Mastering the Subjects & Loving the Experience: Singapore Students’ Strengths in Maths and Science Affirmed

1. Singapore’s Primary 4 (P4) and Secondary 2 (S2) students continue to perform well in Mathematics and Science by international standards, according to the latest results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2015 by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA)1. Besides having content mastery, our students are able to apply their knowledge and conceptual understanding to solve problems. These are important competencies that will place them on a strong footing for higher education and continuing learning throughout their lifetime. These results, in fact, have been consistent over a 20-year period, as borne out by successive cycles of TIMSS.

2. Ms Low Khah Gek, Deputy Director-General of Education (Schools), said: “We are proud of our students. Our teachers have provided quality learning experiences for them, and we are heartened that our teaching and learning systems are strong. But we will not rest on our laurels, just because we have received international kudos. MOE and schools will continue to work closely with parents and the larger community to further build on our students’ strong foundation and prepare them well for their next stage of education and for a fulfilling career ahead.”

3. Students who participated in TIMSS 2015 reported that they received good support from their school and home, and that both teachers and parents had helped nurture their interest and support their learning in mathematics and science.

Key Findings of TIMSS 2015

“Looking Up: Our Students Keep Doing Well”

4. Our P4 and S2 students continue to show a strong grasp of Mathematics and Science, making steady improvements in these subjects over time, especially in higher-order thinking skills2. For example, in TIMSS 2015, our P4 and S2 students were better able to apply knowledge and skills, and solve non-routine Mathematics and Science problems, compared with TIMSS 2007 (see Figure below). This reflects our curricular shifts towards a greater emphasis on such thinking skills over the years. In terms of overall Mathematics and Science prowess, our P4 and S2 students outperformed their peers from all other countries that participated in TIMSS 2015.

Figure on average scores for “Applying” and “Reasoning” for Mathematics and Science in 2007, 2011 and 2015 Figures

“Thumbs Up: Our Students Like The Subjects”

5. Our students have positive attitudes towards learning the two subjects, with TIMSS 2015 showing that our students like and see value in studying them. The learning environment in both their home and school also contributed to such positive dispositions towards learning. For example,

  1. Nearly all of our P4 students have parents who strongly believe in the importance of learning Mathematics and Science, and the subjects’ usefulness to real life.
  2. In terms of classroom experiences, more than 8 in 10 of our P4 and S2 students say that their Mathematics and Science teachers are clear in their expectations, are good at explaining concepts, and listen to their views.

“Leg Up: Our Students Get The Help They Need”

6. Our education system supports students across all achievement levels, providing opportunities for all to succeed. TIMSS has four international benchmarks describing what students know and can do at the “Low”, “Intermediate”, “High”, and “Advanced” levels of achievement. Results from TIMSS 2015 show that:

  1. The proportion of our P4 and S2 students who did not attain the lowest (i.e., “Low”) international benchmark has remained very small in both subjects (see Table below).

  2. table

  3. Singapore continues to have relatively large proportions of P4 and S2 students who are highly competent in Mathematics and Science. In TIMSS 2015, at least half of our P4 and S2 students are deemed highly competent in Mathematics, attaining the “Advanced” benchmark, and about 4 in 10 are deemed highly competent in Science.

Background of TIMSS

7. TIMSS is an international study that measures what students at Grade 4 and Grade 8 (equivalent to P4 and S2 respectively in Singapore) can do — understand, apply, and reason — in Mathematics and Science. TIMSS follows a four-year cycle and Singapore has participated in every cycle of TIMSS since its inception in 1995.

8. TIMSS 2015 involved 64 education systems and benchmarking entities (please see Annex). In Singapore, about 6,500 randomly selected P4 students from all primary schools and about 6,100 randomly selected S2 students from all secondary schools participated in TIMSS 2015. The student samples were subjected to strict audit by IEA and are deemed to be representative of Singapore’s student population at the respective grades. All results have been weighted accordingly to provide valid national-level estimates.

9. For more information about IEA’s TIMSS 2015, please see http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/.

Footnotes
  1. IEA is a non-profit independent international cooperative of national research institutions and governmental research agencies which conducts large-scale comparative studies in education, aimed at gaining in-depth understanding of the effects of policies and practices within and across systems of education. Singapore is an institutional member of the IEA, as are all education systems that participate in at least one IEA study.
  2. Higher-order thinking skills include the ability to reason, think critically, apply existing knowledge to a new problem situation, evaluate the pros and cons of different ideas, weigh options, and synthesise information from multiple sources to create something new. Critical thinking and creativity are usually considered higher-order thinking skills
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