I had no plans to do a part two when I wrote The Knowledge Based Economy nor did I know how well part one would be received. The number of comments to the above link was extremely high and many of them were excellent.

One of the ideas I proposed yesterday was that China and India were not standing still when it comes to education. Some responded with negative comments about what constitutes an engineer in China vs. the US. What I sense however, is enormous strides being made by China relative to the US at a time when US education costs are unjustifiably soaring in the US.

In a totally random event, there were two articles out today in the BBC supportive of my position (taking the liberty of using education in the UK as a Western proxy). The first was about college entrance exams in China vs. first year exams in the UK.

Maths enthusiasts are being challenged to answer a sample question from Chinese university entrance tests. The tests are set for prospective science undergraduates.

The UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry is offering a £500 prize to one lucky but bright person who answers the question below correctly.

It has also published a test used in a “well known and respected” English university – the society is not naming it – to assess the strength of incoming science undergraduates’ maths skills.

A glance at the two questions reveals how much more advanced is the maths teaching in China, where children learn the subject up to the age of 18, the society says.

It has sounded a warning about Britain’s future economic prospects which it claims are threatened by competition from scientists in China. RSC chief executive Richard Pike says mathematics is seen as integral to the sciences in China and its economy.

Math is a Difficult Subject

The BBC is reporting Pupils ‘are urged to drop math classes’.

The Royal Society of Chemistry said that as maths was a difficult subject, schools feared examination failures which would threaten their standings. Chief executive Richard Pike also said universities were increasingly having to run remedial classes in 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.”

In a paper entitled Why League Tables Have to Go, he said it was not unusual for students taking chemistry and biology to take another non-mathematical “quite unconnected” subject.

He went on: “Increasingly, universities are having to mount remedial sessions for incoming science undergraduates because their maths skills are so limited, with many having stopped formal lessons in mathematics two years earlier at the GCSE level.”

This contrasted strongly with countries like China where maths was taught to all up the age of 18, he said.

William Shaw, professor of financial mathematics at King’s College, London,[responded by calling it] a “cheap and uninformed” attack on UK teaching.

“We are changing the curriculum, creating a new entitlement to give more pupils the chance to study separate physics, chemistry and biology GCSEs and piloting 250 science clubs for 11 to 14-year-olds.”

In the United States, many good students might not learn calculus until they got to college.

“So I could set a test for university entrants in China (or the US) which many British sixth form maths students could do, based on some calculus, which could make a similarly unbalanced media story in the Chinese papers,” he said.

Choose a Door

  1. This is just a “curriculum change”.
  2. It’s the UK that’s lagging, not the US.
  3. China is making huge inroads vs. the UK and US in math, science, and medicine.

I select door number 3.

Mike Shedlock / Mish/