to do so today.

Early indicators show that children in the UAE are not as equipped as their peers in other countries to apply maths and science concepts.

Grade 4 pupils scored 434 points and Grade 8 pupils scored 456 points in mathematics against the international average of 500.

In science, pupils in Grade 4 scored 428 and Grade 8 pupils got an average of 465.

Sixty education systems in more than 40 countries take part in the TIMSS assessment for Grade 4 and 8 pupils every four years.

“UAE students showed a better performance in knowledge of mathematics than in mathematics overall, and did relatively less well in applying mathematical concepts and reasoning mathematically to solve problems,” said the authors of the global report, which was compiled at the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, which has its headquarters in the Netherlands.

“In science at the fourth grade, students performed relatively better in earth science but relatively less well in life science,” the authors said.

By comparison, in the top-performing Singapore, Grade 4 pupils scored 606 points in mathematics, and Korean Grade 8 pupils topped the charts with 613. In science, Grade 4 Koreans took top honours with 587 and Grade 8s in Singapore earned 590.

On average, Grade 4 pupils were outperformed by peers in around 40 countries and Grade 8 pupils were outperformed in about 20 countries.

The UAE did, however, perform significantly better than most Middle Eastern countries, although Grade 4 pupils in Bahrain scored higher in both maths and science.

Dubai schools first participated in TIMSS in 2007 and were joined by the rest of the country in 2011. About 12,000 pupils from state and private schools in Dubai participated last year.

The results show an improvement in mathematics, where Grade 8 pupils went up by 17 points, from 461 to 478, and Grade 4 pupils by 24 points to 468.

In science, there was no significant improvement in scores, and Grade 8 pupils dropped by 4 points.

Dubai pupils also participated in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study last year and received an average score of 476.

Jameela Al Muhairi, chief of the Dubai School Inspection Bureau, said the international test scores backed up their local evaluation results. “The schools have shown an improvement but pupils are still below the average point score that we would like them to achieve.”

Both state schools and private institutions following the Ministry of Education curriculum in Dubai were still performing at a lower level than other systems.

By comparison, children in schools following the International Baccalaureate system outperformed eight other curriculums and managed to score higher than the 500-point average.

“There are some curricula that are pulling the overall scores down,” Ms Muhairi said. “But we participate as an emirate and cannot exclude any curricula.”

In the capital, early results show fourth-grade pupils underperformed in areas where scientific concepts had to be applied, while Grade 8 pupils performed well in biology and earth sciences.

Dr Natasha Ridge, executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, said TIMSS provides a good international comparison but cautioned against using it in isolation to guide reform.

“Countries that perform well in TIMSS, like a lot of the East Asian countries, teach a lot to the test,” she said. “So the UAE should not react in haste seeing the results.”

She said the qualitative background that is compiled by surveying teachers, principals and families should be used instead.

“That background information is very useful. For example, if those surveys show children are not reading at home, the ministry can develop a more targeted programme towards parents.”

aahmed@thenational.ae