In the U.S. we’re accustomed to the bashing that the American system of teaching math receives from critics at home and abroad. Despite reservations about whether we’re comparing the wide spectrum of American population with the elite populations to whom we would like to think other countries are teaching math, we worry about whether our system is adequate. Surely the British system is better than ours, right? Well, BBC News reports that it might not be so:
The UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry is offering a £500 prize to one lucky but bright person who answers the question below correctly. It has also published a test used in a “well known and respected” English university — the society is not naming it — to assess the strength of incoming science undergraduates’ maths skills.
A glance at the two questions reveals how much more advanced is the maths teaching in China, where children learn the subject up to the age of 18, the society says.
Science undergraduates in England are likely not to have studied maths beyond GCSE level at the age of 16, it says.
The “question below” that’s referred to as being part of the Chinese test is indeed daunting:
This question is then contrasted with a British one:
For good measure, so to speak, note that the Chinese one is not only orders of magnitude more difficult but is also designed for students one year younger.
So, what are we to believe? The British question looks like one that we would give American tenth-graders on a test like the MCAS. Certainly we would expect all Weston students, not just the top ones, to be able to solve it correctly. The Chinese question, on the other hand, is something we would expect only of our very best students, perhaps those on the math team.