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Learning maths in China – interview with Dr Dongchen Zhao – part 3

Learning maths in China - interview with Dr Dongchen Zhao
And could we say that in China these textbooks also lead to more coherence in the way that mathematics is taught? Because I hear a uniform curriculum, I hear textbooks that provide the content. So there is freedom to put your own stamp on it, but there also is a very solid, let’s say standardised or that sounds awful, but an element that is the same across the country which means that every student gets at least a good solid foundation. (Dr.
Zhao:) Yes. The unified textbooks ensure the coherence of mathematical content. However, another coherence I should tell you is the coherence of teaching, coherence of instruction. In China, many mathematics teachers think the coherence is very important for their, for the implementing a smooth lesson and also helpful for student and what the teacher is teaching. They will try their best to organise the content into a package, different knowledge into a package, knowledge package.
Besides, they also will outline the lesson structure in many aspects, such as how to inspire students’ interest, how to review the content to make a good prepare for the new content, how to divide the new content into different parts, one to a short brief summary and how to give overall summary… All of these could help the lesson structure appears very clear, logical and smooth, because of the coherence of instruction. (Christian:) So, just a sort of round-off with two final questions. So if you would pick one of these things, because we lots of countries are looking towards China, and they say well there are good things there are bad things.
If there is one thing that you think would be the most realistic point for other countries to adopt, what point do you think would be would be the most important one? A difficult question I realise. (Dr.
Zhao:) It’s very difficult for me to answer. As we all know, the teaching is a cultural practice, cultural activity. So the features I mentioned about all rooted in the Chinese background, Chinese cultural background. So I’m not sure which one and how these features could be adopted in other countries. For me, in my opinion, what the Chinese experience could provide to the educators in other countries, maybe not a pattern or a model, but a mirror to help them to understand and reflect the classroom practice of their own. (Christian:) By looking at other experiences and other ways of doing education, rather than say oh let’s copy this. (Dr.
Zhao: Yes.) You use it as a way to reflect on why you’re doing, what you’re doing, and then every country decide for themselves what best fits. (Dr.
Zhao: Yes.) Are there things in China you think that could be, what do you think is, that’s the last question, what do you think it will be the most important development or thing that China will change or look at in the next ten years? What feature do you think is important, that also what feature do you think China wants to pay more attention to? (Dr.
Zhao:) In my personal opinion, there are many things that need to be reformed or to be improved for Chinese mathematics education, although we have many good experiences, we have got many outcomes. The two challenge for us I think may be balance the, between the solid foundation and the students’ creativity, balance between teachers’ dominance, teachers’ guidance and students’ initiative. Why? I think the education, including the mathematics education, should educate for future generation, not just to master knowledge. They should learn how to think critically. They should learn by themselves independently, not just push by their teacher or push by the examination. This is my opinion. (Christian:) Thank you very much for this enjoyable interview. (Dr.
Zhao:) It’s my pleasure.

This is part 3 of the interview with Dr Dongchen Zhao.

Dongchen Zhao is research and teaching staff in the School of Education, Harbin Normal University, China. His research interests focus on the mathematics classroom practice and teachers’ knowledge development. Between August 2017 and August 2018, he has been at the University of Southampton as a visiting academic. He received his primary school education in a small village in northeastern China in the 1980s. He received his master’s degree and doctoral degree in Northeast Normal University, China. Both his master thesis and PhD dissertation were about China’s primary school mathematics classrooms.

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