Third-grade pupils in a classroom at Ressu Primary School in Helsinki in September 2019. The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (Karvi) is calling for more intensive support to pupils in the early stages of their journey through primary school in order to halt the decline in maths skills. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)


THE MATHS SKILLS of primary school pupils have declined in the past two decades in part because of the insufficient vocabularies of pupils, indicates a report published by the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (Karvi).

The report is based on a digital evaluation of the learning outcomes of roughly 12,500 ninth-grade pupils across Finland in 2021.

“When a mathematical problem is presented verbally, you have to understand words such as face, function and probability just to understand the problem,” Jari Metsämuuronen, a senior evaluation specialist at Karvi, commented to YLE on Thursday.

Educators, he believes, should pay attention to developing the vocabularies of pupils also from the viewpoint of mathematics starting with the very first grades.

The report reveals that for some pupils weak maths skills are associated with lack of patience. The decline in maths skills, though, may also stem from the fact that pupils are not necessarily motivated to try their hardest in tests that have no impact on their grades of future study opportunities.

Karvi assessed the maths skills of ninth-grade pupils completely digitally for the first time, discovering that pupils fared worse than previously with problems that required a visual answer or visual problem-solving skills. Pupils, for example, struggled to determine the number of triangles a square could hold, underestimating the total by half compared to analogue tests.

“We had several problems where performance worsened even for straight-A pupils,” said Metsämuuronen.

He added that on a general level one contributing factor may be that pupils are simply not motivated to memorise knowledge in the modern-day world where much of memory capacity has been outsourced to technology.

“We’re outsourcing our knowledge. Someone could say there’s no need to know something by heart because it can be found on Google or ChatGPT has the answer,” he said.

Karvi has previously reported based on the same data that pupils at the end of their primary school journey can be divided more clearly than before into three groups based on maths skills: pupils with weak skills, with adequate skills and with excellent skills.

The maths skills of some ninth-grade pupils are very weak. Metsämuuronen revealed to the public broadcasting company that more than a third of the pupils participating in the test performed at most at the level of the average sixth-grade pupil.

Karvi is recommending that pupils be provided more intensive support starting with the early school years because the further into their journey through primary school are the more difficult it becomes to bridge skills differences.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT