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Learning maths in China – interview with Jingwen Wu – part 2

Learning maths in China - interview with Jingwen Wu
So you said 50 students so that’s quite a lot and textbooks. Did you have to do homework for mathematics? (Jingwen:) Yes, we have homework every day, and teachers do marking every day. And if there is some mistakes in the homework, we have to correct them the following day. (Christian:) Okay so the marking then was done by the teacher in the afternoon and, or in the evening, or I don’t know if you know that. (Jingwen:) It’s during the day after we submit them in the morning, and so the teacher will finish marking during the day and we get them back in the afternoon and we corrected them and handed it in with the next day’s homework.
(Christian:) Okay, yes so really it’s quick turnover. Yes everyday turnover. How did you feel about that, did you enjoy that or did you feel oh well it’s part of learning? (Jingwen:) Well, as a student, I always hate homework or any assignment. But from, because now I’m doing education, so I feel it’s a necessary way to practice. So it’s test our understanding of the knowledge, and also develops our skills but how to control their amount, that’s a question and so how to balance the quality and the understanding with the burden of students, so that’s what teachers should do and what’s the education authority should think about.
(Christian:) Okay, are there any other features you could think of, or did we now cover the most important ones? (Jingwen:) So my niece told me that, if she has some questions she could not understand, she won’t go to the teacher directly, but she will ask her classmate or her parents to get the question sorted and hand in her homework. So that’s what also happened to me. When I was a primary school student, I rarely went to the teacher directly if I had something I didn’t understand. I don’t know whether it’s a cultural thing, personality thing or it’s quite common. (Christian:) Okay,
but you found a solution (Jingwen: Yes from peer support.) peer feedback and peer support. (Jingwen: Yes.) (Christian:) Okay I can see that. So a lot of countries are looking towards Asia and China because you’re doing so well in the rankings, and of course some things are very cultural and other things are less cultural I would say. If you would give advice to a country, I understand that this sounds a bit strange, but what one feature do you think would be the most important one for other countries to realise about primary mathematics education in China? (Jingwen:) I would say the most the easiest one and also the most difficult one might be practice.
Because we do get our understandings through proper practice, like with different variations or different examples of practice. But we can’t just flood them with tons of practice. So just be balanced with the amount and the quality. So that’s what I think about maybe other countries can have a look. (Christian:) Yeah, okay because also that is less culturally determined and more about the tasks that you give to the students, and then the final question so what do you think will happen, and again it’s a very difficult question I understand that, but are there things you think that would be good for China to maybe change, change sounds a bit strange but improve in primary mathematics classrooms.
So if you think about your own experiences, what one thing do you think could be better perhaps in Chinese mathematics classrooms? (Jingwen:) I would say possibly more interactions in class, and possibly more creative ways and just more ways of instructions in the classroom. And I don’t know whether it’s too demanding for primary school students to develop independent thinking or critical thinking skills, but I think it’s important that students don’t develop the habits that they need others to push them to learn, and they just follow the teachers, teaches the always right. And I don’t think that’s correct for the long term. So yeah.
(Christian:) Was this something as, a final final question, was this something that when you went to secondary school and then later on to study in higher education and now you’re doing a PhD here, was this something that you missed almost when you first started to write your first critical essay for example, that you found it difficult to be critical or can you say something about the relationship between your primary education and the secondary and then going towards where you are now? (Jingwen:) I feel before higher education, so it’s more like following teachers’ instruction and do what they told us to do and that’s all, and I can meet the exam requirement.
But when I went to the university, and I think things are getting changed. Especially when I started my master in the UK, I feel critical thinking is much more important, how you analyse a problem from the whole process, how you look at the problem, and you, how you interpret, how you solve it, I think just following instructions are not, it’s not enough. We just need to develop our own thinking and find some more creative ways to solve the problems. (Christian:) Thank you Jingwen for this interview. (Jingwen: Thank you as well.)

This is part 2 of our interview with Jingwen Wu.

Jingwen is a Chinese PhD student studying in the Southampton Education School at University of Southampton. Grown up in Chongqing, the municipality in Southwest China, Jingwen received typical Chinese primary and secondary education in public schools. From the perspective of a student, she is going to share her own experiences of the primary mathematics classroom and stories from her niece and nephew, who are currently both in Grade 3 in China.

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