The results of TIMSS 2019, an international assessment study, were published at the beginning of December. The study assessed student performance in mathematics and science at Grades 4 and 8 in the comprehensive school. The results were consistent with the findings of earlier assessments: the number of low-achievers is increasing in Finland. The good news is that unlike in the previous years, also the number of high-achievers has grown in all areas, the national TIMSS coordinator Jouni Vettenranta writes in the Science Blog.

Finnish students’ test results have been decreasing over the past decade. Now the latest results show that the downward slope has become gentler, yet the continuing strong increase in the number of low-achievers, especially among the eighth-graders, is even more worrying than in the previous years. On the other hand, the level of fourth-graders’ performance has remained good and reasonably equal, and unlike in the previous years, also the number of high-achievers has grown in all areas.

Many people say that not everybody needs to know mathematics or science. School’s task is not only to help children and youth in their way to full-scale adulthood, but also to guide and distribute, for its part, citizens to applicable educational and work careers. The increase in the number of high-achievers keeps up hope that we will have a sufficient number of gifted students to be educated for the demanding key posts of our developing society – if only there would be enough study motivation.

Students and their close ones have naturally their own hopes or prospects for the future, which may be inconsistent with the goals of society. Furthermore, the problems of families as well as the lack of appreciation for education and support received make many students consider that their future goals are to be achieved by some other route than through education.

It is our responsibility as adults to remind that if one wishes to understand the world – to participate in discussion about the climate change, to fill in a tax return or to make ends meet in the end of month – one needs to have at least satisfactory reading, writing and numeracy skills and perception for various surrounding rules and logical patterns.

Teachers have internalised this in their training, but in the ever more rapidly changing world, we need continuous updating of skills and knowledge. Finnish teachers are among the highest educated ones in the world, but their participation rate in in-service training is the lowest.

Teachers understand that the only permanent thing is change. They should find time to support and motivate their weaker students while providing enough challenges to the better ones. Accordingly, a majority of Finnish teachers answered in the TIMSS Teacher Questionnaire that their developmental needs relate to the integration of technology into teaching, improvement of students’ skills in critical thinking or investigation, and observing students’ individual needs.

Goals and directions for one’s life are often hard to define even in mature adulthood. For this reason, as society, parents and teachers, we need to be persistent and keep on encouraging children and youth to better understanding of the world. And such better understanding could be beneficial to adults as well.

Jouni Vettenranta

The writer is a Senior Researcher and the TIMSS National Research Coordinator from the Finnish Institute for Educational Research.

Additional information

Jouni Vettenranta, Jenna Hiltunen, Jenni Kotila, Lehtola, Kari Nissinen, Eija Puhakka, Jonna Pulkkinen, Antti Ström. (2020). Perustaidoista vauhtia koulutielle. Neljännen luokan oppilaiden matematiikan ja luonnontieteiden osaaminen. Kansainvälinen TIMSS-tutkimus Suomessa. Koulutuksen tutkimuslaitos. http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-39-8473-1 (In Finnish)

Jouni Vettenranta, Jenna Hiltunen, Jenni Kotila, Piia Lehtola, Kari Nissinen, Eija Puhakka, Jonna Pulkkinen, Antti Ström. (2020). Tulevaisuuden avaintaidot puntarissa. Kahdeksannen luokan oppilaiden matematiikan ja luonnontieteiden osaaminen. Kansainvälinen TIMSS-tutkimus Suomessa. Koulutuksen tutkimuslaitos. http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-39-8474-8n (In Finnish)

The TIMSS project is led by the TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center, University of Boston. The international research consortium includes also IEA Secretariat in the Netherlands, and IEA Data Processing and Research Center in Hamburg.

In Finland, TIMSS studies are conducted by the Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä, and the research team for international assessments is led by Research Professor Juhani Rautopuro. The National TIMSS Coordinator and science expert is Senior Researcher Jouni Vettenranta. The mathematics expert is Project Researcher Jenna Hiltunen. In addition, the research team includes Senior Researcher Kari Nissinen, Coordinators Eija Puhakka and Virva Nissinen, Project Researchers Jenni Kotila and Piia Lehtola, Project Secretary Suvi Lähteinen, and Research Assistant Antti Ström. The study is funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture.

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