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Monday, October 13, 2014

The lesson from China? Pedagogy isn’t Shanghai’s secret ingredient, professor argues

Shanghai’s position at the top of the global education rankings has led to a scramble to uncover the secret of Chinese teaching methods, prompting academic investigations and government-funded visits. 
  
But one expert believes there could be more straightforward ways for England’s schools to close the gap with China and other successful East Asian states. 

Photo: Lianghuo Fan
Professor Lianghuo Fan, a former maths teacher and teacher trainer in China, argues that lower teacher workload and better classroom discipline are also key to Shanghai’s stellar performance in the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) study. Teachers in England “must spend more time on academic and subject matters in the classroom in each lesson”, the University of Southampton academic told TES.

“When I was a teacher in China, I only taught 12 classes a week, sometimes 10 a week,” he said. “In China, teachers have more time to give students feedback and to have teaching research groups, and they can observe other teachers teaching in the classroom. They can engage themselves in a lot of professional development activities. It is very helpful.

“Do not spend too much time on discipline matters, on classroom management,” he added. “In China you might have a 50-minute lesson and spend 48 minutes on learning mathematics. But in the UK it can be much less. The difference is very big.”

Professor Fan, who has also taught at Singapore’s National Institute of Education, explained that teachers in China were at an advantage because overall they “teach less” than their counterparts in England.

His comments came as research was published suggesting that much of the success of East Asian pupils in international tests is not down to the quality of the region’s schools.

The study, by the University of London’s Institute of Education (IoE), analyses the Pisa results of East Asian secondgeneration immigrants in Australia. It finds that they would have finished second in the overall Pisa rankings, behind Shanghai, despite being educated in a school system that came 19th. Family background, personal characteristics and other out-of-school factors were big contributors to their success.

East Asian pedagogy has become a preoccupation for UK education reformers as the region’s hold on the top Pisa rankings has tightened. Admiration for Shanghai’s success in maths led the UK government to establish the Shanghai Teacher Exchange Programme, as a key element of the wider £11 million Maths Hubs programme. As well as teachers from England travelling to Shanghai to learn about teaching maths, 50 Chinese maths teachers will be coming to the UK to deliver masterclasses.

Last month two academics, also from the University of Southampton, published research concluding that the greater use of whole-class “interactive” teaching in China explains why the country’s primary pupils are better at maths than their peers in England.
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Source: TES News


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