TIMSS: A Visit to the Doctor - Diagnosing the Aching Science and Math Competency in the
For two decades now, the country has been participating in international studies on student performance on math and science conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). And each time, the country has registered depressing scores in these subject areas. Experts say these results provide a “sharp confirmation of long-standing concerns as to the quality of science and mathematics education in the
In the early ’80s, the
In 1995, the
A repeat of TIMSS (called TIMSS-Repeat, or simply TIMSS-R) was administered in 1999. The Philippine sample in TIMSS-R came from Grade 7 or first year high school. A total of 38 countries participated in TIMSS-R. Out of this number, the Philippines ranked third to the last in both math and science, scoring an average of 345 which is way below the international average of 488 and 487 in science and math, respectively.
Hearing the Diagnosis
Dismaying as they are, these results, according to experts, should be seen in context. In a study sponsored by the Asian Development Bank and World Bank about Philippine education in 1998, Anthony Somerset noted two factors that could have affected the
As to the unequal sampling of students, Somerset explained that “the differences in mean test scores between the Philippines Grade 6 and Grade 7 samples were small: only 13 standard points in both mathematics and science. Internationally, the mean score differences between Grades 7 and 8 were 29 points in mathematics, and 37 points in science. In
Examining the Prescription
Quality over Quantity
For both the original TIMSS and the TIMSS-R, three sets of questionnaires were provided along with the student exam. The questionnaires were accomplished by the students who took the exam, their teachers, and their principals or administrators. The answers to the questionnaires were intended to provide context to the results of the exam.
In summary, for science, the information gathered from the questionnaires in TIMSS-R revealed favorable results for the Philippine sample:
On the average, Philippine responses to some items in the student, teacher, and school questionnaires were higher or the same as the international average percentages such as: high positive student attitude toward science, science instructional time per week (about four times more than the international average), high percentage of topics taught as reported by teachers, the same medium level of home educational resources, peer pressure to do well, school resources, school and class attendance and out of school study time.
It is a puzzle how these findings do not reconcile with the results of the exam. Local experts say the findings need to be validated by conducting school visits, observing actual classes, and doing interviews.
However, the discrepancy in the findings of the questionnaire and the results of the exam reveal one important matter. Science teaching in the
Thus, emphasis should be given more on depth, method of instruction, and quality of evaluation rather than scope. Experts say that achieving this end requires focus on quality more than quantity: “The much higher science instructional time [of the Philippine sample], compared to the international average, can be studied for efficiency of use.” Philippine responses also revealed that “lack of school resources . . . is not as serious as often reported by teachers and principals” though this, too, needs validation.
In math, the main culprit for the dismaying test results was that majority of the topics included in TIMSS had not been taught by Filipino teachers. By contrast, their international counterparts had already covered most of the same topics in the exam. According to experts “this suggests a big gap in the mathematics curriculum and a need to have a critical analysis of the length of schooling for basic education.”
Medium of Instruction
Although there is no study yet on how language could have affected Filipino students’ performance on TIMSS-R, language has also always been identified as a key factor in learning. Some teachers have often argued that the government’s mandate of using English as the medium of instruction has resulted in poor understanding and consequently in poor test results in math and science.
Some teachers who have tried using their native tongue in teaching math and science claim an increase in test scores and a change in attitude toward math and science. These teachers say their students are no longer afraid of math and science.
A lot of teachers further argue that the
Promoting Higher-Order Thinking Skills
Two types of exam were used for TIMSS-R test: multiple-choice and free-response. In both math and science, Filipino students performed worse in free-response items than in multiple-choice. This finding suggests that teachers should expose students more to free-response items and give more emphasis on the development of higher-order thinking skills to allow students to communicate ideas logically. The manner by which free-response questions are made is equally important considering the freedom the students have in giving their answers. Thus, teachers should be trained in making free-response questions of the same quality as the TIMSS-R items.
Filipino teachers have been found to use a lot more of multiple-choice than free-response items. Therefore, the quality of multiple-choice items especially the options provided should also approximate the TIMSS-R items. The latter focus more on data interpretation and application which promote higher-order thinking skills unlike traditional tests which simply teach rote memorization.
It would be very difficult achieving all these changes in an instant considering how hard it is abandoning old habits. Thus, to attain them, teachers at all levels need intensive training and close monitoring by school and education officials as to the kind of tests they give. In addition, it is also suggested that simple recall items should be reduced if not eliminated.
Dealing with the Side Effect
The effects of dismal math and science competency among Filipino students can be observed today in the number of scientists and engineers we have. Eligio Obille, Jr., of the University of the Philippines say that we have only 150 or so scientists and engineers for every million Filipinos, whereas other countries like Japan have 4 000 per million people. He explained that “the United Nations recommended in 1980 that developing countries such as ours should have at least 380 scientists and engineers for every million inhabitants. We are not even half way there.”
Taking the Pill
Since the last TIMSS exam, significant changes have been introduced into the Philippine educational system. The national curriculum has been restructured, revised, and revitalized into the now Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) which focuses on stronger integration within and across five learning areas, namely, Filipino, Science, English, Mathematics, and Makabayan. The objective of the restructuring is to decongest the overcrowded curriculum, thereby focusing more on quality rather than quantity. The Department of Education has also initiated teacher trainings in different parts of the country, emphasizing the development of skills in relation to factual knowledge, conceptual understanding, and reasoning and analysis.
Following a four-year cycle, the latest TIMSS test (renamed Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) was administered last year, in 2003. According to DepEd, the results are expected to come out late this year. We can only hope that the major changes in the local educational system have taken their intended effect.