How Math Teaching Methods Vary Between Countries

How Math Teaching Methods Vary Between Countries


If you were born in India, Finland or Singapore, your experience of learning math would be significantly different from how studying math in the US looks like. These three countries do exceptionally well in international math tests and they are often included in the top ten, while the results of American students are hitting new lows, much to the dismay of US educators. What makes the national curricula of these three countries special and so effective?

Learning math in India

Each year about 0.05% of the population of India graduates with a degree in science or math. While these numbers might be partially affected by the growing demand for employees with degrees in science and by the social pressure to receive a prestigious degree, it does not change the fact that Indian students are simply good at math. India employs a national curriculum, which puts an emphasis on practicing math skills and evaluating children’s performance.

The curriculum is also more challenging than math programs in the US: American kids are often 2 years behind their peers in India, when it comes to learning math. Although Indian math curriculum is not the most innovative, its focus on practice and drilling together with the social pressure to do better at math result in outstanding math test scores.

Learning math in Finland

Finland is the only Western country, which is frequently featured in the top ten countries in international math tests. What is so different about Finnish math lessons? First of all, Finnish educators started employing radical strategies aimed at removing the gender gap in math long before other countries did it. For example, Finnish educators discovered that meaningless homework is one of the reasons why girls lose interest in math, therefore Finnish students have less homework than American students.

Surprisingly, their textbooks are also a fraction of the size of math textbooks used in the United States. How is it possible that with less practice and less math material to cover Finnish students are so good in math? The reason is hidden in the innovative pedagogical methods used to teach math, which involve problem solving, cooperative learning, project-based learning and role playing. Different approach to teaching results in different attitudes of students, who find math interesting and easy to learn.

Learning math in Singapore

What is the number one country in the international math tests? Year after year it is either Hong Kong or Singapore. This has lead to a growing interest in math curriculum used in Singapore and the development of “Singapore math”, a method of teaching math based on the experience and materials provided by Singaporean educators.

However, the success of Singapore is a result of more than just the implementation of effective pedagogical methods. Equally important is the country’s consistent approach to teaching and the focus on practicing math at home. Singaporeans not only attend math classes for teachers, but also participate in teacher groups after graduation, exchanging best practices and working on solving educational problems.

At the same time Singaporean kids spend a lot more time on practicing math than their American peers. Top-notch methods combined with greater effort of both teachers and students lead to extraordinary results.

Marta Gromadzka is a writer and editor with a wide variety of experience, including writing for websites internationally and editing books on many different subjects and in a variety of formats.