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Chinese school students regularly top the world rankings for their performance in mathematics. So perhaps it is not surprising that the publishing company Harper Collins is looking to Chinese maths textbooks for inspiration. In a deal with the Shanghai Century Publishing Group, the education division at Harper Collins have agreed to release a series of 36 mathematics textbooks translated from Chinese. According to an announcement made at the recent London Book Fair, the first book in the series, known as Real Shanghai Mathematics, will be launched in the UK in September this year.
In the school performance tables produced by PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), which are released every three years by the OECD, China regularly appears near the top of the rankings. The concept behind the assessment programme is to provide globally comparable data for scholastic performance in mathematics, science, and reading. In the latest set of results published in December 2016, China ranked 6th in the world for mathematics (with Singapore topping the table) while the UK languished at 27 out of the 72 countries assessed.
These results reflect continuing high levels of performance in mathematics in China, with students from Shanghai specifically highlighted as performing well in earlier PISA surveys. Up until 2015 the PISA study data for China came exclusively from students in the country’s largest city. In the 2012 test over 55% of students from Shanghai achieved the highest level of proficiency in mathematics, whereas the figure in the UK was less than 12%. Interestingly, China’s performance in mathematics dipped slightly in 2015 with the inclusion of students from outside Shanghai.
What is clear is that the British government felt that teaching methods in Shanghai could potentially benefit children in UK schools. The Mathematics Teacher Exchange programme between China and England was instigated in 2014, with 48 English schools participating in reciprocal learning visits for teachers and school leaders. Based on the interim evaluation of this programme, published in July 2016, a budget of £41 million was announced to support 8,000 English primary schools in adopting the so-called South Asian “mastery” approach to teaching mathematics.
The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics produced a report assessing the initial phase of the Shanghai Exchange programme (published in August 2015) which specifically recognised the importance of having access to translations of the textbooks used in Shanghai’s schools. A section of the report is dedicated to “Effective use of high-quality Shanghai textbooks” and several of the lead primary schools involved in the exchange programme commented on the value which could be gained from obtaining translations of the texts used to shape and support lesson planning in the Chinese schools.
Harper Collins have clearly taken note of this potential gap in the mathematics textbook market and hope to satisfy the demand with their textbook translation project. At any rate, the managing director at Collins Learning, Colin Hughes, refers to the increasing collaboration between British and Chinese schools in the area of mathematics as the inspiration behind the new textbook translation programme, stating “this development arises from increasingly successful collaboration between Shanghai and the British government, aimed at raising standards of mathematics education in UK schools by adopting the excellent approach that places Shanghai as a world leader in mathematics teaching.”
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