New Zealand children at Year 5 scored well below average in the the 2010/2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), ranking 34th out of 53 countries.
Asian nations took out the top five places, while New Zealand effectively ranked bottom of the developed countries alongside Spain, Romania and Poland.
Education Minister Hekia Parata described the results as “seriously worrying” when they were released in December.
“We have many children who lack basic skills and knowledge, particularly in mathematics and science, compared to children of a similar age in other countries,” she said. “We must pay urgent attention to what these studies tell us and tackle some system-wide challenges.”
Our students scored especially badly on arithmetic. When the nine-year-olds were asked how many people were aboard a ship which had 218 passengers and 191 crew, only 52 per cent of New Zealand children got the correct answer (409). The international average was 73 per cent. Yet New Zealand students scored relatively well on questions such as interpreting graphs, which require more abstract thought.
New Zealand students scored even worse on a division problem in the previous test, which asked if 762 cars in a carpark were parked in six equal rows, how many cars were in each row. Only 39 per cent of all students got this right but New Zealand’s success rate was only eight per cent, compared with 36 per cent in the United States, 23 per cent in England and 12 per cent in Australia.
Education consultant Bob Garden, a retired Ministry of Education research director who now co-ordinates the TIMSS survey in New Zealand, said he believed the results were a concern, even though modern educationalists would say children could just use their calculators.