Miki Nishimura, Duane Henry and Colin Bragg
All secondary schools in all countries structure their time around the study of 'subjects'. In fact the curriculum has a familiar look from one country to the next - languages, Mathematics, Science, Social Subjects, Art, Music - timetabled in periods with classes of students - a school structure that would be comfortably recognisable to an octogenarian returning to her old school. The variation from school to school is primarily in the range of subjects studied, length of school periods and balance of subjects within the school day but the underlying similarity does allow for a common set of data as to the preferences and dislikes of school students, male and female. In this chapter data are presented on what students said about their school subjects. One of the most interesting findings is on reasons why some subjects appeal more than others - intrinsic interest, and why subjects are least liked - pressure for extrinsic grades. There are echoes here of Csikzentimihalyi's (1998) study of motivation which showed that the top three reasons for engagement in school subjects were, in order, enjoyment, satisfaction in getting better at learning, and interest.
In each country students were asked to name their most and least favourite subjects, followed by reasons for their likes and dislikes. The patterns between the sexes are interesting in both similarities and differences from one country to the next. Across the six schools there were some close agreements as to favourite and least favourite subjects. Figure 10.1 shows an aggregate of favourite subjects.
As can be seen, creative subjects together with social science and physical science are most often chosen. Foreign languages follow in fourth place. Native language and Mathematics, generally seen as the two key or 'core' subjects, figure low in the favourites list. However, these overall data conceal some significant differences between one country and the next. Table 10.1 illustrates these differences.
The most striking difference shown in Table 10.1 is Foreign Languages, seen as important and valuable by the European countries and Japan but rated very low by the two English-speaking countries. Bobergsskolan is out of step on