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Dr. James Li recently published at Singapore education magazine "EduNation", you can find the details here.





最近GreatMinds (博思书院)校长李宏珉博士接受媒体采访针对新加坡小学教育发表了一些个人看法,引起很大反响。



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Singapore vs. Shanghai: A Comparison between primary-level Maths Syllabus and Textbooks PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 25 April 2013 02:53

 1. Introduction

As the countries in the Asia-Pacific region experience rapid economic growth, they are gradually
producing admirable achievements in the education sector. In the recent 2009 Programme for
International Student Assessment (PISA), with the exception of Finland, countries or cities in
the Asia-Pacific region have bagged the top five spots in each category. Singapore, Hong Kong
and Shanghai in particular, have clinched the top five positions in each of the three categories.
Shanghai especially, produced astounding results, topping each of the three categories.

In terms of the percentage of students in the top group, Singapore has surpassed Shanghai in the
categories of Reading and Science even though Singapore’s overall ranking is lower. This goes to
show that the cultivating of elite students in Singapore is successful. However, in the area of
Math, the disparity in the percentage of students in the top group is a substantial 11% even
though Singapore ranks second to Shanghai. This huge disparity between the first two cities
indicates that Shanghai has far outpaced other countries in the teaching of Math.
Although PISA only assesses secondary students, it ought to also be an accurate reflection of the
standard of Math at the primary levels because primary-level Math develops fundamental skills.
This essay aims to compare in detail the differences between the syllabi and textbooks of
primary-level Math of the two cities and look out for some practices that Singapore could adopt
or take reference from Shanghai’s pedagogy. Please understand and correct any omissions or


2. Comparison of syllabi
The syllabus is the main guideline of the curriculum. Hence, this essay will make a
comprehensive comparison of the syllabi of the two cities in terms of overall design and specific
topics. For ease of comparison, this essay utilises the form of a table.


3. Comparison of textbooks
The content of textbooks in Singapore [5] and Shanghai [6] accurately reflect the requirements of
the syllabi, and both are commendable. Listed below are some salient features in Shanghai’s
textbooks that are worth recommending.
(1) Chapters reflect an actual understanding of the process
The content and arrangement of each chapter reflects the actual understanding of the process.
For instance, when teaching graphs and tables, tables come first, emphasizing the conversion
from tables to graphs before proceeding. In addition, textbooks state explicitly the formal
requirements of graphs.


(2) Chapters emphasise the application of knowledge
Each chapter leads in with one or several real life examples. In addition, the arrangement of
content also reflects application. For example, questions regarding speed form an important
chapter in Singapore’s Primary 6 syllabus. However, Shanghai incorporates these questions into
their chapter of the application of algebra and equations.

(3) Chapters emphasise links between topics and links between summaries
Shanghai textbooks clearly list tables, bar graphs, line graphs and averages under the topic of
data analysis. There is heavy emphasis on the links between the individual topics. For example,
the title of the topic in Shanghai is “Data Analysis – Averages” instead of “Averages”. The
syllabus in Singapore explicitly classifies the topics, but the textbooks do not have this express
Another point worthy of mention is a summary after chapters which are interlinked. For
example, in a typical Primary 5 textbook, the chapter “Data Analysis – Averages” ends with a
summary of all the topics (tables, bar graphs and line graphs) within the same broad category of
data analysis even though the topics were taught in previous years.

(4) Textbooks incorporate Mathematical Olympiad skills
Both the ministries of education in Singapore and Shanghai oppose Mathematical Olympiad
competitions, but Mathematical Olympiad skills can be categorized into two levels- basic and
competitive. The learning of basic Mathematical Olympiad skills is helpful to students in
cultivating logical thinking and creative thinking. Shanghai textbooks selectively include a
number of Mathematical Olympiad skills.

(5) Textbooks incorporate auxiliary computing tools and stories about Chinese mathematicians
The teaching materials from Shanghai incorporate helpful computing tools and games in order
to help students learn better. The materials also include short introductions to mathematicians
and brief historical accounts to pique their interest in Mathematics. For example, the history of
Chinese mathematician Zu Chongzhi and his discovery of pi, the ratio of the circumference of a
circle to its diameter, accurate to seven decimal places are recounted.

4. Summary and Recommendations
The syllabi and textbooks of Singapore and Shanghai have different strengths and would benefit
from learning from each other. The syllabus is the mainstay on which teaching materials and
every other aspect is based. A good syllabus should reflect both the nature of learning Math and
the current standard of teaching.
The nature of learning Math is to train logical thinking and expression in Mathematical terms.
Learning should allow us to express a practical problem in terms of a Math question, and after
logical thinking, apply Math concepts and skills to analyse and solve the problem, arriving at
real-life application.
The difficulty of practice questions and examinations set in schools has far exceeded the syllabi
and teaching materials. It is imperative that we redefine the syllabus and textbooks in order to
accurately reflect the nature and current level of Math.


You may also find this article and other educational articles at www.edunationsg.com 





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