Shanghai math education has gained bragging rights on the global stage as classrooms in the city continue to churn out international math geniuses. When Shanghai students stunned the world by wining the top prize in their international standardized testing debut in 2010, Shanghai students were three years ahead of average students in OECD countries. Undoubtedly, no country does better in math than China.
While China thrives in math, Ontario students face a math crisis, with half of Gr6 students failing the EQAO test this year. As Ontario government struggles to revamp its math curriculum, calls for the province to look China to improve its math performance has gained momentum.
Chinese curriculum is significantly more demanding than the curriculum in Western countries. Apart from relying on massive drills and focusing on basic exercises, Chinese math education adopts a “mastery approach” -- based on beliefs that all students can succeed in math learning if given proper instructions. It allows students to go into a concept in greater length, requesting them to apply the abstract ideas in different real-life context. Under this approach, the teacher won’t move on to the next concept until the whole class has demonstrated understanding of the current one.
The mastery approach is believed to have propelled the students to the top rankings in the international math competitions, at the time when Canada and other Western countries face a declining result. As some Ontario teacher suggest to remove the difficult formula of surface area and volume of a triangular prism from Grade 6 math courses, students in China are learning to calculate the height of Shanghai's famous Oriental Pearl Tower by using sine and cosine curves, trigonometry and McDonald's Golden Arches.
The credit of students’ stellar performance also goes to Chinese math teachers who have gained recognitions from the global math community. They are the most diligent and committed math teachers in the world. Unlike Ontario teachers who wouldn’t return marked assignment to students until a week later, Chinese teachers would correct students’ homework overnight, providing feedback to them the very next day.
The city of Shanghai also obsesses over the teachers’ skills and their credentials, creating a competitive environment that rewards the best. The teachers are also required for complete training programs and to face ongoing test periodically. If their test scores don’t reach a certain level, their job is gone.
Chinas’ dazzling math achievement has led many Western countries desperate to match its success. Britain has become the first country that turns to Chinese text books to improve its students’ math score, after a fact-finding-mission to Shanghai that has discovered a math mania prevailing in every classroom. Britain has forged ahead with a bold government backed plan to embark on a journey of math curriculum overhaul, embracing the great math-teaching approach used in Shanghai and Singapore.
Besides Britain, a number of other countries – including the United Arab Emirate, Malesia and the US have expressed interest in learning Chinese mastery model or adapting its workbooks. Amid this global frenzy to learn math teaching from Asia, it is unfathomable that Ontario schools would not follow the suite.
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