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This is how Singaporean children excel in mathematics

This is how Singaporean children excel in mathematics

In Estonia, Great Britain and Singapore primary school students have been documented to excel in mathematics. Sweden can learn a lot from the country’s curricula, shows a new report from Näringslivet’s school forum. “We don’t have to be original. We can only look at what other countries have done,” says researcher Johan Pritts.

It is very important for Swedish students to improve their mathematical skills. Although there has been some progress in recent years, we remain well below the OECD average on many international knowledge measures. An example is TIMSS (2019), where the OECD average for students in year 8 was over 530 points in mathematics compared to over 500 points in Sweden.

After all, Sweden has some top students and a large group of students who do not pass the subject. Students with foreign backgrounds and students from rural areas tend to have poorer results in international studies.

– Not only in light of the fact that we are not satisfied with today’s Swedish maths results, but a promotion is needed. The reports we present today indicate that there is great potential in improving curricula and thereby improving school results in mathematics, says Gustav Blix, responsible for primary school issues at the Swedish Institute.

He believes the government, which has announced that changes are underway, can draw inspiration from two reports presented at a seminar organized by Näringslivet’s school forum. The first deals with international research on the subject and the second shows curricula from the UK, Estonia and Singapore.

– What these three countries have in common is that they perform very well on international knowledge measures. They have very extensive and detailed syllabuses. To a greater extent than Swedish syllabi, they contain subject-specific expressions and concepts and detailed explanations, says Johan Pritts, a researcher at Uppsala University’s Department of Pedagogy, Didactics and Educational Studies. Author of the report “A New Curriculum in Mathematics – What It Could Look Like and Why”.

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“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel”

Singapore, whose students perform better than other countries on international benchmarks, could provide very valuable input to the reformed Swedish curriculum. The country is currently in the process of rewriting its curriculum – opening up to a certain degree of decentralization – but it is, above all, a central and transparent administration that is exemplary.

A very comprehensive syllabus for Mathematics has detailed and precise explanations based on subject-specific expressions and concepts. At the same time, they are linked to students’ abilities; Especially in the case of Singapore, problem solving is considered central.

– We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We don’t have to be original. We can only look at what other countries have done, says Johan Priest, who also emphasizes that to achieve this it is important to have a broad recognition among the actors of the school, at least among the teachers.

Weak results, research shows

A major problem with Swedish curricula is that they contain so-called process objectives that have a poor connection to the expressions and concepts of mathematics. Instead of students learning Pythagoras’ Theorem, they have to engage in more obscure concepts such as problem solving or “mathematical communication.”

Collected research shows that this leads to poorer student performance, which is evident in the second report, “How to change curricula in mathematics – arguments from international research”.

– It is clear that implementation of process goals, especially through curricula, is difficult. This applies both on the classroom side – the teaching you wanted to achieve doesn’t happen – and on the outcomes side – students don’t improve, says Ola Helenius, professor of mathematics-focused subject theories at the University of Gothenburg. and the National Center for Mathematics Education. The second report was co-authored with Linda Marie Ahl, a researcher at Uppsala University’s Department of Pedagogy, Pedagogy and Pedagogy.

Ola Helenius’s main advice to politicians is to combine skills with a clear mathematical language, but also to modify the cutting. Instead of focusing first on preparing a proper lesson plan, it is better to start by preparing a commentary material first, i.e. texts that give teachers concrete pointers on how teaching should be done. The disadvantage of starting with a curriculum is that many actors must agree on priorities.

Ola Helenius believes that the introduction of better learning materials is central and that so-called progression should be developed, meaning that students gradually have the opportunity to build their knowledge and skills in the subject.

The subjective aspect is not impossible

Johan Borgesson, department coordinator at the Swedish National Agency for Education, believes that it is entirely possible to introduce the proposals presented in the reports in the Swedish context:

– Introduction should be feasible, reasonable and correct especially in mathematics subject as it is a well-defined subject. It can be tricky in other subjects, he says.

Ann-Christine Hartmann, unit manager for policy document development at the Swedish National Institute of Education, agrees, but at the same time believes that writing new curricula with many stakeholders is more complex. This means a complex balancing act.

– It’s also important to find a balance so you don’t lock yourself in, he says, when teachers think the governing documents aren’t useful or give them the space they need to adapt teaching.

He also cautions that syllabuses in various subjects should not be fragmented. But Johann Pritz believes that doesn’t have to be a problem:

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– He says that it is clear that we should not have unnecessarily complicated administrative documents, but we should not be too afraid that they should have subject characteristics, because that would confuse the teachers.

It is also possible to clearly prioritize which areas of mathematics are more important than others. Again, Johan Pritz takes Singapore as an example:

– They indicate which areas of mathematics are particularly important. There are eight basic concepts you should focus on in all grades, he says.

We’re really mad because very little happens in terms of progress

Linda Marie Ahl has 20 years of experience and three options when it comes to revising curricula. First, there is a need for sufficient subject language in the curriculum. Secondly, she also wants a clear progression.

– We really take care of ourselves because very little happens when it comes to progress. He says it’s very difficult to see what’s going on with what’s being presented now.

His third preference is a clear preference for central concepts. She believes algebra should be higher on the agenda. International studies show that Swedish students perform poorly in algebra (and geometry).

– Students should work with algebra every day. This is what I had with students in correctional services, students who were having a very difficult time in school. He says it has given good results.

Primary School and After School Centre