Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
Home » Humans | About me Impressum Contact Sitemap

Sweden crashes in science education


According to two Swedish articles published on 2009-12-09 (1e, 2e) the quality of Swedish high-school students is abysmal—not necessarily surprising after repeated high-school reforms in a spirit of “everyone should pass”, grade inflation, dropping competence levels among teachers, ... The analysis is based on a TIMSSw investigation evaluating competency in math and physics among last-year high-school students.

More information on education in Sweden (and in general) can be found in an earlier article.

What the press says

The core statements of the articles (partially quoting others, notably the minister of education):

  1. In the TIMSS study Sweden has dropped from being a high scoring country in physics to be fifth out of ten in physics and second-but-last in math. This severe drop has taken place since 1995. (I note that I graduated high school in 1994.)


    The competition?

    According to http://timss.bc.edu/timss_advanced/countries.htmle: Armenia, Islamic Rep. of Iran, Italy, Lebanon, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Russian Federation, Slovenia—apart from Russia (and with some reservations for Armenia as a former Soviet republic) not countries that I would associate with mathematical prowess or a first-rate science education.

    Most of these are also countries with far less economic means than Sweden, with worse infrastructure, whatnot, which makes this discussion the more dire.

  2. These results confirm what was already known.

  3. The amount of math education for teachers will be increased.

  4. Previously removed four-year high-school degrees with a focus on engineering will be re-instated. (Combined with a more thorough high school, compared to the US, they used to be the equivalent of an associate’s degree.)

  5. Grades have remained unchanged, despite dropping proficiency levels; grade inflation is suspected and will be investigated.

Further comments by me

The international report it self is available as PDF through the above website, and I took the opportunity to briefly look over at least parts of it (at roughly 450 pages, it is far too thick for me to justify a deeper investigation). Some tentative observations:

  1. The results between countries are not entirely comparable, e.g. because of some variations in age and pre-selection. However, a not-too-detailed inspection did not give me the impression that Sweden would be disadvantaged; further, the drop since 1995 would be hard to explain in this manner.

  2. Of the investigated sub-topics (exhibit 1.4) Sweden teaches the fewest with 19; the next two are Netherlands (20) and Armenia (22), the remainder are in the significantly higher interval 25–27. Looking at how many topics are not taught is even more revealing: The majority has 0–2, Sweden 8.

  3. Sweden teaches math 3.9 hours/week in the investigated group—marginally better than four others, noticeably worse than five. (Exhibit 1.10.)

  4. Sweden scores a mere 412 in the main evaluation (Exhibit 2.1), despite having the second highest human development index, and a tied second highest age at testing. Philippines is the only worse country with 355; everyone else is between 561 (Russia) and 433 (Armenia); average (possibly by normalization) is 500.

  5. Compared to 1995 (exhibit 2.5), the percentage of students covered by advanced-math programs is down from 16.2 to 12.8, and the score from 502 to 412—a whopping 18 % drop. (The change for other countries is in the range -34 to +12, making it hard to blame the test.)

  6. In Sweden only 48 % of students have a teacher with a post-graduate degree; five countries better, four worse; total range is 12–100 %; median without Sweden is 65 %. (Exhibit 5.3.)

  7. Swedish principals waste more time on the secondary task of administration, with 43 % of their time, than any country except Norway (exhibit 6.1). They do better at PR/fund-raising (“just” 5 %), but their overall time wasted is still the second highest. In fact, splitting the category “other” down the middle, 52 % of their time goes to secondary tasks and only 48 % to primary.

  8. Sweden has the best computer availability and best availability of resources (exhibit 6.8–10).