Published on page A13 of the June 14, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
LAST WEEK, I wrote about the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) conducted in several countries including the Philippines. I had gone into the Internet to retrieve the international report (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2005/2005005.pdf) and shared some of the dismal findings from the Philippines, while wondering why our government wasn?t using the statistics to find ways to address the problems.
A few days later I got a letter from a colleague at the University of the Philippines, Prof. Vivien Talisayon, who it turns out was the national research coordinator for TIMSS in the Philippines. She sent me additional information about TIMSS which should bring us some hope.
But before going into her letter, I did want to underscore the urgency of our educational crisis by sharing a bit more information about our scores compared to the other countries. For the 4th graders, we ranked 23rd among 25 countries in both math and science. With the tests for 8th graders (second year high school in the Philippines), the Philippines ranked 40th for math and 41st in science among 45 countries.
Among the Asian countries that participated -- Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Hong Kong SAR, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Singapore -- we had the lowest scores for 4th and 8th grade science and math.
Just to show how grave the situation is, let me give the results of one of the test questions used for 4th graders: If there are 600 balls in a box, and 1/3 of them is red, how many red balls are there? Only 14 percent of Filipino fourth-graders got the correct answer for that item.
I think that should set the proper context for TIMSS and why need to act quickly.
Mining the reports
Let?s move now to Professor Talisayon?s letter. First, she describes how TIMSS is truly a multinational effort, conducted ?under the auspices of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) based in Amsterdam and managed by Boston College in USA. Sampling was handled by Statistics Canada; data processing was done in Hamburg, Germany; IEA supervised translation of tests and questionnaires; and Educational Testing Service in New Jersey, USA, took care of data analysis.?
I was glad to hear the Philippine government did invest in TIMSS. The local study, Professor Talisayon says, ?was financed by the Department of Education and Department of Science and Technology, and managed by the University of the Philippines College of Education, in collaboration with UP National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development and Integrated School.?
Professor Talisayon says the results ?have been presented and explained to stakeholders in several forums? and a four-volume report is now in the press, for distribution to the Department of Education?s regional and division offices and to the schools that participated. She agrees that the reports can still be ?mined for secondary analysis.?
I?m encouraged to hear that the government has this perspective about stakeholders, but hope they can explore ways to make the reports more accessible. I asked the professor if I could request for a copy of the report, but she said the print run was limited. However, she suggested uploading the reports on the Internet. I hope they do that since there?s so much yet that can be done with TIMSS.
Professor Talisayon says that once the reports are out, the recipients ?can examine areas and test items (skills and concepts) where students scored lowest and implement interventions, specifically, addressing these weaknesses and monitor the effect on student achievement of the class, school and division.?
She acknowledges that our students tend to score lower in items that test abstract concepts, and that this was probably due to a lack of exposure to such kinds of questions.
UP has been offering courses for our teachers to help them change their teaching methods, going ?beyond memorization? and giving students lessons that require more analysis.
I?m hopeful, but I wonder too how far we can go with teaching the teachers. Our current problems began many years ago, back to the colonial period, when we adopted rigid educational methods. There?s still room for rote work but the times also demand a more problem-oriented approach. The question now is whether our educators are willing to move into such methods. Critical learning will also mean a more inquisitive population, something many of our leaders would loath. I?ll write more about this in a future column.
Besides the matter of teaching methods, I pointed out last week that there was a gender angle that needed to be examined in TIMSS. I observed, from the international TIMSS report?s tables, that in the Philippines, females did better than the males in both math and science. Professor Talisayon?s letter clarified what was statistically significant:
?Internationally, there was no significant (could be due to chance alone) gender difference in mathematics performance (Grades 4 and 8). In science, there was no significant gender difference at Grade 4; however, at Grade 8, the boys significantly performed better. In the Philippines, the girls significantly scored higher than the boys in mathematics (Grades 4 and 8) and in Grade 4 science; there was no significant gender difference in Grade 8 science.?
There we have it. Internationally, there were no statistically significant differences except in Grade 8, with boys doing better. Yet in the Philippines, the girls scored better than the boys in 4th and 8th grade math, as well as 4th grade science. Professor Talisayon suggests: ?Maybe there are gender differences in study habits and class participation in our culture. A further study can look into reasons for gender differences.?
This gender analysis is just one example of what you can do with studies like TIMSS. For years now, there have been scientists who say that ?by nature? males tend to do better than females in math and science. The TIMSS study doesn?t support that hypothesis: some countries have males doing better than females while others, like the Philippines, have females doing better than males. Moreover, taken as one international study, the TIMSS results did not show statistically significant differences.
The better performance of Filipino female students does give us another area to look at. But let me save the issue of gender, as well as the matter of teaching methods in our schools, for future columns.
I thank Professor Talisayon for providing additional food for thought around TIMSS.