CAIRO: The UNDP-sponsored Arab Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (Timss) Regional Report is the first publication of its kind to examine the results of ten Arab countries that took part in the Timss 2003 global survey, in which 46 countries participated.
The report provides governments and academic communities with a comprehensive analysis of the abilities and performance of students in their respective countries, in the interest of identifying areas for improvement and corresponding reforms. The report was released in Amman late April.
The international average in mathematics at the eighth grade level, obtained by averaging across the mean scores for each of the 46 participating countries, was 467. An average score of 393 was obtained in the Arab region, where Lebanon ranked first in mathematics among the participating Arab countries, achieving a score of 433. Jordan, which was among the first Arab countries to participate in Timss in 1999, is one of only 26 countries worldwide to have passed eighth grade science, where it successfully surpassed the Timss 2003 international average.
In Grade 8 mathematics, Egypt ranked fourth among the Arab countries, though still well below the international average.
Egyptian students ranked above the Arab average in science, again coming in fourth.
Girls’ performance in mathematics and science was on par with boys at both the fourth grade and eighth grade levels, with no indication of statistically significant gender disparities. But the performance of girls surpasses boys in Jordan, Bahrain, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Saudi Arabia in eighth grade science, while girls outperformed boys in Morocco, Tunis and Yemen at the fourth grade level. In Egypt, girls and boys perform equally well in both math and science.
The report contends that curricula in Arab countries have been reinforcing submission, obedience and compliance at the expense of creativity and critical thinking. The report team stresses the need for an urgent shift from emphasis on rote learning and memorization, which have stifled the creativity of Arab students, to greater emphasis on critical thinking, in line with international trends in mathematics and science.
The report also argues that these challenges in education are an immense obstacle to the provision of quality education. Although there has been a numerical increase in educational institutions in the region, the Timss team notes that increases remain unaccompanied by a parallel investment in the quality of education.
“The Arab Timss Regional Report is . creating a wealth of data which we hope will provide a valuable tool to inform educational reforms, said Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, deputy regional director for the Bureau of Arab States at UNDP. “This is a clear confirmation of a greater shift toward knowledge-based societies in the Arab World.
Eight of the Arab countries participated at the eighth grade level – Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, while Morocco and Tunisia participated at both eighth and fourth grade levels and Yemen participated only at the fourth grade level. Over 42,000 eighth grade students and 12,000 fourth grade students from over 1,000 and 500 Arab schools, respectively, participated.
“Serious evaluation mechanisms ought to be undertaken to follow up on test results and recommendations and to address the quality of teaching and teachers in order to determine and tackle caveats in performance. This will in turn necessitate the redesigning and development of Arab curricula, said Adel AlAli, Timss regional coordinator.
Timss has already led to educational reforms in curriculum, evaluation and assessment standards, raising awareness for the need to reform teaching methodologies in the region. To further support reforms and capacity building, Timss has also generated the first cadre of more than 50 education experts trained in key aspects of assessment (sampling, data collection and processing, test development, data analysis and reporting).
Timss is a study of the International Association for the Evaluation of International Association, an independent international cooperative of national research institutions and government agencies that has been conducting studies of cross-national achievement since 1959.
Timss is the widest-ranging global examination of math and science prowess. The study employs questionnaires for students and teachers, about schools and curricula, as well as test booklets for mathematics and science.
The next Timss survey will take place in the second quarter of this year. More than 60 countries are participating in Timss 2007, of which 14 are Arab, including: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian National Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.