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Survey: Downward trend in academic performance tapering off

Learners' attitudes toward education are improving, but academic performance is still below 2001 levels.

Nuori laskee matematiikan läksyjä.
Finland's downward slide in education appears to be slowing down. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

The results from a national survey on the ability of schoolchildren to learn and retain information shows that a downward trend in academic performance is levelling out after years of decline.

Even with positive attitudes toward learning on the rise among the teens surveyed, proficiency levels are still well below those recorded by a similar survey in 2001.

Differences in learning ability were glaring between boys and girls, with female students far out-performing their male classmates.

The results are from 2017, which was the third year that the survey was conducted. The most recent survey asked 7,800 ninth-grade students (from 83 different secondary schools) questions about the instruction they had received and their attitudes towards education.

Researchers first detected indications of negative attitudes towards learning among students in 2012. However the dip in scholastic achievement that began seven years ago appears to have tapered off, according to Helsinki University's Centre for Educational Assessment (CEA).

Educated mothers tip scales

The study measured academic attainment among secondary school students in three areas: literacy, logical reasoning and mathematical skills.

End-of-year grades for female students significantly outpaced those of boys. Girls averaged 8.1 points out of 10, while the male average was 7.6 points.

Girls were also more confident about their academic prospects while boys were found to hold more negative assumptions about learning.

The study also found that family income correlated with children's performance in school. In particular, highly-educated mothers were found to be most likely to pass on their keenness for education to their children – the more educated the mother, the more motivated the child.

Regional discrepancies in learning were also identified. Learning and performance were ranked highest in southern and southwestern Finland, poorest in eastern Finland and Lapland.

The CEA report also included the introduction of adaptive assessment tasks, which were used to evaluate students' commitment to various tasks and to improve the testing procedure itself.

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