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Looking at the Two Basics in depth

In this step, you will read a chapter from a book about the 'Two Basics'.
two students writing in books on a grass lawn
© Tom Dick & Debbie Productions

This step picks out the key points from the following article:

Zhang, D., Li, S., & Tang, R. (2004). The “two basics”: Mathematics teaching and learning in Mainland China. In Fan, L., Wong, N-Y., Cai, J., & Li, S. (Eds.). How Chinese learn mathematics: Perspectives from insiders. Singapore: World Scientific.

The Two Basics is an essential feature of Chinese mathematics classrooms.

Strengths are:

  • The Two Basics lay down a strong foundation for curriculum design and textbook development.

  • The Two Basics provide a clear signal to teachers, students and parents about the importance of establishing a strong foundation in learning of mathematics.

  • The Two basics provide a pedagogical approach, with focus on content, for teachers to design their learning of mathematics in mathematics classrooms.

  • The Two Basics provide a critical benchmark for assessment and quality control in mathematics education.

However, we have to be aware of some potential limitations too, such as:

  • There is some ambiguity in what basic knowledge and basic skills actually are, resulting in some difficulty in implementing this principle.

  • Basic knowledge and basic skills in mathematics are not fixed in terms of time. They are not static concepts.

  • Over-emphasising basics might give teachers and students less time for developing other important skills, such as critical thinking skills.

  • Spending too much time on the Two Basics might make students feel bored and tired in maths classes and so affect their learning in mathematics.

We therefore suggest that teachers need to keep a balanced view about the Two Basics and other aspects of maths learning (for example, high-order thinking skills). Other effective pedagogical approaches (such as Teaching with Variation) can help here. In the new curriculum reform in China, the Two Basics have been expanded to four basics, with the two new basics being basic mathematics ideas and basic activity experiences.

© University of Southampton
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World Class Maths: Asian Teaching Methods

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