UK science education: could try harder

UK science education: could try harder December 4, 2007

After a nail-biting wait, the exam results are finally in! And they’re not too bad. The UK has come in at a respectable 9th place (out of 30) for science education on the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – or 14th out of 57, if you include the OECD’s ‘partners’ in the mix. The UK scored 515 – significantly above the OECD average (500).

However, the picture’s not quite so rosy if you delve deeper. The UK is a lot richer than many of these countries. After adjusting for GDP, the UK slips to 13th out of 29 (the bureaucrats of Luxembourg must be too busy to figure out their GDP), 12th place based on per-student science education spending, and 15th place based on a basket of economic, cultural and social factors. So, in context, the UK’s grades are distinctly average.

The UK also gets a slapped wrist for gender differences – boys do better than girls in UK science, and the gap is bigger in only two countries (Chile and Indonesia). Only Australia and Ireland achieved perfect balance between the sexes.

On a brighter note, the UK does a lot better than the US, which managed to come in significantly below the OECD average and reached a lowly 29th ranking out of all 57 countries in the assessment. The difference is particularly stark on the “Living systems” component – where the UK ranks 8th, but the US ranks 34th. Not doubt there is a connection here to the recent poll which discovered that, whereas 79% of Americans believe in miracles, only 42% accept Darwin’s theory of natural selection… (Mind you, 32% of mainstream US Christians – and 37% of the lunatic fringe – believe in witches!)

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