British teachers behind Chinese counterparts?

It is a very well documented fact that China, along with a lot of Asian countries, rank very highly in the Pisa rankings, and are deemed the strongest education system in the world. Education Minister Liz Truss goes further to say that Chinese teachers are ‘more effective’ than their British counterparts and their methods must be brought back to what she describes as ‘stagnated’ schools in the UK.

Liz Truss the “Shanghai method” should be brought into to improve Britain’s schools and excuses should not be made for falling behind the levels of the “East”.

The education minister is visiting the Chinese city’s schools after they were marked out as the most successful in the world in a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Shanghai students topped the rankings in a series of reading, maths and science tests administered by the organisation. The UK ranked 26th.

Fifty maths teachers have already been to Shanghai to study the methods that have brought Shanghai students three years ahead of their British counterparts and have seen results improve back in their classrooms in the UK, Miss Truss said.

Chinese students are taught maths in both small and large classes and complicated core arithmetic is introduced at a much earlier age than in the UK. She added that teachers in China “follow up” with their children more than they do in Britain making sure that each child fully understands any concept they are struggling with.

She said that German and Polish teachers had already incorporated methods from schools in the Far East into their lessons and curriculums while Britain’s performance in maths had instead “stagnated” over the last fifteen years.
Speaking on BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme she said: “What we see is very effective teaching methodology going on and that is what we are interested in learning about while we are over here, because it seems that the Shanghai teaching methodology uses resources much more effectively and also focuses on the core arithmetic that children need to have from an early age. So we see very high levels of verbalisation of maths, very high levels of specialist maths teaching in primary schools as well as in secondary schools.”

Her comments come as the influential Brookings Institute at Harvard University poured doubts on the OECD results arguing that the fact the children of migrants in Shanghai are forced to attend school in their home provinces skewed the results. However the Education Minister said that Britain was “kidding ourselves” if we accept this as an explanation for China’s better performance and that she had seen for herself that children were understanding complicated concepts at an earlier age than British children. She said: “What this visit is about is deepening that relationship to make sure we can learn even more about the positive attitude and the positive culture towards maths in China. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that there is somehow an explanation for that very high performance that isn’t about what’s going on in those schools – because I have seen it for myself, I have seen the very high quality teaching that is taking place I have seen that children are understanding concepts at an earlier age than they are in England. What I want to do is learn from that really good practice so that we can apply it in England, because at the moment we have stagnated in terms of our maths performance for the past 15 years while other countries like Germany or Poland have been learning from the East. They have been taking those lessons back, they have been improving their teaching standards and their curriculum – we need to do that too, we cant spend our time trying to explain away differences instead we should be looking at what these countries are doing successfully and apply it to our own country.”

Here’s my question in response to that: If you are recognising that the so-called ‘Shanghai method’ is so effective, then why is Michael Gove being allowed to tinker with the maths curriculum, which still does not even consider the method? Does this mean that there is further evidence that Gove’s plan isn’t so perfect after all? So should the next election be won by the Tories as opposed to a coalition government, will the curriculum be changed again to reflect this method? I agree that we should be looking to other education systems around the world and comparing notes to inform and improve our own education system, but as it stands you can’t have it both ways. It’s great that the first step has been realised (ie recognising the need for improving), but the actual improving stage hasn’t really happened, and it’s unlikely to happen with this new curriculum.


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