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Math (8th grade)
Science (8th grade)
An extension of Heiner Rindermann’s observation on the differences between the two major international standardized tests – namely, that PISA is more a test of general intelligence, while TIMSS loads more heavily on specific curricular knowledge (Rindermann 2015) – is that the difference between the two can be used as a rough proxy for the quality of school systems.
After all, raising general intelligence through special schooling methods is well nigh impossible, but it is possible to teach how to do fractions properly. As I pointed out back in 2013:
However, a second possibility is that the PISA-TIMSS/PIRLS gap is a proxy for differences in the quality of educational systems. It is more feasible to prepare for the TIMSS/PIRLS than it is for PISA, which is closer to an IQ test and is, as such, more difficult to improve through policy interventions. It is nowadays fashionable to lambast the ex-Soviet and East Asian school systems for “rote learning,” “stifling creativity,” and whatnot. However, the data shows that under these systems, pupils perform well above the levels they “should” as indicated by their underlying IQ levels. Meanwhile, in places where “creativity” and “self-expression” are given full bloom, where science lessons focus on the evils of plastic bags in between sermons on LGBT appreciation and the progressiveness of Islamic civilization, academic performance is somewhat less than what might expect based on the local students’ apparent IQ levels.
The ex-USSR countries do not have particularly high IQs by developed European country standards – Russia itself is at around 97 – but it is nonetheless the best performing non-East Asian country in the TIMSS math test, and second after Slovenia in science. Kazakhstan comes just after Russia in math, which is highly impressive given that ethnic Kazakhs have an average IQ of just 82 relative a British mean of 100 (Grigoriev & Lynn 2014).
The Scandis are the opposite in this respect – pretty respectable native general intelligence, but much poorer than expected scholastic results. In the last TIMSS, only around 15% (sic!) of Swedish and Finnish 8th graders were able to do basic fractions. Normally I would have a hard time believing this, but the source was impeccable, and the horror stories about Swedish schools I’ve heard from Swedish acquaintances makes me willing to give credence to such results.
The East Asians get the best of both worlds, and for all the criticism directed at the education system in both the US and England – especially the marked Finland worship you get after every round of PISA – they do pretty solidly as well.
As per usual, the results from Africa and the Arabs are hopeless. As an an Arab Gulf State bigwig once said, “My grandfather rode a Camel, my father rode a Camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a Camel.”