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TV, Pop Quizzes and Group Work May Hinder Educational Achievement

23.10.2007
Factors influential to students’ academic performance differ between countries

In his doctoral thesis, Finnish PISA Researcher Pasi Reinikainen studied the country-specific factors connected to the science achievement of eighth-grade students in Finland, England, Hungary, Japan, Russia and Latvia.

-It is naïve to think that some countries could improve their students’ achievement by copying some features of e.g. Finnish educational system and then pasting them on to their own educational systems. The national systems and cultures just cannot be changed so easily. Instead of mimicking others, nations should focus on developing further the national factors connected to students’ good or weak achievement, says Reinikainen.

Focusing on national features is the key to better educational achievement

Reinikainen’s doctoral thesis shows some specific national and cultural features, which the parents and teachers, as well as the research and development of educational systems, should focus on in their attempts to improve the students’ science achievement.

Parents of Finnish students should be aware of the amount of time their children spend watching TV and monitor the programmes their children watch. The time Finnish students spend watching TV correlates negatively with their achievement in science. Watching news, nature programmes and documents, however seems to have a positive effect on science achievement, Reinikainen explains.

In England, attention should be paid to test frequency. Students who were given tests almost continuously were found to score lower in science than those who were given tests rarely or not at all. The schools giving frequent quizzes and tests, and the nature of these exams, call for further study.

The Hungarian educational system could be improved by making the students do less pair and group work, as they were found to be connected to weak science achievement. Project work was found to have a similar effect.

- Often only a few students in the group focus on the task at hand, while the others merely look on. The teachers could take a more active role in guiding group and project work, Reinikainen says.

In Japan, parents should pay attention to the ways their children spend their time. Japanese students do not normally have much spare time since school or school-related activities take a lion’s share of their time. In Japan, the time students spend with their friends has a negative effect on science achievement.

In Latvia, student-centered approach in teaching predicts weaker science achievement and, in Russia, memorizing textbook material and relying on good luck turned out to be very weak learning strategies.

Ranking lists of comparative achievement studies misleading

There is currently a worldwide boom of large-scale international comparative student achievement studies. However, the major outcome of these studies (PISA, TIMSS, CIVICS, etc.) seems to be numerous ranking lists of separate educational contents. These rankings are not necessarily linked with student learning outcomes in the studied countries, and can often be misleading if used in educational policy making. Huge databases are collected in these assessments but unfortunately the information is often not utilized to its full potential.

Reinikainen’s doctoral dissertation utilized one of these databases, TIMSS 1999, and explored it much deeper than merely to produce a ranking list. The goal of his study was to reveal significant predictors of student science achievement in Finland, England, Hungary, Japan, Latvia and Russia, and to explain the various cultural situations where those achievements have been made.

For public audience, Reinikainen’s study offers an inside perspective on international comparative student assessments. It gives answers to the questions what these studies can do, what they cannot do, and what they should and perhaps could do in the future.

Liisa Harjula | alfa
Further information:
http://www.jyu.fi

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