What’s the evidence on …….teaching maths the Shanghai way?

According to Pisa international league tables, 15-year-olds in Shanghai are three years ahead of their UK counterparts in mathematics – a measure of success which inspired the Education Minister, Elizabeth Truss, to lead a visit to the city to see how children are taught and learn maths there.

What does existing research say about the East Asian approach to teaching maths? 

The Education Media Centre is building a series of articles setting out the evidence on a range of education issues which interest journalists and matter to the public.You can read about evidence on class size , and here Tim Oates, Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment, highlights some of the evidence behind East Asian maths

Are there useful lessons to be learned for English schools on maths teaching in Shanghai?

“Ministers are right to use the insights, from sound analysis of high performing systems around the world, to examine the adequacy of the approach to maths teaching in England. From these comparisons, we can ask whether we have the right expectations of children at specific ages, whether our support materials and textbooks are of the right quality, and whether teaching can be enhanced.

But blunt use of top line PISA findings is not a route to system improvement, although this kind of crude approach is becoming a thing of the past. PISA has both strengths and limitations. The rich data which PISA produces at country level allows us to investigate the limitations of our approaches to maths education and to examine alternatives relevant to English schools.

To argue that maths learning in England cannot be enhanced is a misguided and absurd position. But to try to improve solely through policy borrowing is likely to fail, as we have seen in the past. Rather, using international comparisons to develop refined domestic policy is an approach which has worked in other nations, and can certainly work in England.”

What are the characteristics of maths teaching in East Asia?

  • A focus on maths as problem solving, for example tackling verbal maths problems in Singapore.
  • Correct use of rote learning, where memorisation is not the goal in itself , but a route to effective problem solving.
  • Revising and consolidating earlier learning.
  • A lot more time on applying maths, not dry, but rich and engaging application of maths – and far more than we do in England.
  • Higher quality textbooks – they really are very good, and we’ve analysed them in great detail.
  • A clear focus on deep understanding of maths concepts, not surface learning of techniques.
  • Helping children become familiar and confident with maths concepts and symbols and an early and step by step introduction to.

Is there any evidence to say this style of teaching maths is successful and could work here?

Yes. All of the above could be used to enhance maths education in England and they are reinforced as being good practice in the work of Nrich, of Stanford`s Jo Boaler and others.

Singapore approaches have been used in English schools such as ARK academies with very positive results. The Education Endowment Foundation is currently funding an evaluation of this. Details here.

There is other good academic research, in particular the work of Lynne McClure at the University of Cambridge, Jeremy Hodgen and Margaret Brown at King`s, London and Celia Hoyles at the Institute of Education.

Their evidence suggests that on all three measures: expectation, support, teaching approach, there are revisions to maths in English schools which could take us towards higher attainment, higher equity and higher enjoyment of maths.

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