Warning for ministers over Shanghai ‘myth’

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The claim that all China’s students perform well in mathematics is a “myth”, ministers have been warned.

It comes as the Department for Education (DfE) unveiled a new maths programme in partnership with China.

After returning from a visit to the country, education minister Elizabeth Truss said that the DfE is to create 30 regional maths hubs to help schools improve teaching and that up to 60 teachers from China are to come to the centres from this autumn.

She said the move would mean “our teachers can learn from their techniques – teaching to the top, helping struggling pupils one-on-one, daily maths lessons, homework and feedback”. Also, two “leading” English maths teachers from each hub will spend up to a year working in schools in China.

Ms Truss said: “We’re determined to learn from China’s can-do attitude to maths. I want us to match them.”

The focus on China has come because the latest league tables published by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rank Shanghai, pictured, as the number one area in the world for maths education.

However, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has warned that much of Shanghai’s success comes because it has a school system which excludes most migrant students. The NUT points to analysis by Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institute in Washington, America.

The issue centres on the Chinese “hukous”, which are like passports that control access to municipal services including schools. Hukous stay within families and transfer through generations, meaning that the children of families which have moved to cities for work only have a hukou for the area they originally came from. While recent changes have allowed “migrant” children to access schooling in Shanghai up until age 14, this is not the case in the city’s fee-paying schools where the PISA tests are conducted.

General secretary Christine Blower said: “The suggestion that all of China’s students perform well in mathematics is a myth. The government’s evidence for this comes from the PISA findings of 2012 data which is based on the results of one particular province of China: Shanghai. 

“This is home to the wealthiest and most highly educated Chinese citizens. Although data from 12 rural provinces is also collected by PISA, it is not published so does not form part of the international picture for China’s educational achievements.”

The NUT’s China factfile is at www.teachers.org.uk/node/20709


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