Hong Kong’s students scored better in maths and science over past 20 years, international study finds

But a lower number, compared with overseas counterparts, are passionate about learning maths, and feel confident in both subjects

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 11:38pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2016, 11:34am

Hong Kong students have made significant gains in maths and science over the last 20 years, but compared with international counterparts, fewer of them are passionate about learning maths and have confidence in both subjects, a study has found.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2015, released yesterday, included over 582,000 Primary Four and Secondary Two students from 57 countries or regions. In Hong Kong, about 8,000took part.

Researchers said there were significant improvements in Hong Kong’s assessment results last year compared with the first study in 1995 for both subjects at the Primary Four and Secondary Two levels. The scores for Primary Four maths and science, and Secondary Two science were also significantly better than in the 2011 assessment.

For example, Hong Kong got an average score of 615 for Primary Four maths, up from 602 in 2011, and 557 in 1995. In Secondary Two science, the score last year was 546, up from 535 in 2011 and 510 in 1995.

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The city also moved up to second place for Primary Four maths from the third spot in 2011, and its ranking for Secondary Two maths was unchanged – at No 4 – from the last assessment. In Primary Four science, it jumped to fifth place from 2011’s ninth, while for Secondary Two, it edged up to sixth place from the eighth spot.

Singapore topped all four rankings, while South Korea also performed well, coming in between second and fourth in all categories.

At least 96 per cent of students in both levels reached the lowest benchmark for the subjects.

But fewer Hong Kong students feel passionate about learning maths, and feel confident in the two subjects. For example, only 25 per cent of the city’s Primary Four students are very confident in science, compared with an international average of 40 per cent.

Professor Frederick Leung Koon-shing from the University of Hong Kong’s faculty of education also pointed to the large difference between those who like learning maths very much at Primary Four – 35 per cent – and at Secondary Two – 15 per cent. “Our education system focuses on competition, causing those who are performing well to feel like they are not,” he said.

The study also found boys performed significantly better than girls in maths at the Primary Four level, and science at both levels. To remedy the gap, Dr Alice Wong Siu-Ling from HKU’s faculty of education cited an example of a school separating boys and girls into different classes. She said the girls became more interested and fared better in science, adding: “[They] became more hands-on.”