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Chinese maths textbooks to be translated for UK schools

Chinese maths textbooks to be translated for UK schools

British education ministers are interested in adopting what is known as ‘South Asian mastery’ in UK schools in an attempt to revive flagging maths achievement. China ranks fifth in the world league table for school mathematics grades. The UK lags far behind in twenty-seventh place. One in four Chinese pupils achieves the maximum possible grade.

Last year the UK government pledged £41m to the adoption of Asian maths teaching methods. Now in a new initiative, a deal has been struck between UK Publisher HarperCollins and a Shanghai publishing house to translate Chinese mathematics textbooks into English and use them in British Schools.

Educationalists have put China’s high achievement down to differences in the approach to teaching maths. Unsurprisingly, British schools tend to focus on the individual whereas Chinese schools focus on the collective. Most Chinese students are required to take the university entrance examination, so there is more uniformity in the way the subject is taught. British education leaders feel that it wouldn’t hurt the UK to have a bit more uniformity.

British students are asked to jump from topic to topic too frequently, according to academics cited in the announcement. In contrast, a Chinese class will spend an entire lesson learning about a single topic. If any student has not grasped it correctly, there will be additional teaching on the same day to ensure they are ready to start the next day’s lesson at the same point as the rest of the class. In British classrooms there is a lot more streaming of ‘abilities’, often with pupils in the same classroom doing different work.

Additionally, maths teachers in China’s more prosperous cities are fully-trained specialists with a five-year teaching degree behind them even for primary school maths teaching. English primary school teachers, on the other hand, are generalists who teach everything from English to geography to history, with maths thrown into the mix as well. So it seems clear that textbooks alone will not be sufficient to produce a revolution in maths standards in Britain; teacher training and deployment will have to change too.

Nevertheless, UK Minister of State for Schools Nick Gibb has described the maths textbook translation deal as “one of the most valuable education initiatives undertaken by our government over the past few years”.