UK to use Chinese maths books

First it was the teaching, now it is the text books. A “historic” deal between HarperCollins and a Shanghai publishing house means that dozens of Chinese maths books will be translated for use in British classrooms.

China’s method of teaching maths has produced some of the best results in the world and British ministers have been so impressed by the outcomes that they have offered £41 million to primary schools in England who wanted to adopt the approach.

HarperCollins’s education division has signed an agreement to release a series of 36 maths books at the London Book Fair, the state-run China Daily reported. The Chinese maths mastery approach is based on whole-class teaching with all pupils progressing together, with higher achievers being encouraged to deepen their understanding rather than accelerating ahead of classmates.

Textbooks are used rather than worksheets, and children tackle fewer topics in a more in-depth way. Considerable value is placed on mental arithmetic. It means that by the time a child goes to high school they have a solid grounding in all the basics.

The method differs considerably from traditional British teaching which typically uses real-life situations to help children understand mathematical concepts. In UK schools, pupils are often divided into ability groups so in any single class they are often covering different topics at different levels at the same time. Howewer maths mastery is not without its critics, who say the teaching — used in Hong Kong and Singapore as well as China — is a rote-learning approach and inflates results by preparing children to pass tests without necessarily helping them to use maths in everyday situations.

Colin Hughes, managing director of Collins Learning, called the maths publishing deal “historic”. He added: “To my knowledge this has never happened in history before — that textbooks created for students in China will be translated exactly as they have been developed, and sold for use in British schools.”

Chinese schools, represented by those in the wealthier cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, as well as Jiangsu province, ranked fifth in maths scores in the world, according to a recent global study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The UK was 27th.