and reminds me of my own personal experience:
Before I moved to France, I muddled along as an average pupil (somwhere in West Sussex). Good in science, ok in English and History, average in math etc.
In 1991, I moved to France, and took up schooling there at age 14.
in France, you get taught French (grammar etc), and it was a quantum leap in getting verbs, tenses, grammar rules... miles from English taught in England, and the English lessons were far better than French in England - my classmates could talk to me in English, but to start, I could not talk to them in French!
Back to math: I remember one of our maths projects in school in England was to cut up a TV guide and make your own channel programs for a week making sure that all the programs followed, started and stopped without gaps etc (more logic than math, but anyhow...), some long divison (about 3 lessons) and some multiplication.
In France, my first maths lesson was
a² + 2ab + b²
This is the sort of stuff that was played to students who watched the Open University, not to 14 year old kids going to the local community college!
On the other hand, I had been playing with bunsen burners and test tubes for 3 years in England, and we were allowed to play with bandsaws in technology classes, but France was definitly lagging in the scientific and practical lessons, though maths and language (French and foreign) we so far ahead as to be over the horizon for me.
So now, the science lessons that I held highly have been broken. How can you interest someone in science if you don't even go to the basics?
Physics for me was playing with litmus paper, acids, alkalis, reactions, magnets, batteries, even some basic nuclear theory when explaing about molecules, stable and unstable elements, nicking the test tubes from the lab and wondering how to return them without getting caught (we did), and my team even came third in some regional science project (the great egg race or somthing like that, making Post-office proof egg boxes, gravity controlled timers and the like. Coming to France, I was proud of the fact that even though I could not understand the language, I could breeze through science and biology by understanding the pictures and formulas, and globally having a 3-4 year head start.
It seems over the last 10-15 years, the "difficult" lessons have had to be dumbed down, and it seems one hell of a shame.