As a result of the PISA tables, China & Singapore are regarded as leading countries for teaching mathematics. The “Maths Mastery” approach introduced to UK schools over the last decade is the UK’s attempt to mimic the Far Eastern approach to teaching mathematics.
However, what makes the Maths Mastery approach work in China?
A short definition of “maths mastery” is that all pupils learn the same maths concept together and only advance when all the pupils have understood or mastered that concept.
As such, pupils are taught as a whole class rather than individuals, which means that the concept being taught is the same for all pupils – albeit with some pupils working at a greater depth.
As a born-and-raised Chinese, I have to admit that this does sound very familiar to what I’ve personally experienced. However, there are many factors that affect the process of this teaching approach which lead to a huge differences in British schools.
The Power of a Teacher.
In China, teachers are allowed to “order” students and even their parents. It is written in the schools’ rule book that pupils must respect their teachers and follow what teachers ask them to do. In some schools, like the one that I was in, pupils are asked to bow to teachers every time they meet. It is also okay for a teacher to ask parents to do work for the class.
This creates an environment where pupils must follow a teacher’s order.
If a teacher wants a fallen-behind-pupil to catch-up, the teacher may give the pupil significantly more work to do or ask the pupil to stay after school to practice. .
Higher Priority to Academic Achievement
The other reason which differentiates the UK and China education, is that the Chinese society regards academic success extremely highly.
It doesn’t matter if your kid is not enjoying school, as long as they are doing well in maths,
Indeed, it’s a matter of shame to an entire family because if a child is not doing well in maths, it is believed that the child is going to fail in their life.
As such, children don’t dare fall behind.
Also, one of the biggest challenge for the UK to practice teaching for mastery, is the admission policies of schools in China.
In China, almost every school has their own entrance requirements alongside with the Government’s rules. Typically, a child attends to schools near his or her house, but in reality the child must meet all sorts of requirement both intellect wise, and financial wise to get into certain schools. The entrance requirements make sure that students in the school would have similar intellectual ability and financial resources(for extra curriculum activities and tools). This would hugely boost the succession of teaching for mastery.