Swedish students falling behind in maths: study

Swedish high school (gymnasium) students’ skills in maths and physics have declined considerably in the last decade, according to the results of an international study.

Swedish students falling behind in maths: study

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.

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.

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Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

Children between ages 6-9 years should be allowed admittance to after-school recreation centers free of charge, according to a report submitted to Sweden’s Minister of Education Lotta Edholm (L).

Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

“If this reform is implemented, after-school recreation centers will be accessible to the children who may have the greatest need for the activities,” said Kerstin Andersson, who was appointed to lead a government inquiry into expanding access to after-school recreation by the former Social Democrat government. 

More than half a million primary- and middle-school-aged children spend a large part of their school days and holidays in after-school centres.

But the right to after-school care is not freely available to all children. In most municipalities, it is conditional on the parent’s occupational status of working or studying. Thus, attendance varies and is significantly lower in areas where unemployment is high and family finances weak.

In this context, the previous government formally began to inquire into expanding rights to leisure. The report was recently handed over to Sweden’s education minister, Lotta Edholm, on Monday.

Andersson proposed that after-school activities should be made available free of charge to all children between the ages of six and nine in the same way that preschool has been for children between the ages of three and five. This would mean that children whose parents are unemployed, on parental leave or long-term sick leave will no longer be excluded. 

“The biggest benefit is that after-school recreation centres will be made available to all children,” Andersson said. “Today, participation is highest in areas with very good conditions, while it is lower in sparsely populated areas and in areas with socio-economic challenges.” 

Enforcing this proposal could cause a need for about 10,200 more places in after-school centre, would cost the state just over half a billion kronor a year, and would require more adults to work in after-school centres. 

Andersson recommends recruiting staff more broadly, and not insisting that so many staff are specialised after-school activities teachers, or fritidspedagod

“The Education Act states that qualified teachers are responsible for teaching, but that other staff may participate,” Andersson said. “This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that other staff may be used, but preferably not’. We propose that recognition be given to so-called ‘other staff’, and that they should be given a clear role in the work.”

She suggested that people who have studied in the “children’s teaching and recreational programmes” at gymnasium level,  people who have studied recreational training, and social educators might be used. 

“People trained to work with children can contribute with many different skills. Right now, it might be an uncertain work situation for many who work for a few months while the employer is looking for qualified teachers”, Andersson said.