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Durham University

School of Education

Staff Profile

Publication details for Prof Jens Beckmann

Scherer, R. & Beckmann, J.F. (2014). The acquisition of problem solving competence: evidence from 41 countries that math and science education matters. Large-scale Assessments in Education 2(1): 10.

Author(s) from Durham


On the basis of a ‘problem solving as an educational outcome’ point of view, we analyse the contribution of math and science competence to analytical problem-solving competence and link the acquisition of problem solving competence to the coherence between math and science education. We propose the concept of math-science coherence and explore whether society-, curriculum-, and school-related factors confound with its relation to problem solving.

By using the PISA 2003 data set of 41 countries, we apply multilevel regression and confounder analyses to investigate these effects for each country.

Our results show that (1) math and science competence significantly contribute to problem solving across countries; (2) math-science coherence is significantly related to problem solving competence; (3) country-specific characteristics confound this relation; (4) math-science coherence is linked to capability under-utilisation based on science performance but less on math performance.

In sum, low problem solving scores seem a result of an impeded transfer of subjectspecific knowledge and skills (i.e., under-utilisation of science capabilities in the acquisition of problem solving competence), which is characterised by low levels of math-science coherence.