BEIJING, Jan. 19 -- Asian students earn the world's highest scores in science but they are among the least motivated and getting them interested in the subject is essential for the global future of science and technology, an award-winning nuclear theorist citing latest research has said.
The trend is "alarming" and needs urgent attention, said Japanese scientist Arima Akito, following his acceptance of an award last week by the Chinese Academy of Sciences for his contributions to China's international cooperation in science and technology.
Akito, 78, was referring to the annual Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The PISA is an internationally standardized annual assessment jointly developed by participating countries and administered to 15-year-old students.
For years, students from China's Hong Kong and Taiwan, Japan and the Republic of Korea have ranked among those from the top 10 countries in terms of academic prowess, especially in mathematics and science.
However, when it came to interest in their subjects, students from the same areas and countries were at the bottom of the pack, Akito said.
"Young students in Asian countries are learning well but they are forced to do so," Akito said. Their academic performance might help them build a sound foundation for further studies but by then they might have lost their interest in science, he said.
"At a time when we are facing multiple challenges posed by a growing population, water shortage, plus food and energy crises, we have to rely on scientific and technological development to carry us through," Akito said.
"The young generation is our future - we've got to ensure that they learn because they want to, not because they are forced to."
Akito left New York's Stony Brook University in 1974 and moved to the University of Tokyo, where he became its president. He was appointed Japan's Minister of Education and Science in 1998.
He is known to have played a major role in promoting high-level interaction for the strategic development of science and technology between China and Japan since the 1980s.
"China has made tremendous improvements in its attempt to encourage scientific and technological development over the past three decades," he said.
Akito said he hopes to see the same improvements in the two countries' education systems. He is also pushing for the establishment of an environmental research center based in Asia dedicated to researching environmental issues like global warming and regenerative energy.
"I am sure in the near future, we can expect China's first homegrown scientist to win a Nobel Prize," Akito said.
Besides Akito, American physician Yuen-Ron Shen and French chemist Michel Che also received the annual awards presented by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.