Few secondary school or university students choose mathematics or natural sciences subjects.
Hanke Korpershoek discovered that this has nothing to do with lack of talent for such subjects.
‘Most students could easily have chosen to do a science degree.’
Korpershoek will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 17 February 2011.
Too few students are choosing science subjects and programmes.
In the Netherlands this has received a great deal of attention, in particular since international agreements were made a decade ago on increasing the numbers.
However, the search for science students continues to be arduous, without there being any apparent reason for this.
Therefore, Korpershoek decided to focus on the differences between secondary school pupils who choose science subjects and those who do not.
The first selection takes place at a very early stage:
third-year secondary school pupils choose the profile they will continue in.
‘This is the first of a number of forks in the road where science subjects are dropped.
The Nature and Health profile is still reasonably popular but Nature and Technology not at all.’
Girls in particular tend to ignore this science profile –
just three percent of them choose the Nature and Technology (NT) profile.
research all pupils were asked to complete three tests measuring their science capabilities, irrespective of their profile choice. The tests showed that the science talent of least twenty percent of VWO pupils and 23 percent of HAVO pupils was more or less untapped.
The pupils scored as high or even higher than the NT profile pupils on science aptitude.
What kind of pupil chooses science, Korpershoek wondered.
Is there such a thing as a typical science student?
‘In general, the NT students are somewhat more introverted than other pupils.
Other characteristics such as social contacts and leisure pursuits showed hardly any differences at all.
‘This means that the NT profile is actually accessible to everyone.
Most of the students show no lack of talent and you don’t need a certain type of personality.’
To be successful in subjects such as Mathematics B, Chemistry and Physics, motivation is just as important as talent.
In determining science talent, Korpershoek used a combination of three independent maths-related tests, and not pupil’s school marks.
‘Even the students with less science talent than the average science pupil passed their exams.
Apparently motivation to perform well is just as important as science talent when predicting exam marks for science subjects.’
The same applies to university students.
‘We measured the attitudes of students who had chosen a science degree programme, and those who had not.
The science degree programmes are often considered to be too limited by those who don’t choose them.
With regard to attitudes it turned out that one in ten of the students with an NT profile or a Nature and Health profile who had not chosen science would probably have been better-suited to a science programme than the one they had chosen.
This applied in particular to the girls with an NT profile.
So this is another instance of science talent being untapped.’
In order to profit more from science talent, Korpershoek advocates an independent test that would measure science talent before profile-choice tests are taken.
‘Girls who choose an NT profile on average score higher than the average NT pupil.
However, they are often only advised to do the NT profile if they have an average mark of seven (out of ten) for the science subjects.
Boys will be advised to do it even with an average mark of six.
An independent test would lead to less biased advice.’
Another practical recommendation is to adapt the structure of the profiles.
‘There are very few countries where students must choose at such an early age.
The better you become at a subject, the more motivated you become for it.
Following this line of reasoning would certainly imply that pupils should continue to do Mathematics B a bit longer,
for instance in a broader science profile.
Pupils now already definitively decide at 15 to drop such a science subject.’
Hanke Korpershoek (Heerenveen, 1982) studied Educational Sciences at the University of Groningen.
Her supervisors at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences were Prof. M.P.C. van der Werf and Prof. R.J. Bosker.
Dr H. Kuyper was co-supervisor.
Korpershoek carried out her research at GION, the Groningen Institute for Educational Research.
The title of her thesis is
‘Search for Science Talent in the Netherlands’.
She is University Lecturer at the University of Groningen Teacher Training College (Primary Education) (AoLB: Academische Opleiding Leraar Basisonderwijs).
Hanke Korpershoek, tel.
050-363 6645, e-mail:
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