TIMSS Learning Curve

There was a recent comment in the New Yorker by Louis Menand that got me doing some research. My kids attend a French primary school and so the news that  the french president, Francois Hollande, was intending to outlaw homework definitely caught my attention. Fighting with my son and daughter to learn the word pour la dicteé is not may preferred activity at 6pm on a weekday and I saw plenty of advantages. This needed to be looked into.

I began to research the basis of the New Yorker comment and came across The Learning Curve. A report commissioned by Pearson and conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit. It is not too long and definitely worth a read. The most striking finding is that Finland and South Korea have the most performing education systems using the metrics of the study despite having seemingly completly divergent systems. However, on examination there are similarities and these are cultural. The importance that society gives to education, the esteem that teachers are held in and the quality of teacher training, professional development and smart accountability.

Learning Curve

The study’s key goal is to find correlations between education inputs and outputs globally. In other words trying to understand the Black Box of education. Guess what? They did not find any strong correlations apart from the fact that the key factor in education are teachers. I am sure that is no surprise to educators. There is also a lot of emphasis given to the culture in which an education system finds itself and the suggestion that culture can be changed with good policy. A good point is also made about school choice. Choice for parents can have highly positive impacts, however, this is dependent on the quality of information the parents have at hand.

So what does this mean for online? As an online educator I am very interested how a good online teacher can have an impact in this environment. Can we leverage quality by having lessons and learning activities written by “the best on the business” so that students are stimulated and excited by their learning? Can we create a more equitable system where teachers have to work in a collaborative and transparent environment so developing professionally? Could we empower students to value their education by having them work with their teachers in a forum and media of their choosing (public, private, live, asynchronous etc)? Can we create environments so that teachers have more time to research their subject and continue to learn?

The Learning Curve study also pushed me to review the TIMSS 2011. There were some fascinating statistics in the executive summary, mostly reinforcing what we know that allows students to be successful in Mathematics. Two stats that are both fascinating and scary. The first one is that in the grade 8 survey only 14% of students felt confident in their mathematics and those that felt confident scored over a 100 points better the 41% who classified themselves as “not confident”. This is not good! Another remarkable finding was that whilst in grade 8 over 45% of students from Singapore and Korea were classified as “advanced”, the first non – Asian country after Japan (at 27%) was Russia with 14% classified as advanced. Food for thought.


Tim Knight

Tim is a British Math teacher who has worked on four continents. He currently lives in Bali, Indonesia and is Head of Mathematics and Curriculum Advisor for Pamoja Education, an online education company specialising in delivering IB diploma courses.