EU sets up basic skills benchmark

Concerns about the relatively low showing in maths and science across European states have led to the establishment of an EU-wide benchmark in basic skills.

The aim is to reduce the proportion of 15-year-olds with insufficient abilities in reading, maths and science to less than 15 per cent by 2020.

Last week, the Eurydice unit in the EU's Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency published two new reports on the common challenges and national policies currently shaping education in these areas of the curriculum across Europe.

In 2010-11, there were no specific individual support policies for low achievers in science subjects in any European country; only a few had launched nationwide programmes for tackling low achievement in science at school. Instead, support measures tended to be decided at school level and ranged from differentiated teaching, one-to-one tuition, peer-assisted learning, tutoring and ability grouping.

At the teacher-training stage, the focus is still on the curriculum itself rather than training teachers how to teach a diverse range of students, taking into account different interests of boys and girls and avoiding gender stereotypes when interacting with them.

When it comes to maths, Eurydice reports that the majority of European countries provide broad national guidelines to address student difficulties in maths, recommending, for example, the use of individual and small group tuition or curriculum adaptations.

"In some European countries, however, the rate of students who do not have basic skills in mathematics remains significant. Despite this unsettling fact, few European countries have set national objectives regarding low achievement in mathematics. Less than half of the countries conduct surveys or reports on causes of low achievements and even less common are evaluations of support programmes for low achievers," says the report.

"This calls for more stringent action to tackle low achievement in mathematics at national level. Measures should be timely and comprehensive enough to address the various factors that have an impact on low achievement, ranging from parental education levels to insufficient teacher training," it adds.

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