I don't have time to paraphrase these two papers, but do recommend them for describing in more detail the effects of two kinds of curriculum, typical US and typical Chinese, on problem-solving strategies. This may shed some light on the results that are the focus of this discussion:
Cai, Jinfa. (1995). A cognitive analysis of U.S. and Chinese students' mathematical performance on
tasks involving computation, simple problem solving, and complex problem solving. (Journal
for Research in Mathematics Education monograph series 7), Reston, VA: National Council of
Teachers of Mathematics.
Cai, Jinfa. ?Mathematical Thinking Involved in U.S. and Chinese Students' Solving Process-
Constrained and Process-Open Problems.? Mathematical Thinking and Learning: An
International Journal, 2 (2000): 309-340.
________________________________ From: Post-calculus mathematics education [MATHEDU@JISCMAIL.AC.UK] On Behalf Of Victor Steinbok [victor.steinbok@VERIZON.NET] Sent: 09 January 2011 08:35 To: MATHEDU@JISCMAIL.AC.UK Subject: Re: Shanghai PISA Scores Not So Good After All?
And if you believe all that I got a nice bridge to sell you... Experts on China have been warning for years that Chinese IP system is a fraud from the top down. There have been many recent stories claiming (or demonstrating directly) that what passes for "innovation" in China is largely duplication of others' technology (something that was happening in Japan 40-50 years ago--until the business culture changed). Patents have been issued for essentially making a close copy of a product that had been contracted to a Chinese company for cheap production. And other countries are not likely to recognize validity of Chinese patents any time soon--at least, not as easily as they might for each other.
Of course, if you believe what you read in WSJ about education, you are already used to being gullible.
Yes, sure, there are Chinese teacher, academics and education officials who do believe that the best way to compete in the global economy is innovation and competition. But they are going up against thousands of years of Chinese culture that bet otherwise. And the best and brightest tend to leave anyway.
I also agree with Jon Groves's comments concerning questionable correlation between high scores and actual mathematical achievement or attainment. The problem is that there is a contaminated pool--those who are likely to do well, creatively or otherwise, tend to get high scores, but there are also many who get high scores that do not end up doing well in advanced math courses or just end up being mediocre all-around students, regurgitating what they hear from instructors.
Jan 9, 2011 06:13:53 AM, alexandre.borovik@MANCHESTER.AC.UK wrote: The keen interest of Chinese educators to producing "innovators", not just "competent mediocracy" (I quote The Wall Street Journal article "The Test Chinese Schools Still Fail" by Jiang Xueqin referred to by Jonathan Grove) is a reflection of wider ranging state plans for a dramatic increase in the generation of intellectual property (conveniently measured in numbers of patent applications, which have to double by 2015).
See a general discussion of this policy in the NYT:
When Innovation, Too, Is Made in China, by STEVE LOHR Published: January 1, 2011,
________________________________________ From: Post-calculus mathematics education [MATHEDU@JISCMAIL.AC.UK] on behalf of Jonathan Groves [JGroves@KAPLAN.EDU] Sent: 09 January 2011 01:57 To: MATHEDU@JISCMAIL.AC.UK Subject: Shanghai PISA Scores Not So Good After All?
The Wall Street Journal article "The Test Chinese Schools Still Fail" by Jiang Xueqin can be found at the link
The writer argues that Shanghai's performance, though very strong on the PISA, might not be so good after all. The students are basically robots who can regurgitate all kinds of knowledge but cannot do anything with it. The following passage mentions some complaints from the Chinese government, Chinese educators, and Chinese parents:
"So China has no problem producing mid-level accountants, computer programmers and technocrats. But what about the entrepreneurs and innovators needed to run a 21st century global economy? China's most promising students still must go abroad to develop their managerial drive and creativity, and there they have to unlearn the test-centric approach to knowledge that was drilled into them.
"The failings of a rote-memorization system are well-known: lack of social and practical skills, absence of self-discipline and imagination, loss of curiosity and passion for learning. Chinese students burn themselves out testing into university, where many of them spend their time playing World of Warcraft.
"Both multinationals and Chinese companies have the same complaints about China's university graduates: They cannot work independently, lack the social skills to work in a team and are too arrogant to learn new skills. In 2005, the consulting firm McKinsey released a report saying that China's current education system will hinder its economic development."
I do not find these complaints very surprising: An intense focus on testing turns students into robots. Grades matter far more than genuine learning. Standardized tests are not about students developing creativity and problem solving skills; all they do is test whether students can perform in ways that the system wants them to perform. Over-reliance on testing and grading makes a mockery of what education is ultimately about.
Because many Chinese and other Asians are highly attracted to college and graduate school in the United States, I suspect that this tells us that their high scoring on PISA and other standardized tests may not tell as good of a story as we think it does, that there is something not so good behind the scenes.