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School system’s failure to teach logical thinking linked to low PISA scores

Dec 13. 2016
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ACADEMICS HAVE called for a major reform in Thailand’s education system and blame students’ low scores in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) on the system’s failure to encourage logical thinking.

Thailand Research Fund (TRF) discussed the bad performance at a press conference after research exposed problems in the current curriculum as well as considerable disparity driven by financial status. 

The 2015 PISA academic evaluation scores, disclosed earlier this month, showed the academic performance of Thai students was far behind their peers from neighbouring countries such as Singapore and Vietnam. Thai students only ranked 54th in science and maths and 57th in reading out of 70 countries. 

Pattamawadee Pochanukul, TRF deputy director and lecturer from Thammasat University’s Faculty of Economics, said research revealed that schools failed to foster critical thinking, analytical skills and logic among students. It also showed that financial disparity also affected students from developing these skills. 

“TRF researchers focused on 2,901 Grade 6 students, 2,305 Grade 10 students and 1,029 vocational students from 10 provinces by testing them on an exam similar to the one at PISA. The test evaluated logical thinking and analytical skills, and learned that the average score was just 36.5 per cent, with just 2.09 per cent of all students passing the exam,” Pattamawadee said.

“Our research results were in line with the PISA score and showed that Thai students lack proper analytical ability and logical thinking skills. We need to do something to improve this situation.” 

She added that the researchers also explored the factors that affected students’ analytical abilities and learned that school records, monthly income of the students’ family and additional tuition played a big part. 

“We found that students whose families have a monthly income of Bt40,000 or more and can pay for extra tuition classes did better on our test. This shows that disparity in financial status plays a big part in students’ abilities,” she said. 

“However, the finding that most stood out was that students with a high grade in school tended to have lower analytical and logical thinking skills.”

Sutheera Prasertsan, a lecturer from the Prince of Songkla University’s Engineering Faculty, noted that a curriculum that only focuses on learning by rote discourages the development of critical and logical thinking. In other words, students who get a high grade in school are only good at memorising, but perform poorly on solving problems on the basis of logic and analysis. 

Sutheera, who has helped develop young researchers with TRF, said the country’s education system required reform at all levels as teaching methods had to be modernised, authoritarianism in classrooms abolished and students’ logic skills sharpened. Students should also focus more on reading and writing skills, he said. 

“The problem with our education system is that there is no room for creativity and critical thinking, though this can be changed by changing the teacher-student relationship so students feel safe enough to express their ideas and exercise their abilities,” he said. 

“Teachers will have to change their role and become a coach who helps students maximise their abilities and encourages their learning based on logical research.” 

Pattamawadee agreed, adding that problems in Thailand’s education system, including disparity, could be resolved by reforming teaching methods and getting teachers to play a significant role. 

“Disparity is obviously the key problem in our education system, but good teachers can greatly improve the situation even if they are in a small rural school. The government, however, also needs to step in and provide these teachers with sufficient resources,” she said. 

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