Some Pressure 'Not Necessarily A Bad Thing'

Some Pressure 'Not Necessarily A Bad Thing'

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Media Type
TODAY, Pg 16

Former NIE faculty member shares his views on Singapore's education system and the difference in Asian and British attitudes towards maths

SINGAPORE - Having established himself as one of the leading academics on the teaching of mathematics here, Professor Fan Lianghuo, 50, decided two years ago to uproot himself and move to the United Kingdom, taking up an offer to head the Mathematics and Science Education Research Centre in Southhampton University.

And at a time when the UK policy makers are recommending a "look East" approach in order to boost its people's mathematical abilities, Prof Fan, who grew up near Shanghai, has been extolling the virtues of mathematics education in Singapore and China - most recently in an interview with British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

Speaking to TODAY via an email interview, Prof Fan described his decision to move to UK as a "very difficult" one, having lived and worked in Singapore for more than 12 years. During this period, Prof Fan was a faculty member at the National Institute of Education.

Prof Fan said the main reason for leaving for the UK was his desire to expand his research domain.

"I have long kept a keen research interest in the UK mathematics education since I did my Masters in Shanghai in the 1980s," he said.

During his stint at NIE, Prof Fan, a Singapore permanent resident, certainly left his mark on the education scene here: From 2006 to 2010, he was the Chief Editor of The Mathematics Educator, a research journal by the Association of Mathematics Educators (Singapore). He has also worked with publishers on mathematics textbooks used in Singapore schools.

He also published at least 16 research papers and four books, as well as contributed to several books.

In the The Daily Telegraph article published on June 18, Prof Fan cited the differences in British attitudes towards Mathematics, compared to those in China and Singapore.

Prof Fan told the Daily Telegraph: "I never heard a child in China or Singapore say that they don't like maths … without a sense of embarrassment."

Among other things, he also noted that in both Asian countries, there is strong emphasis on the subject in the schools. He also cited how math teachers in Singapore's secondary schools are specialised in the subject and there is sufficient professional development. 

What S'pore can improve

Prof Fan told TODAY that the Republic's mathematics education is "undoubtedly among the best in the world … but there are still many areas for further improvement" - including his observation that Singapore students' written communication skills to explain maths solutions are "quite weak".

He said: "Their logical reasoning skills in mathematics are also a concern to me. Many students lack interest in mathematics. Even in the fundamental knowledge and skills, my personal experiences in both China and Singapore suggest that China students are generally better than their Singaporean peers, although both of them are among the best (I am not saying Chinese mathematics education is perfect, of course)."

He added: "There is much room for improvement in school mathematics curriculum, textbooks, and their use in classroom. The list can go longer. So there is reason for Singapore mathematics educators to feel proud but definitely no reason to be complacent."

And while many parents here feel the maths syllabus is too difficult, Prof Fan disagreed that this is the case when compared to "many other countries".

Said Prof Fan: "The stress comes more from elsewhere, for example, peer pressure, high expectation from teachers and parents ... a 'kiasu' culture, high-stake tests and the streaming policy."

Prof Fan also felt that a large number of students have "too many" co-curricular activities (CCAs). "The amount of CCAs should be reduced and controlled at both the school and national levels," he said.

He added: " Of course, I must also say that having some pressure is not necessarily a bad thing - many UK students probably don't have enough pressure in maths - but having too much pressure definitely is."

Source: TODAY, Pg 16, mediacorp