China Focus: Math teaching enhances Sino-UK cultural exchange
SHANGHAI, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- Shanghai math teacher Zhang Yuhong is busy preparing herself for her third journey teaching in Britain next January.
The 35-year-old has been working as a math teacher at the Shanghai Tianshan No.1 Primary School for 10 years. She was one of the first Shanghai math teachers sent to Britain under an academic exchange program between China and Britain in 2014.
"Math teachers from Shanghai have been well-received in British schools. I am excited that I am able to use the English version of a popular set of Shanghai math textbooks during my third teaching trip in Britain," said Zhang, referring to the English version of the Shanghai math textbooks series "Real Shanghai Mathematics".
In March 2017, Harper Collins signed an agreement with the Shanghai Century Publishing Group at the London Book Fair to publish the books. The series of 36 books were introduced to British students in September 2017.
Zhang said all math teachers sent to teach in Britain must attend training courses offered by Shanghai Normal University, in addition to taking English language courses, whether or not they have experience.
Since the exchange program started in 2014, about 200 math teachers in Shanghai have joined, bringing their valuable experience in math education to about 8,000 primary and middle schools in Britain, according to the Shanghai Normal University, who is responsible for carrying out the program in China.
According to Zhang Minxuan, the person in charge of the program, more than 80 Shanghai math teachers will join the 2019 dispatch to British schools, and by 2020, a total of 10,000 British schools will be visited by Chinese math teachers.
In the meantime, British math teachers also get the chance to do job shadowing in Shanghai, sharing ideas of education with their Chinese peers, under the exchange program signed between China and Britain.
In 2016, the UK Department for Education announced that it would spend 41 million pounds (53 million U.S. dollars) on a four-year program to spread the Shanghai Teaching for Mastery Programme in the country, as Chinese students perform significantly better than their British counterparts in math.
Chen Yilin, a math teacher from the Shanghai Luwan No. 1 Central Primary School, was one of the teachers who finished the exchange program in Britain in January.
During her two-week stay, she found that math programs of China and Britain had different teaching approaches.
"In a British classroom, teachers like to use various kinds of teaching tools, and tend to put more emphasis on stratified teaching, with students divided into groups according to their ability," Chen said.
"The Shanghai mastery approach emphasizes a step-by-step approach," she said.
Though the deep-rooted differences between the two countries are considered a difficulty, Chinese teachers in the U.K. have shown respect to the British teaching approach and adjusted their own teaching plans when necessary.
"Before delivering courses to British students, we usually have a discussion with our British peers in local schools," said Zhang. "We discussed which math concepts we should pick to teach during the two-week teaching practice in accordance with the level and the needs of the students."
Chen believes that both the British and Shanghai styles of teaching math have pros and cons.
"Chinese students are good at solving problems with the specific knowledge they have gained, yet they sometimes are stuck in inertial thinking, but British students of the same age sometimes have more divergent ideas when facing intricate tasks," Chen said.
Overall, British schools have shown a great interest in the Chinese math teaching approach and hope to learn from it through introducing math teachers and math textbooks from Shanghai.
"Every lesson I gave in Britain was like an open class with lots of local teachers sitting in the back row. Many traveled from neighboring areas," said Zhang.
"I was frequently asked by British peers about how to teach students at different levels in the same class," Zhang said. She always explained that the Chinese math textbooks had helped a lot.
Chen has joined the English translation of the "Real Shanghai Mathematics" textbooks. She said that the books will be used as a reference by some of the Shanghai math teachers teaching in Britain.
She said the books are basically translated into English word for word, with some adaptations, in accordance with the requirements of the British side. It was the first time that the whole series of Chinese textbooks were transferred to the national education system of a developed economy.
"We are teaching experience exporters, but at the same time, we are also learners," said Zhang.
She said she was very impressed by a British themed math class, in which a teacher used different materials to help introduce the math concept of classification.
Unlike teachers from Shanghai whose only focus is in mathematics, British math teachers with general education backgrounds are able to offer more interdisciplinary courses with math concepts, Zhang said.
"On my next teaching session in the U.K., I am prepared to learn from my British peers in my comparative research of the Sino-British education," said Zhang.
She said the teaching exchange program has built a bridge between the two countries, with the personnel and textbook exchanges benefitting China and Britain mutually.
"The success of teaching Shanghai math in Britain means that Chinese education is starting to have an influence internationally. I'm very honored to be one of the teachers who have helped spread Chinese culture to the world," said Zhang.