By Khaled Al-Abdulhadi

KUWAIT: Hundreds of grade 8 and grade 4 students across Kuwait took the TIMSS mathematics and science assessments to measure their performance in the two subjects. The tests, which were conducted by the National Center for Education Development in cooperation with the education ministry, were held in several schools across the country last week, as part of an international study that aims at evaluating the educational level of students in the country.

The 2023 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study is one of the best studies done in Kuwait for this purpose so far, because it evaluates eighth grade students who were included in the same study when they were in the fourth grade during the COVID-19 crisis. Students from 300 schools across the country took the test. “We will see the extent of the impact of the crisis on these students,” said Nasser Al-Mutairi, a member of the media committee at the National Center for Education Development.

Conducted every four years since 1995, TIMSS measures how effective countries are in teaching mathematics and science. It’s administered by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), headquartered in the Netherlands. Kuwait was one of the first Arab countries to hold this assessment, in 1995.

Low 2019 scores

The 2019 TIMSS exams were held in over 50 countries and jurisdictions from all continents and tested students of both grades in both subjects and graded them based on their average scale scores. In 2019, Kuwait scored among the lowest grades in the two subjects. The top five scorers for grade 4 mathematics were: Singapore (625), Hong Kong (602), South Korea (600), Taiwan (599) and Japan (593). The countries topped the list with minor differences. Morocco (383), Kuwait (383), South Africa (374), Pakistan (328) and the Philippines (297) came last on the list.

As for the grade 8 mathematics exams, Singapore (616), Taiwan (612), South Korea (607), Japan (594) and Hong Kong (578) scored the highest. Oman (411), Kuwait (403) Saudi Arabia (394) South Africa (389) and Morocco (388) came last.

Singapore (595) was the top scorer once again in the grade 4 science category, closely followed by South Korea (588), Russia (567), Japan (562) and Taiwan (558). The lowest countries were Kuwait, Morocco, South Africa and the Philippines.

For eighth graders in the science exams, again Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Russia topped the list, while Kuwait with 444 points just missed the bottom five countries, placing before Saudi Arabia (431), Morocco (394), Egypt (389), Lebanon (377) and South Africa (370).

Improving education

The issue of education has been a public matter for years. According to the official document database of the National Assembly, there have been 1,470 MPs’ questions addressed to the education minister from Aug 15, 2013 till date, many of which concern the quality of education in the country.

Principal of Abdellatif Al-Shamlan Intermediate School for Boys Bader Al-Shammari said more students participated in this year’s test compared to 2019, with 27 students from his school taking part. “The future benefit of the study is to measure quality standards in education in Kuwait,” he said. The General Director of the National Center for Education Development Amina Al-Jaber said the outcomes of the evaluation will be studied and used to develop education in Kuwait.

According to the ministry of finance, the budget allocated for the ministry’s expenditure was KD 1.843 billion in 2014/15, KD 1.673 billion in 2015/16, KD 1.726 billion in 2016/17, KD 1.864 billion in 2017/18, KD 2.070 billion in 2018/19 and KD 2.136 billion in the 2019/20 fiscal years. The numbers show the education budget has increased over the years.

The big spending seems to have reflected positively on Kuwait’s scores in the TIMSS exams. When comparing 2015 to 2019 numbers, Kuwait is one of the participants with the most drastic improvements across all categories averaging around 22 points increase between the two exams. Still, moreimprovement is necessary. The results of the 2023 exams won’t be out soon, but it is important to track the results of this year’s exam in order to understand where we stand, how we compare with countries of the world, and how to improve our standings at the global level. Education is an important element in the future of any country, as countries that fall back in education almost always end up losing their global rankings.