Linda Yeung, South China Morning Post writes, "Educators say the way to balance the equation between more
mathematically minded Asian students and their less numerate
counterparts in the West is to start early."
|Photo: South China Morning Post|
Asian students are well known for their superior performance in maths compared to their counterparts in the West. Some attribute it to cultural factors. To American cognitive development psychologist, David Geary, the difference can be avoided.
The Thomas Jefferson professor of psychology and interdisciplinary neuroscience at the University of Missouri chairs the learning processes task group under the US National Mathematics Advisory Panel.
In a 10-year longitudinal study on children's mathematical development from kindergarten to seventh grade, he found that instruction at preschool level made all the difference.
"What we found was the kids who did not have a good foundation of numbers, numerals and relations among them in the beginning of first grade were on a trajectory that will put them in trouble by adolescence," he says.
At a recent talk entitled "Early Predictors of Mathematics Achievement" at Chinese University, as the distinguished visiting scholar at the university's United College, he explained the findings of his survey of almost 300 children.
Its identification of the school-entry number knowledge needed for mathematical competencies in adolescence won him a "method to extend research in time" (Merit) award from the National Institutes of Health.
It is vital that children acquire what he calls "cardinal knowledge" - an understanding of the meaning of number words; for example, one, two, three, and Arabic numerals, and being able to associate the quantities represented by them.
Such insight is unique to humans. After thousands of trials, chimpanzees can learn to associate, for example, the Arabic numeral one with a single object. But they never have the insight of a three-year-old that one plus four equals five.
An implicit understanding of the quantities represented by numbers forms part of the basis for an ability to tackle mathematical challenges such as algebra in later school years.
A weak foundation, says Geary, contributes to low numeracy among children with the result that they will have trouble passing the qualifiying tests for reasonable blue-collar jobs, or maintaining employment in those jobs, even if their reading skills are good.
David C. Geary - University of Missouri
Early Predictors of Mathematics Achievement and Achievement Growth by Professor David Geary
Source: South China Morning Post and United College, CUHK 香港中文大學聯合書院 Channel (YouTube)