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British Teenagers Have Advanced Creative Problem-Solving Skills

Recent tests have shown that British teenagers (ages 15-17) have superior creative problem-solving skills as compared to their other European peers. However, they are still lagging behind their Asian counterparts. The results of this test were backed up by a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The pupils who took the international exams scored better on problem-solving problems that had practical applications like complex math involving prices, taxes and depreciation/appreciation of assets. This is compared to the other parts of the exams such as reading/comprehension and algebraic computation which were administered in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) earlier this year.

The results of these tests are paving the way for change in the British school curriculum. It suggests that young people throughout England are better at solving tricky equations which are related to practical situations and which are phrased in a manner that is different and more complex rather than simpler but more contextually abstract traditional math problems which test retained knowledge as opposed to skill sets.

The OECD’s head of early childhood education and school divisions, Mr. Michael Davidson says that this was definitely good news because it shows that British youth have a good shot at getting good employed. He says that in general, employers value skills which have practical applications such as being able to compute for financial assets or liabilities much more than being able to figure out a quadratic equation.

The results of the study place English in 11th place, out of all the 28 countries which were reviewed. Finland was the only other European country which scored above Britain—the United States came in at 18th place. All of the study’s top countries were from Asia—these being Japan, South Korea and Singapore. Canada was 9th place, a place below Australia. Germany, the closest European country on the ranks, garnered 17th place. China, which was in a top spot in the 2012 first run of the study, ranked surprisingly low in this round, falling from first to 20th.

The Director for the Centre of Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, Mr. Alan Smithers says that while the impressive performance of Britain in the 2014 study is definitely commendable, it should be taken into account that the study is very specific: they’re tackling practical math. He says that it makes sense that China didn’t do very well in this aspect because they topped the portion of the tests for traditional math.

The spokesperson for the Department of Education also spoke out, congratulating the British kids who took the test. However, he says that he doesn’t quite agree that traditional math and practical math need to be contra-indicatory: he points to Japan, South Korea and Singapore which topped on both of these counts.

Some criticism for the study and the OECD tests is that a lot of the practical tests were built around fairly western concepts—one of the tests for instance, had the students purchase a train ticket; the amount on the ticket was deficient. They were then made to calculate and pay for the difference in a short amount of time. The OECD said that while this might be true, they are sure that there are trains everywhere: they also point out that the countries which topped the exams weren’t, in fact, western nations.

Mr. Brian Lightman, the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, says that it’s great that OECD is able to make unpredictable, real-life reminiscent problems. He says that this is definitely a step forward for education in the world—both inside and outside of England.




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