Mr. Pasi Reinikainen' s Academic dissertation 26.10.2007


Factors influential to students’ academic performance differ between countries
In his doctoral thesis, Finnish PISA Researcher Pasi Reinikainen studied the countryspecific
factors connected to the science achievement of eighth-grade students in Finland,
England, Hungary, Japan, Russia and Latvia.

-It is naïve to think that some countries could improve their students’ achievement by
copying some features of e.g. Finnish educational system and then pasting them on to
their own educational systems. The national systems and cultures just cannot be changed
so easily. Instead of mimicking others, nations should focus on developing further the
national factors connected to students’ good or weak achievement, says Reinikainen.

Focusing on national features is the key to better educational achievement

Reinikainen’s doctoral thesis shows some idiosyncratic/specific national and cultural
features, which the parents and teachers, as well as the research and development of
educational systems, should focus on in their attempts to improve the students’ science

Parents of Finnish students should be aware of the amount of time their children spend
watching TV and monitor the programmes their children watch. The time Finnish
students spend watching TV correlates negatively with their achievement in science.
Watching news, nature programmes and documents, however seems to have a positive
effect on science achievement, Reinikainen explains.

In England, attention should be paid to test frequency. Students who were given tests
almost continuously were found to score lower in science than those who were given
tests rarely or not at all. The schools giving frequent quizzes and tests, and the nature of
these exams, call for further study.

The Hungarian educational system could be improved by making the students do less
pair and group work, as they were found to be connected to weak science achievement.
Project work was found to have a similar effect.

- Often only a few students in the group focus on the task at hand, while the others
merely look on. The teachers could take a more active role in guiding group and project
work, Reinikainen says.

In Japan, parents should pay attention to the ways their children spend their time.
Japanese students do not normally have much spare time since school or school-related
activities take a lion’s share of their time. In Japan, the time students spend with their
friends has a negative effect on science achievement.

In Latvia, student-centered approach in teaching predicts weaker science achievement
and, in Russia, memorizing textbook material and relying on good luck turned out to be
very weak learning strategies.

Ranking lists of comparative achievement studies misleading

There is currently a worldwide boom of large-scale international comparative student
achievement studies. However, the major outcome of these studies (PISA, TIMSS,
CIVICS, etc.) seems to be numerous ranking lists of separate educational contents. These
rankings are not necessarily linked with student learning outcomes in the studied
countries, and can often be misleading if used in educational policy making. Huge
databases are collected in these assessments but unfortunately the information is often
not utilized to its full potential.

Reinikainen’s doctoral dissertation utilized one of these databases, TIMSS 1999, and
explored it much deeper than merely to produce a ranking list. The goal of his study was
to reveal significant predictors of student science achievement in Finland, England,
Hungary, Japan, Latvia and Russia, and to explain the various cultural situations where
those achievements have been made.

For public audience, Reinikainen’s study offers an inside perspective on international
comparative student assessments. It gives answers to the questions what these studies can
do, what they cannot do, and what they should and perhaps could do in the future.


General information:
Phil. Lic. Pasi Reinikainen’s doctoral dissertation will be publicly examined on October
26th 2007, at 12.00 hours, in the hall MaA211 in Mattilanniemi, Jyväskylä.
The dissertation “Sequential Explanatory Study of Factors Connected with Science
Achievement in Six Countries: Finland, England, Hungary, Japan, Latvia and Russia.
Study based on TIMSS 1999” has been published as nr. 22 in the series: Jyväskylä
Institute for Educational Research. 263 pages. Jyväskylä 2007. ISSN 1455-447X, ISBN
978-951-39-2953-4 (print), ISBN 978-951-39-2954-1 (pdf).

The dissertation is available at the Institute for Educational Research: Customer services,
University of Jyväskylä. P.O. Box 35, FIN-40014 Jyväskylä, Finland.
Phone: +358 14 2603330
Fax: +358 14 2603241

Also available on the Internet.

Pasi Reinikainen. Tel. +358 14 260 3222 or +358 41 5052633,