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Solving The World’s Math Problems

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Earlier this year, primary schools in England began to expand a mathematics instructional program borrowed from counterparts in Asia, known as the “Shanghai maths” method. U.K. schools minister Nick Gibb announced in July that more than 8,000 elementary schools—about half that for the country—would make the switch, which he called a “renaissance in maths teaching.”

Math Problems

My 8-year-old nephew Andrew, who lives in London, is one of many students who have begun using the new supplements, for which the U.K. has pledged £41 million (about US$50 million), including teacher training. This is surprising because it is the same “One Lecture, One Practice” curriculum (by its Chinese name) that his father and I were taught with when we attended school in China.

My generation has grown up hearing the many criticisms of the Asian educational system, for example that it supposedly produces only good test takers and not well-rounded, creative students. It is true that all three years of high school in China are devoted to exam preparation, and teachers refer to these critical tests continually. So it is interesting that despite all the criticism, the U.K. has decided to adopt the Chinese method of teaching math.

Though I am not in a position to judge which education system, Western or Eastern, is ultimately the best one for most students, I do believe that a certain level of practice is indeed necessary to master basic math skillsets and to have a “tool box” from which to draw upon while pursuing higher educational goals. Of course, spending all your time prepping for a college entrance exam without exercising, reading non-textbook literature and socializing with friends doesn’t seem to be worth it either.

In our research of educational companies, which directly and indirectly benefit from the popularity of overseas study in Asia, we are seeing some global assimilation of educational styles along the way. And out of about 975,000 international school students enrolled in the U.S. in recent years, roughly 560,000 come from Asia. In fact, six of the top 10 countries where these international students come from are Asian countries. China ranks at the top of the list of countries sending students to both the U.S. and U.K. (31% of total international student enrollment in the U.S. in 2014 came from China). India and South Korea ranked second and third, respectively, among countries sending students to the U.S. More than 30% of international students to the U.K. in the 2014/2015 school year also came from Asia.

China’s newest “export” of math materials is preceded by a related export—the droves of students China has sent into the global education system since the early 1980s. In recent years, China’s share of the international students it itself hosts has grown considerably. In 2014, China hosted about 8% percent of the world’s 4.3 million international students, but just the decade prior, that figure accounted for less than 2%, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE). So China, the “world’s factory” is not only exporting components, apparel and electronics, but arguably also solving the world’s math problems.

Raymond Z. Deng

Research Analyst

Matthews Asia

Article by Raymond Z. Deng, Mathews Asia

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