Sunday | 11 October, 2009

Education in Georgian Schools | Research Findings from TIMSS

On Monday, 5 October Tiko Ambroladze and Tamuna Khoshtaria, junior fellows at the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC) in Georgia, gave a policy paper presentation on “Education in Georgian schools – 4th Grade Students’ Achievements and Its Determinants”. The study is based on data from Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). TIMSS is a systematic study of educational achievement carried out every fourth year (the most recent in 2007), testing students but also collecting different information from students, teachers and school principals. The aim of TIMSS is to help countries improve teaching and learning in mathematics and sciences.

Ambroladze and Khoshtaria’s study concludes that the eight following factors have a statistically significant impact on students’ achievements. First, gender turned out to be significant on the math regression model. The study shows that boys score better on the math tests than girls, but gender was not a determining factor for science achievement scores.

Second, the study shows that having many books at home has a positive effect on students’ achievements. Therefore, the fellows recommend more school libraries, specific reading classes in schools, and that schools should put a special emphasize on reading. A point highlighted by the audience was, however, that the number of books at home does not necessarily mean that the students read them. More important might be the level of education of the parents, and the number of books could then be an indication of the level of the parents’ education. More research would thus be needed in order to establish in what way the number of books at home has on students’ achievements.

Third, if students have had something stolen in school, have been left out from school activities or have been made do something they did not want to do (i.e. bullied), they score less well on tests than students that do not have these problems. Interestingly, this turned out to be the factor that had most effect on students’ performance. In this regard, Ambroladze and Khoshtaria’s main recommendation was to improve security and to resolve safety problems in schools.

Fourth, and somewhat surprisingly, class size only had a small effect on students’ performance, and it can therefore be questioned whether smaller classes would improve the scores. In any case, the study points out that more research is needed in this area.

The fifth factor deals with students’ attitudes towards school and the study shows, again rather unexpectedly, that students that like school perform worse on the math tests than others. One of the possible explanations that the fellows put forward is that the students who like being at school and have fun spend less time studying. This is only one possible assumption, though, and it highlights the need for more research in determining the reasons between the connections between students’ attitudes and achievements in school.

Sixth, being able to work independently and being given the opportunity to work out problems on one’s own had a positive effect on math scores but was not significant for science. The fellows’ recommendation is, therefore, that children should be allowed to work independently more frequently, but also that there is a need for further research in this area in order to assist the development of appropriate policies.

Seventh, the study shows that parental support and doing homework is significant for students’ achievements. Therefore, Ambroladze and Khoshtaria recommend that those students that do not have the possibility to study at home should be given the option to come to school to do their homework, and parents should to a greater extent be involved in school activities. However, the fellows pointed out the importance of not giving too much homework as it can result in a lack of motivation.

Finally, computers and the Internet contributed negatively to fourth graders’ achievements. The assumption is that they are primarily used for games, rather than for learning. Therefore the recommendation is that the usage of computers and Internet should be controlled and parents should be informed about the potential negative role of computers. It was pointed out by the fellows and the audience that it is important to know how often computers are used in the 4th grade and to have data on the schools that actually have access to computers.

Looking at these eight factors that have a statistically significant impact on students’ achievements, some important general recommendations can be provided, while also accentuating the need for secondary analyzes. The ambition is thus that the study can be used as a basis for highlighting areas that are in need of further improvements. As there have been no other studies of this kind in Georgia based on TIMSS, this study offers much valuable reflections and recommendations on the issue. It is important that the results from the study become publically accessible with more debates around teaching and learning in Georgian schools. Unquestionably, there is a need for further research focusing on what determines Georgian students’ achievements.

Additional presentations can be given upon request by contacting CRRC Georgia.