This is a recent test used in England:

Royal Society of Chemistry

Here’s a Chinese math test:

The BBC also has an article talking about how many students are actually being discouraged from taking math classes:

Chief executive Richard Pike also said universities were increasingly having to run remedial classes in maths.

The Department for Education and Skills said more pupils were studying maths.

Dr Pike said: “Schools and students are reluctant to consider A-level mathematics to age 18, because the subject is regarded as difficult, and with league tables and university entrance governed by A-level points, easier subjects are taken.”

BBC: Pupils ‘are urged to drop maths’

Understandably, some UK educators are upset by reports such as these, and point to possible weaknesses in Chinese education. Still, I think some criticism is valid. I know that many of my students here in Taiwan are far ahead of what I remember students doing in US schools. I think that one reason Asia has developed so quickly over the past several decades is simply recognizing the value of mathematics. Obviously political systems play a huge role, but the fact that it’s very easy to graduate from a western high school with only two years of math isn’t a good thing in my opinion. The fact that it’s so common to graduate with a 4-year degree with little further mathematics study is even more disturbing.

Gian-Carlo Rota of MIT explains why:

When an undergraduate asks me whether he or she should major in mathematics rather than in another field that I will simply call X, my answer is the following: “If you major in mathematics, you can switch to X anytime you want to, but not the other way around.”

Alumni who return to visit invariably complain of not having taken enough math courses while they were undergraduates. It is a fact, confirmed by the history of science since Galileo and Newton, that the more theoretical and removed from immediate applications a scientific topic appears to be, the more likely it is to eventually find the most striking practical applications. Consider number theory, which only 20 years ago was believed to be the most useless chapter of mathematics and is today the core of computer security. The efficient factorization of integers into prime numbers, a topic of seemingly breathtaking obscurity, is now cultivated with equal passion by software desigers and code breakers.

I am often asked why there are so few applied mathematicians in the department at MIT. The reason is that all of MIT is one huge applied mathematics department; you can find applied mathematicians in practically every department at MIT except mathematics.

Gian-Carlo Rota: 10 Lessons of an MIT Education

As an English teacher, obviously I feel that English is an important subject. Still, I’m more concerned with people undervaluing math. I’ve never met *anyone* who made it through high school with only two years of English classes, or completed college with no further English.

Related article: Chinese and English speakers’ brains handle math differently (MSNBC)

Interested in Chinese numbers? Check out the Chinese Number Tool and click *examples*!

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