This Tuesday the OECD launched the results of the latest PISA study. During the European Commission’s media launch event I attended the same day (in order to keep the European Schoolnet Observatory Team of which I am a member updated), Jan Pakulski (Directorate General for Education and Culture, Head of Unit A4) put a strong emphasis on one of the EU benchmarks for 2020: the share of low-achieving 15-years olds in reading, Mathematics and Science should be less than 15%. The EU-averages in Science (16.6%) and reading (17.8%) are now close to that benchmark but mathematics remains an area of concern.
What I am surprised about is that many more students find Mathematics difficult than Science lessons (as both subjects require similar competences). What makes Mathematics lessons different/ more difficult than Science lessons? There will be many answers to this question, but I found one in the last European Schoolnet Observatory Briefing Paper. The briefing looks at the use of ICT in Mathematics and Science classes, based on the findings from the Survey of Schools: ICT in Education. Students use ICT in Science classes more often than in Mathematics, both in grade 8 and 11. Although the difference in use between Mathematics and Science lessons is not big, it makes me wonder whether Maths and Science teachers and students may have different specific characteristics that need to be addressed independently.
The briefing paper concludes that the types and magnitude of obstacles to the use of ICT within the classroom are quite different for Mathematics and Science teachers. Exam pressure stands out as the single relevant inhibitor for all subjects and grades. But Mathematics teachers are the most highly affected, especially at grade 11 in general education.
In reaction to the PISA results, the European Commission recommends for policies to look at what motivates young people to learn, how to give them new tools and instruments and how to teach them to steer the learning process (among others). Using ICT in an innovative way in Science and Mathematics classes could be one of the tools to look at. Both Science and Mathematics teachers agree on the positive impact of ICT on students’ higher-order thinking skills, motivation and achievement (according to the European Schoolnet Observatory Briefing Paper). It almost seems to be paradoxical that while the use of ICT has the potential to increase students’ motivation and achievement in class, exam pressure appears to be the biggest inhibitor for its use. It would be very interesting to have a closer look at how to overcome the obstacles to the use of ICT in these lessons. As the figures suggest, this should perhaps be done for Mathematics and Science lessons separately.
One initiative that is already looking at these topics is InGenious. This European Coordinating Body in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) was launched by European Schoolnet and the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT).