Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on July 22, 2008
The athletes are getting ready for the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing on August 8. The mathletes are already done – and the Chinese are the big winners. According to this report from Xinhua, China’s team of five high school students was the top performers at the 49th annual International Mathematical Olympiad, a week-long competition that drew 535 contestants and concluded in Madrid on Monday. The Russians came in second and the Americans came in third. (India didn’t do so well, scoring a few bronze medals and finishing a distant 31st overall.)
Of course it’s not news that Chinese students take math very, very seriously. A few years ago, I interviewed a bunch of middle school students in Guangzhou, really impressive kids who could talk with a foreigner whom they had never met in almost flawless English. Like many ambitious Chinese families, their parents were sending them to after-school classes, one of them training for the Math Olympics. They were going to do more Math Olympics training over the summer break, too.
All that said, the U.S. still has a big advantage when it comes to education that promotes the ability to think creatively, something that Chinese educators understand and are trying to address. That will take years. But, as the country’s victory in Madrid shows, there’s no denying that China’s education system is doing something right.