A research project at the University of Gothenburg has been testing large groups of 13-year-olds in Sweden since the early 1960s using the same intelligence test. The tests have taken place at approximately five year intervals and consist of an inductive-logic test, a verbal test and a spatial test.
The most recent study, which was reported in the new issue of Journal of Swedish Educational Research, shows that today’s teenagers are achieving demonstrably better results in the logic test than was the case fifty years ago. This is positive as logic is a crucial factor for achievement in mathematics. "With regard to pupils chances of assimilating maths teaching, there is thus nothing to indicate that the preconditions have deteriorated in recent decades," says Professor Allan Svensson at the Department of Education.
No inferior talents
The claim has recently been made that Swedish pupils’ mathematical skills are declining when compared with other countries. This should therefore not be to do with inferior talents, but rather with factors such as course content, teaching methodologies, teaching media and teaching skills.
The development is not as positive in terms of teenagers’ verbal capacity. After an increase during the 1960s, the test values start declining slowly before falling even more substantially from 1985.
This is primarily due to the fact that the test is a vocabulary test and many of the words that are included are relatively uncommon in current Swedish. The analyses also reveal that it is precisely the old-fashioned words, such as ”destitution” and ”copious”, that over time have become more difficult for teenagers, while words such as ”separate” and ”attack” have become easier for them to deal with.
"I would hazard to contend that the pupil’s vocabulary is no smaller now that it was in the 1960s, but that it partially consists of other words. The prerequisites for today’s pupils to assimilate teaching in Swedish are consequently not inferior," says Allan Svensson.
Girls perform better
Teenagers’ spatial capacity, the so-called power of spatial imagination, is higher now than it was in the 1960s. This capacity has however diminished somewhat during recent decades, principally as a consequence of weaker attainment by boys. In its turn this has led to girls now performing better than boys in this test, while the situation was the reverse 50 years ago.
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