• Sweden's news in English

Swedish students falling behind in maths: study

TT/The Local · 9 Dec 2009, 12:05

Published: 09 Dec 2009 12:05 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The last time the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) was carried out in 1995, Sweden was among the countries which produced the highest results in physics.

Today, Sweden is in second to last place when it comes to student’s knowledge of maths, while landing in fifth place among the ten countries included in the TIMSS study.

According to the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket), however, there are difference between the participating countries when it comes to which students are allowed to take part in the study.

Russia, for example, selects participants from among the country’s top students, while Sweden chooses from a broader sample of students.

Sweden dropped the farthest in both maths and physics among the four countries which participated in the TIMSS in both the 1995 and 2008.

The percentage of Swedish students who failed to reach an average level of knowledge in maths has nearly doubled from 36 to 71 percent, according to Skolverket.

At the same time, the percentage of students who received the highest marks has dropped from 6 percent to 1 percent.

The share of physics students who performed below average has increased from 8 percent to 38 percent, while the percentage who reached the top scores fell from 25 percent to 7 percent.

“It’s very disquieting that we’ve dropped so far during this period,” said education agency head Per Thullberg in a statement.

Grades received by Swedish students in maths and physics haven’t shown a marked decline during the same period, however.

“Grades, with more students getting the highest marks, don’t correspond to students’ level of knowledge in maths and physics as shown by the TIMMSS, but rather show the opposite trend,” said Thullberg.

The education agency offers several possible explanations for the weaker results, with one being that students have much weaker prior knowledge of the subject when they leave grade school.

As a result, high school teachers must spend a large proportion of class time reviewing basic concepts.

Sweden also offers less class time in both maths and physics compared to the other countries in the study.

Story continues below…

In addition, a large portion of class time is devoted to independent work.

Other possible explanations may lie in changes to Sweden’s curriculum. Previously, students took comprehensive classes in maths and physics, where previously taught concepts were constantly reviewed.

The TIMSS Advanced 2008 is an international comparative study which examines students’ knowledge in maths and physics in their final year of high school.

TT/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

13:08 December 9, 2009 by Nemesis
This is bad news and confirms something I have been noticing for a while.

The mathmatics standards has been dropping a bit for a while now in Sweden, although not as long or far as the UK and Ireland.

There is a lot of very good mathmatics teachers who have just come from Kosovo, Serbia, Croatia, Poland and Russia. They should be given more intensive SFI and Konvux courses to get them into teaching in Sweden. That would help fill the gap regarding good mathmatics teachers for a while.

Sweden needs to start encouraging people to train to be mathmatics teachers to fill the recrutiment gap in the long term.

A drive to help with the increase in classroom discipline problems needs to occurr at the same time, so as to remove a major hurdle to teacher recruitment.

Also the pay scales of teachers needs to be looked at. They are definately paid to little.
14:17 December 9, 2009 by magirus
During my graduate studies at KTH I worked also as teaching assistant and there was a clear trend in which international master students were, on average, getting better marks than swedish students. The most frequent explanation from the swedish was that the othere students had no life, they were studying all the time and this is not really their ideal way etc...

Probably the truth lies halfway; yes Sweden needs better teachers and teaching methods, but the bottom line is that studying math and physics is hard and require a certain dose of personal sacrifice for which the party-oriented swedish youth seems less and less prepared.
14:24 December 9, 2009 by LudwigJohansson
It's all about discipline, look at Finland..they have a perfect system....students here...especially in the lower and mid classes go out and buy candy /soda on breaks...this is not allowed in Finland, insted they get sugar free gum when they have lunch.

Here we have problems with money, where i study there are 7-8 filled classes with only "special" people..these just happen to be immigrants, they cost ALOT because they need extra help.

Sweden looks more like USA because of the segration, Finland dont have these problems.
14:43 December 9, 2009 by just a question
study science and math requires sacrifice.

This sacrifice can "traumatize" Swedish students. And the parents will complain. And the teacher will be fired.

And school is suppose to be funny, not a place for sacrifice.

15:25 December 9, 2009 by livinginsweden
education in school is over-rated ......

successful creative people are often school drop outs.

16:11 December 9, 2009 by Staffs
If school is so great why is it compulsory?

Don't confuse schooling with education.
17:43 December 9, 2009 by insect

I agree with you but you have failed to represent the rest of the world which; believe it or not; also has highly intelligent people.

Case in study: The kid who solved the centuries old maths problem was from Iraq. I am sure the years he lived in Iraq contributed a great deal to his mathematical skills in terms of his tutors there.
19:58 December 9, 2009 by spy

Perhaps your case study was an example of the 'infinite monkey theorem' which states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.
22:37 December 9, 2009 by Celc
@magirus - A simpler explanation for your observation is that international students are more ambitious and hard working than people who stay in their own country.
00:23 December 10, 2009 by Dr. Dillner

Excellent points; I fully agree.
02:11 December 10, 2009 by JoeSwede

Excellent points; I fully agree.

But since we won't be producing Saab or Volvos, we don't need physics or math knowledge!

Of course, these international comparisons don't impress me because there was probably no incentive to perfom. How can you compare exams where no one has any skin in the game...

I think Sweden like other western nations is pushing its youth to learn serious stuff later in life as well as relying on the few that enjoy the serious stuff to be the stewards of the knowledge. Much easier to use the cell phone than actually understand how it works.
03:23 December 10, 2009 by Davey-jo
I know everyone will laugh at me but I think mathematical skills have declined since calculators were allowed into classrooms. There is no longer a regime of learning how to multiply numbers; most children these days have no idea how to do mental arithmetic. Basic numerical skills are absolutely essential for progress in maths. But, heh, why bother there's a machine to do this for me so why should I know what 9 times 12 is? It's too much like old fashioned "learning". Yes and that's the point; it's learning, hard work, and bloody boring. But once learned , never forgotten and the basis of future education.

As for the idiot who said "Don't confuse schooling with education." Schooling is education dumbwit! Or at least it's the start.
03:36 December 10, 2009 by repat_xpat
When my son started at the Swedish public school in Trollhattan he found himself doing the same work he did four years before in the USA. It was possible for him to study math at his level. What's worse is that the egalitarian Swedish culture treated him like a tall poppy for wanting to do something other than his peers.

When he went to the prestigious ISGR in Goteborg he was only two years behind, but was still unable to study at his level.

In America, he is a good student, but only average amongst the good students (not an overachiever).

There is much to worry about the education in Sweden. We pulled our kids from the Swedish school system because the cultural benefit wasn't worth the lost education.
03:54 December 10, 2009 by krigeren
A teacher at my sons international school in Sweden told me the kids are at least two years ahead in math compared to their Swedish counterparts.

I am friends with a recruiter who focuses on placing scientists within corporations within Sweden.

She says its impossible to find students with a "fundamental" understanding of chemistry here and she has to pluck them up from Germany and beyond to fill posts.

So...at least she can already see the impacts of a weak focus by Sweden within the field of science.
09:48 December 10, 2009 by renegot

I had the same with my kid. Sometimes I had an impression that some teachers have huge gap in their education - none of them had a master's degree - what is absolutely a must in Polish schools.

So I did as you.
10:31 December 10, 2009 by La Figaro
This is no longer news, I wonder why its being repeated.

During my studies in Sweden, my programme manager told us that swedes are good in IT/programming but utterly terribly in maths whereas the opposite is the case with us international students.

Yes, the use of powerful calculators is also partly to blame.
13:41 January 24, 2010 by Alien.in.stockholm
dont forget english... during my study in sweden.. i had to correct the english parts written by my swedish team members... awful !!!
22:41 February 19, 2010 by HeinzAngli
Nemesis I right to decry the decline in the mathematical ability of Swedish youngsters.

He is not right in his opinion that they are still superior to young people in England and Ireland. The TIMMS report on which so much of the article was based shows that England has had the greatest increase in performance over the period 1995 to 2008. In the most recent comparisons England was the second highest scoring European nation in both the grade 4 (9 yr old) and grade 8 (13 yr old) categories. 3 pts behind Russia in the first, 1 pt head in the second.

Ireland did not take part.
Today's headlines
Hundreds protest Swedish asylum laws
Around 1,000 people protested in Stockholm. Photo: Fredrik Persson/ TT

Hundreds of people on Saturday demonstrated in Stockholm and in many other parts of the country to protest Sweden’s tough new laws on asylum-seekers.

Dylan removes Nobel-mention from website
The American musician has more or less responded to the news with silence. Photo: Per Wahlberg

American singer-song writer Bob Dylan has removed any mention of him being named one of this year’s Nobel Prize laureates on his official website.

Refugee crisis
Asylum requests in Sweden down by 70 percent
Sweden's migration minister Morgan Johansson. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Sweden received 70 percent fewer requests for asylum in the period between January and September 2016 than it did during the same time last year, the country’s justice and migration minister Morgan Johansson has revealed.

The unique story of Stockholm's floating libraries
The Stockholm archipelago book boat. Photo: Roger Hill.

Writer Roger Hill details his journeys on the boats that carry books over Stockholm's waterways and to its most remote places.

Refugee crisis
Second Stockholm asylum centre fire in a week
The new incident follows a similar fire in Fagersjö last week (pictured). Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Police suspect arson in the blaze, as well as a similar incident which occurred last Sunday.

More misery for Ericsson as losses pile up
Ericsson interim CEO Jan Frykhammar presenting its third quarter results. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

The bad news just keeps coming from the Swedish telecoms giant.

Facebook 'sorry' for removing Swedish cancer video
A computer displaying Facebook's landing page. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

The social media giant had censored a video explaining how women should check for suspicious lumps in their breasts.

Watch this amazing footage of Sweden’s landscapes
A still from the aerial footage of Sweden. Photo: Nate Summer-Cook

The spectacular drone footage captures both Sweden's south and the opposite extreme, thousands of kilometres north.

Sweden could be allowed to keep border controls: EU
Police ID checks at Hyllie station in southern Sweden. Photo: Stig-Åke Jönsson/TT

Sweden could be allowed to keep ID controls on its border with Denmark beyond the current end date of November, following discussions among EU leaders in Brussels last night.

Why women in Sweden will work for free by November
File photo of a woman working in a Swedish office. Photo: Anders Willund/TT

A new study into the gender pay gap suggests Sweden still has some work to do.

Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Here's where it could snow in central Sweden this weekend
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden's 'a-kassa'
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
People-watching: October 12th
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
Missing rune stone turns up in Sweden
Nobel Prize 2016: Chemistry
jobs available