There were so many excellent comments of '10 to post that I was able to take quite the extended vacation from blogging. Now that it's time to start posting my own stuff again, I'll begin by catching up on the latest news about math education, starting with a December 30th New York Times article on--what else?--math in Shanghai:
In Li Zhen’s ninth-grade mathematics class here last week, the morning drill was geometry. Students at the middle school affiliated with Jing’An Teachers’ College were asked to explain the relative size of geometric shapes by using Euclid’s theorem of parallelograms.
“Who in this class can tell me how to demonstrate two lines are parallel without using a proportional segment?” Ms. Li called out to about 40 students seated in a cramped classroom.
One by one, a series of students at this medium-size public school raised their hands. When Ms. Li called on them, they each stood politely by their desks and usually answered correctly. They returned to their seats only when she told them to sit down.
Educators say this disciplined approach helps explain the announcement this month that 5,100 15-year-olds in Shanghai outperformed students from about 65 countries on an international standardized test that measured math, science and reading competency.
The Shanghai students performed well, experts say, for the same reason students from other parts of Asia — including South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong — do: Their education systems are steeped in discipline, rote learning and obsessive test preparation.
But many educators say China’s strength in education is also a weakness. The nation’s education system is too test-oriented, schools here stifle creativity and parental pressures often deprive children of the joys of childhood, they say.Ah, yes, and how well all this fits our self-serving stereotypes of East Asian students and East Asian countries. Subtext: they may have memorized more meaningless facts and procedures than non-Asian Americans do, but how good are they at higher-level thinking, creativity, and risk-taking?
Even some Chinese educators--at least the ones that get quoted by the New York Times--are buying into the idea that the Chinese schools stifle creativity:
“These are two sides of the same coin: Chinese schools are very good at preparing their students for standardized tests,” Jiang Xueqin, a deputy principal at Peking University High School in Beijing, wrote in an opinion article published in The Wall Street Journal shortly after the test results were announced. “For that reason, they fail to prepare them for higher education and the knowledge economy.”
In an interview, Mr. Jiang said Chinese schools emphasized testing too much, and produced students who lacked curiosity and the ability to think critically or independently.
“It creates very narrow-minded students,” he said. “But what China needs now is entrepreneurs and innovators.”
This is a common complaint in China. Educators say an emphasis on standardized tests is partly to blame for the shortage of innovative start-ups in China. And executives at global companies operating here say they have difficulty finding middle managers who can think creatively and solve problems.From what I know about middle management, I suspect that the shortage of "middle managers who can think creatively and solve problems" isn't specific to China. As for Chinese managers in particular, the New York Times itself acknowledges the existence of cultural forces that extend beyond Chinese schools:
In many ways, the system is a reflection of China’s Confucianist past. Children are expected to honor and respect their parents and teachers.As for the shortage of innovative startups, is isn't too difficult to think of possible impediments to starting up a business in mainland China that have nothing to do with how much Chinese schools focus on test preparation.