This week the results of the respectful PISA test (Program for International Student Assessment) have been officially released. It is shocking, it is visual, it is convincing and it can be viewed here: Test Result Table
In this test 15 year old students from 65 countries were tested in science, reading comprehension and math. We are not at the top. In science we are 23nd, very close to the average. In reading we are above the average - on a 17th place, but in math we are... Where are we? This gray line at the very bottom. It is us. Actually, we are not at the tail. Only the first half of the countries are listed here. But we are surprisingly below average - on the 31st place.
Shanghai, China - is leading in all the columns, with other Asian countries and areas at the top. Finland is doing great, but even our neighbor - Canada - is way ahead of us all around. Educators and government officials have been calling these results "The Sputnik moment" and "The wake-up call", with papers full of suggestions for reasons on China's success and our failures.
It may be the curriculum, the teacher status and salaries, the length of the school year and the amount of the homework. But I truly believe that the most important factor in all this is our cultural attitude toward math and sciences. There is a big difference between presenting them as cool, necessary and applicable as opposite of boring, optional and narrowly useful. Not at school, but rather in our homes, in the media, and everywhere in our culture. Here is a very relevant post I wrote a few months ago comparing our math and sports attitudes and offering ideas on taking example from our sport excellence to improve our math...
Are we sure it's OK to be Smart?
Imagine Olympic athletes apologizing on TV for being muscular and agile. Or an engraving on a lipstick tube that reaffirms “It is OK to be beautiful.” Alternatively, try visualizing a clothing store ad luring us in with the words “Nothing is wrong with being well-dressed.” Sounds rather unreal. But how about the disclaimer on the back of a set of Brain Quest flash cards for kids that states “It's O.K. to be Smart!” Does it seem similarly ridiculous? This one is actually real. A great toy company feels that it should warn us not to worry about being a nerd. Are we sure it is OK to be smart? Are we serious that it is just OK???? Why don't we say: “It's cool to be smart!” or “It's awesome to be smart!” And why do we need this affirmation at all? Shouldn't it be obvious?continue reading.
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