TIMSS: Mathematics

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 8th December 2020.

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Photo of Keith Buchanan Keith Buchanan DUP 3:15 pm, 8th December 2020

T5. Mr K Buchanan asked the Minister of Education, given that he will be aware of the trends in international mathematics and science study (TIMSS) report that lists Northern Ireland's position in mathematics, to give his opinion of that good report and Northern Ireland's placing. (AQT 815/17-22)

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

Certainly, I welcome that report. In the dark days that we have had, it is fairly good news. In the TIMSS report that was published today, in mathematics, we are the seventh-highest performer in the world among those who were submitted. I think that around 58 countries were put in. Of those countries that are wholly in Europe, we were the top European country. I suppose that I will do this on a cross-community basis and say that we significantly outperformed pupils in England and the Republic of Ireland in that subject.

In science, there was also a strong performance, with about 18 countries ahead of us and 28 below us. It should be remembered that some jurisdictions did not participate in TIMSS, possibly because of a suspicion that they would not get the result that they wanted. That makes our position even more impressive.

The findings emphasise that year 6 pupils in particular in Northern Ireland experience high academic success, that there are very few problems with school discipline, and that classrooms are safe and orderly. It is the case — this is a lesson as well — that the most successful countries are those with the smallest gap between those at a socio-economic advantage and those at a socio-economic disadvantage.

While there is a great deal of work to be done on that in Northern Ireland, it is noticeable that our figures show that, for maths and science, the gap between affluent and socially deprived children was considerably lower than it was for our international comparators involved in TIMSS. That shows that, in many ways, there has been a lot of good work, but, of course, there is a still much good work to be done.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 3:30 pm, 8th December 2020

There is about a minute left for a supplementary.

Photo of Keith Buchanan Keith Buchanan DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer. Given how difficult it has been this year with regard to digital learning, online learning etc, what is the Minister's opinion of the TIMSS findings on learning by digital means?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

The TIMSS findings showed that we are considerably ahead of our international comparators. There are issues — I know this from the previous Question Time — with ensuring that there is broadband availability, and there is always more that can be done. What it showed was that 96% of students here had access to a computer or tablet, which is well ahead of our comparators, although that does not necessarily mean that those students have individual access at home. To cover the situation, particularly during lockdown, more than 10,000 devices have so far been provided to our most disadvantaged and vulnerable learners. However, there is further work to be done.

Looking at the independent report and the comparisons with other jurisdictions, we see that we are well ahead of the international average. I should indicate that many very affluent economies throughout the world took part in TIMSS, so Northern Ireland was not being compared with countries that always have difficulties in that regard.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Time is up. Members, please take your ease.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McGlone] in the Chair)