JAPAN - According to the results of the national achievement test released by the education ministry, the nation's primary and middle school students are not good at analysing and explaining the results of scientific observations and experiments.
A questionnaire was conducted in tandem with the test, targeting sixth-year primary and third-year middle school students, which showed more middle school students tended to avoid science and considered it their weak point than did primary school students.
This year's test was conducted in April, sampling about 9,700 primary and middle schools - about 30 per cent of the total--nationwide. In addition to Japanese, arithmetic and mathematics, science was added to the test for the first time, with the goals of understanding why fewer students are showing interest in science and finding possible solutions to the problem.
For example, on the science test for primary school students, there was a question about an experiment to confirm that the pollination of a pistil causes a plant to bear fruit.
The test presented the following incorrectly performed experiment: After two female flowers bloomed, they were each covered with plastic bags. Pollen from the stamen of a male flower was put on the pistil of the one of the flowers, but not the other. However, both plants bore fruit. The subsequent question asked students to choose the correct way of conducting the experiment and give their reasoning.
The results showed 68.2 per cent of students chose the correct answer of, "A plastic bag should have been put on the flowers when they were buds," while only 32.3 per cent could explain pollination and cite possible pollination through pollen carried by wind or insects even though the flower was not artificially pollinated.
Similar results were seen for other questions, prompting the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry to conclude that many students are "weak at analysing the results of observations and experiments and explaining them in a scientific way."
Meanwhile, according to the questionnaire, about 82 per cent of sixth-year primary school students said they like science. The figure fell to about 62 per cent among third-year middle school students.
"An international survey said that Japanese students have been moving away from science and our results support that," a ministry official said.
In Japanese and arithmetic for primary school students and Japanese and mathematics for middle school students, the percentage of correct answers to word problems was low, a tendency seen in past tests.
The current sampling method yields the average percentage of questions correctly answered for each prefecture with an error of 1 or 2 per cent, so it is impossible to simply compare the results among prefectures. However, high-ranking and low-ranking prefectures remained almost the same as in past tests.
Prompted by public concern about a decline in childrens' academic abilities, the national achievement test targeting all students, in particular school years resumed in 2007, for the first time in 43 years. From fiscal 2010, after the Democratic Party of Japan took power in 2009, the test has been conducted on about 30 per cent of the nation's schools.