British students may soon study mathematics with Chinese textbooks after a “historic” deal between HarperCollins and a Shanghai publishing house in which books will be directly translated for use in UK schools.
China’s wealthy cities, including Shanghai and Beijing, produce some of the world’s top-performing maths pupils, while British students rank far behind their counterparts in Asia.
HarperCollins’ education division signed an agreement to release a series of 36 maths books at the London Book Fair, the state-run China Daily reported, with Colin Hughes, managing director of Collins Learning, calling it “historic”.
“To my knowledge this has never happened in history before – that textbooks created for students in China will be translated exactly as they have been developed, and sold for use in British schools,” the China Daily quoted Hughes as saying.
The textbook deal is part of wider cooperation between the UK and China, and the government hopes to boost British students’ performance in maths, Hughes added.
Chinese schools, represented by those in the wealthier cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, as well as Jiangsu province, ranked fifth in maths scores, according to a recent global study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The UK lagged far behind, ranking 27th and tied with Portugal and the Czech Republic in maths achievement.
The report also noted that one in four students in China, along with Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, receive top marks in maths, a higher proportion than anywhere else.
Experts worry the textbooks alone cannot solve Britain’s maths problem, saying the fundamentals of the education systems are too different.
“Britain and China’s education evaluation system is very different. In the required subjects, Chinese schools follow a high standard of uniform requirements because most of the Chinese students need to participate in the university entrance examination, so mathematics will be too difficult [for the British],” said Xiong Bingqi, an education expert at Shanghai Jiaotong University and the vice-president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute.
“The British education system puts too much emphasis on individuals and ignores problems of the collective.”
Last year the British government announced it would spend £41m to support half of England’s primary schools in adopting maths teaching methods from Asia. The Department for Education has also flown in teachers from China, in an attempt to improve the UK’s flagging standards.
But even China’s own commentators have warned their system is not perfect.
“Some uphold Chinese education as being better than that in western countries, it is also not without its problems,” said an opinion piece in the Beijing Youth Daily following the announcement of the textbook deal. “It lacks respect for children’s creativity and is too exam-oriented.”
The UK publisher’s interest in Chinese textbooks has been a source of pride for China in the past. When HarperCollins published a supplementary maths text in 2015, the Global Times, a nationalist newspaper controlled by the Communist party, declared: “Textbook’s publication in UK validates Chinese education.”