Warning on science

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 May, 2009, 12:00am

Schools must do more to motivate tomorrow's scientists, the Organisation for Economic and Co-operation and Development said this week.

Across OECD countries, nearly 40 per cent of secondary school students who came top in science subjects had no interest in pursuing a related career and almost 45 per cent did not want to continue studying science, an OECD report said.

Top of the Class, the latest report from the OECD's Pisa assessments, shows Finland and New Zealand in the lead for scientific excellence, with one in five 15-year-olds reaching top levels of science proficiency. In Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Spain and Turkey, by contrast, fewer than one in 20 students made top grades.

Countries with more top-level science students did best in science overall. In the US, the average performance of 15-year-olds was below the OECD average because of a large number of low performers.

But the US had the same proportion of top performers as South Korea, one of the best performing education systems overall but with weaker performance at the top.

In Japan, Finland and Austria, more than one in three students from disadvantaged backgrounds became top performers, the study showed. In many other countries, by contrast, social barriers to excellence in education remained very high.