How do Chinese learn math

Hardly any free time in elementary school age : Why Chinese kids are so good at math

It starts with the children being assigned a number. Usually one between one and 30, as most public schools have around 30 children in a class. During math class, teachers ask a question, then call any number, the child with this number stands up and presents a solution to the arithmetic problem.

In the first grade, children in China learn to add and subtract two-digit numbers. You know the sequence of numbers well over a hundred and know the table of 1x1 by heart.

"The performance of students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds is particularly impressive," says Andreas Schleicher, Head of the OECD Education and Skills Directorate. Chinese students would learn early on that success depends on personal commitment and hard work, not talent.

“Mathematics is like a game, the more you practice it, the easier it is for you. The risk of frustration is significantly reduced and they have fun doing it, ”explains teacher Chen from a Beijing public kindergarten that reports directly to the district's education authority.

Immediately afterwards, she gives the parents a task at parents' day: “There are a total of 27 birds on three trees. From the first tree two fly to the second tree, from the second tree three fly to the third tree. Then four birds fly from the third tree to the first tree. Now there are the same number of birds on each of the three trees. The question is, how many birds were there originally on the trees? "

The incentive decreases when too much is taught in kindergarten

While some parents eagerly begin to do math, panic spreads on the faces of others. Everyone knows that now is the time to start practicing with their children. According to the new requirements of the authorities, your children have not learned mathematics in the traditional sense for a few years, but they are given a feeling for numbers. And that starts at the age of four in kindergarten.

“You have noticed that children who are taught everything in kindergarten no longer have any incentive to learn in school. It used to be that the children could do everything that the curriculum was supposed to teach them in the first and second grades, ”says Ms. Chen and urges the parents not to overdo the pre-school education.

Because parents often send their children to math lessons as soon as they enter kindergarten. When the children come to the first grade, they can use the material up to and including the second grade.

School performance is a prerequisite for social advancement

In Asian countries and especially in China, parents consider education to be a prerequisite and guarantee for social advancement and a solid career for their children. “Chiku” - loosely translated “to suffer” - is one of them. Anything can only be achieved through hard work.

This is the Chinese version of the American dream “from dishwasher to millionaire”. However, it is not like the idea of ​​the self-made millionaire. The efforts that have to be overcome relate to school and academic performance. Only then do you have a prospect of a good job and a good income.

For a long time the education system was considered rigid, with too much frontal teaching, in which the teachers tear down their material and can barely respond to the pace of learning of the students. The children hardly know any free time. From the western point of view, games and fun are neglected.

Even if the kindergarten is carefully reoriented, little has changed overall. A recent OECD study shows that China's students did best in math, science and reading in the world. With Beijing and Shanghai as well as the provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu, China took the top positions worldwide in the current Pisa study.

A large part of homework is math

The current curriculum of the Ministry of Education for the primary level provides for four hours of math lessons per week for the first grade. That doesn't sound like much at first. But not only the approach is different, the complexity and the time spent on maths tasks also differ from the West.

While China's elementary school children do an average of about three hours of homework - three times more than their French peers - they spend the majority of their time doing maths.

There is also criticism of the Pisa study. It is criticized that the results are not representative for the whole country. Certainly you won't find the level of Beijing schools everywhere in the country. But Andreas Schleicher, the German head behind the standardized Pisa test, is convinced that it is only a matter of time before the other cities and provinces catch up.

7.5 million university graduates

What is Shanghai today will be Shenzhen or Nanjing tomorrow. Beijing's government invests heavily in education. The number of universities in the country rose by 400 to 2,663 between 2008 and 2018.

Last year 7.5 million students graduated from the university. Ten years ago it was five million. The Chinese government spent 3.7 trillion yuan ($ 520 billion) on education last year. In total, four percent of GDP is invested in education for seven years in a row.

The budget for the youngest has been increased in recent years. In 2018, according to the latest figures from Beijing, spending on kindergartens per child rose by over ten percent compared to the previous year.

Popular sport education

“Let's biyibi,” calls out the kindergarten teacher. Translated mildly, it means “to compare”, but it is actually a competitive situation in which Chinese children find themselves time and again. From an early age it is said: Look at the other children, they sit nicely and well. Then later: You can recite poetry so well, do arithmetic so well, so well this and that. It is a society in which the youngest are trained to be better than the average.

For a long time, it was mainly about getting a good place in schools and then in the universities of the country in order to hopefully get a good job, whereas those born in the 1990s and millennials usually only compare each other for comparison. They have not learned otherwise in their lives. This no longer only applies to the disciplines of mathematics, reading and natural sciences. It has become a popular sport.

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