Education policy bingo enthusiasts are rarely disappointed to see a reference to how good East Asian systems are at maths on their cards.
The impressive PISA and TIMSS performances of students in Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Shanghai are never far from the news. In England, East Asian approaches have informed a number of Government schemes, including its decision to roll out a maths mastery programme to half of the primary schools in the country.
So I was surprised to discover that, when asked to rate their confidence in maths, students from East Asian systems did not also come out on top. As part of questionnaires in the 2015 TIMSS international assessments, students were asked to rate their confidence. Despite coming top for maths performance, only 19% of students in Singapore identified as “very confident in mathematics”. England came 11th overall, but 37% of its students surveyed described themselves as being very confident.
This is an example of an educational “side-effect”, according to Yong Zhao, an education professor based at the University of Kansas. The East Asian approach to teaching mathematics has improved test scores, but it may also have the side effect of decreasing confidence.
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