British Education – Problem that’s solved then?


A previous post here (Programme for International Student Assessment) recounted the demise of education in Britain, as demonstrated by the UK’s sorry performance in OECD’s PISA latest survey on the state of global education – Asian counties topped the pile, while we have dropped down to the mid twenties (fifteen years ago we were in the top ten!).

But it turns out that all is not lost! It transpires that in another just published subset of additional tests on ‘Problem Solving’, England had a much better result ranking eleventh in the World (and the second highest, just after Finland in Europe no less!). So our 15year old teenagers (nearly a hundred thousand sample) performed significantly above average when it gets down to skill in applying knowledge to problems – being creative if you like.

The aim of these ‘problem solving’ computer tests was to assess how well the teenagers could sort out problems that didn’t have an immediately clear solution, so showing their capacity to apply ‘reasoning’ in dealing with an academic issue.

While this excellent result cannot wipe-out the disappointing showing in the PISA core subject tests, it is nevertheless an encouraging and creditable achievement – well done our English boys and girls who both did equally well. (only two thirds of the countries participated in these optional tests, but our lot beating America (18th), Germany (17th) and Sweden (the poorest marks in the Nordic countries) is certainly a feather in their cap isn’t it? Perhaps we do have a future in the new World’s economy after all?).

The UK has a worthy track record in the perceptive use of knowledge, so the success of our new youngsters in problem solving is a cheering outcome and perhaps a bit of light at the end of the tunnel? What are some of the complex things we have done in the past three hundred years? Well what about ‘water desalination, jump jet, atomic clock,  spinning jenny, supersonic passenger aircraft, television, world wide web, DNA fingerprinting, high strength carbon fibre, chocolate bar, collapsible baby buggy, tin can, automatic electric kettle, float glass, anaesthesia, safety fuse, Davy safety mining lamp, tuning fork, movie projector, first printed book in English, electric dynamo, slide rule, discovery of Oxygen, black hole theory, isolation of sodium, cricket, parachute, first full scale railway, seat belt, hovercraft, postage stamp, ultrasound scanner, pedal cycle, insulin, flush toilet, crossword puzzle’, amongst hundreds of others! Britain has certainly been a nation of innovation – problem solving is supposed to be essential and give us an edge in industry and engineering but what we have been totally crap about though is actually making any money out of our inventions and discoveries – the Americans are a people ace at that (take your hat off to them) , and they run with our ideas and make their fortunes, while we are still contemplating our navels!

The worrying thing though is that we in the West are falling behind our competitors from the East – Singapore, South Korea, Japan & China were top in these tests as well as in maths, reading and science.

Students in 44 countries and economies took part in this test, tackling real-life, interactive problems, such as programming an MP3 player and planning a route navigating an online map.


Recounted previously but worth repeating here again!

A while ago we went on eurostar to Brussels. As we waited in the London terminal, there was an under 5 year old Chineselad with his dad. For the whole 25 minutes he was spoken to and skilled– he was told to count the tiles on the floor, or read out the signs on the wall, or say how many empty chairs there were, etc. The Britishyoungsters were instructed to sit down, be quiet, behave themselves, and just wait as the train would be coming soon. What does that tell you? If you travel abroad, to say Singapore, you will find the same East Asiancommitted parental attitude to education and their kids’ development. Our UKMums & Dads need to learn to care, put more effort in, and recognise the importance of education. Also, Exam authorities need to stop awarding A double plus grades for mediocre performances!

[No point blaming the kids is it!]


[The organisation OECD (Paris) conducts worldwide international tests of academic performance in Mathematics, Reading, and Science on half a million fifteen year olds].

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