British schoolchildren are falling behind in maths because lessons in the subject are “a mile wide and an inch deep”, according to an international education expert.
Maths teaching in the UK is “superficial” because it is focusing on memorising and learning facts, rather than concepts, said Andreas Schleicher, of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development.
“One of the things that we see when you look at high-performing education systems in maths, they typically have three things in the curriculum; one is rigour, the second is focus and the third is coherence,” he said, ahead of the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai.
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“Rigour means really having a high level of cognitive demand, and the UK is not doing well on it. Basically, the UK has a curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep, in the sense that a lot of the learning in maths is rather superficial.”
He suggested that maths teaching in the UK tends to be over-complicated, rather than taught in a simple fashion to ensure pupils grasp a concept. In comparison, East Asian education systems – which traditionally top international league tables – teach fewer topics in more depth and emphasise understanding.
Mr Schleicher said the UK is not doing badly in international tests, but is still far away from the highest performing systems. The latest Pisa tests, from 2013, put England in 26th place for maths, behind Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.