Among a large variety of programs offered at the Ninth International Congress on Mathematical Education (ICME-9) held in Tokyo/Makuhari, Japan from July 31 to August 6, 2000, was the Forum of All Chinese Math Educators. The Forum, sub-titled "Festive and Academic Gathering of Chinese Descendants and Other Interested Parties", was the first of its kind in the history of ICME.
The three coordinators, FAN Lianghuo, ZHANG Dianzhou, and GU Lingyuan, met twice in March and June 2000 in Shanghai to discuss and prepare for the event. It was decided that the main purpose of the Forum would be to study the characteristics of Chinese mathematics education from an international perspective and, through face-to-face discussions, to promote communications among Chinese mathematics educators as well as academic exchanges between Chinese and international mathematics educators. Chinese mathematics education was broadly interpreted for this purpose, more from a cultural and ethnical perspective.
The Forum was programmed as a special event of the congress and had two sessions. Both sessions were very successful given that they were well received. The first session was held from 18:15 to 19:15 on August 1 and attended by about 120 people, many more than expected. The second session was held on the following day from 18:15 to 19:30, a quarter of an hour longer than scheduled, and attracted an audience of about 140 people. The participants were from Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, USA, Japan, Russia, etc.
Hiroshi FUJITA, the chair of the International Program Committee (IPC) for ICME-9 opened the Forum by giving a speech at the beginning of the first session. His warm welcome was followed by four invited speeches.
WONG Ngai-Ying from Hong Kong talked about his recent work and findings on how to understand the superior academic performance of Asian students in international comparisons. He argued that "Confucian Heritage Culture" might only explain part of the successful story, and it should not be overemphasized. He suggested that the quality rather than the quantity of problems that students work through in their learning of mathematics could be another key to understanding the issue.
Jinfa CAI from the U.S. introduced a study he recently undertook. The study compared Chinese and American students' performance on mathematics problem solving. He revealed that Chinese students performed better on some routine problems, but worse on some non-routine and open-ended problems. He also found that Chinese students displayed good skills in abstract thinking while American students showed good skills in intuitive thinking.
LIN Foulai from Taiwan introduced, among others, two important issues concerning the development of mathematics education in Taiwan. The first is about curriculum reform, and the second is about how to advance mathematics education research in Taiwan. He pointed out the importance of establishing a solid foundation that pays good attention to the local context and environment for further development. For this purpose, mathematics educators in Taiwan are currently making an effort to build up a large-scale database on the teaching and learning of mathematics in schools, and they hope to exchange ideas with and receive input from other mathematics educators.
REN Zizhao from Beijing introduced some recent development in the national college entrance mathematics examination, for which he is responsible, in Mainland China. He described two general directions in the current test reform. One is that the test increased emphasises on students' ability of using mathematics to solve problems and meanwhile reduced emphasises on their memorizing mathematical facts, formulas, and so on. The other is that the test placed more emphasises on application of mathematics.
The speakers in the second session included WANG Jiepan (China), LEE Peng Yee (Singapore), Zalman USISKIN (USA), YE Qixiao (China), Igor F. SHARYGIN (Russia), Yoshiko FUJITA (Japan), Jianhua LI (USA), and WANG Shengzhi (China). The topics were extensive and diverse.
Serving on the Executive Committee of ICMI, WANG Jiepan introduced the participants to some recent as well as forthcoming ICMI studies and activities. He also discussed some issues as well as recent reform initiatives concerning mathematics teacher education at university level in Mainland China, particularly at East China Normal University, where he is president.
LEE Peng Yee described some cultural traditions of Chinese people in South East Asia. He argued that, when studying Chinese mathematics education from the cultural perspective, one should note not only similarities but also differences between the cultural tradition of Chinese people in the homeland and that in South East Asia where Chinese immigrated a long time ago.
Zalman USISKIN shared with the audience his experience of visiting China for three times and attending eight ICMEs over the last decades and his observations about the rapid changes of society, mathematics, and modern technology during this period of time, as well as their influence on mathematics education. He emphasized the importance of using the latest technology in mathematics education to enable future generations to benefit from recent advances in the subject of mathematics.
In his speech, YE Qixiao focused on one aspect of the university mathematics education reform in the last decade in Mainland China: the teaching of mathematical modeling and application. He indicated that there has been an annual large-scale contest in mathematical modeling at university level in Mainland China since the mid 1990s, which has had a positive influence on the university mathematics education and given mathematics educators useful experiences to learn from and reflect on.
In their short speeches, Igor F. SHARYGIN, member of the ICMI Executive Committee, expressed his wish to have more exchanges and sharing of experiences between Chinese and Russian mathematics educators, and Yoshiko FUJITA shared her experience of learning Chinese language and culture, as well as her good wishes for this festive gathering.
From his experience of working and studying in both China and the United States, Jianhua LI highlighted the need for Chinese mathematics education researchers to pay more attention to fundamental issues and to use, in their research, more well established research methodology developed in other countries.
WANG Shengzhi introduced two recent major developments in mathematics education in Mainland China. The first is related to national standards for mathematics curriculum. The preliminary version of the national standards for the stage of the 9-year compulsory education was recently released for the purpose of seeking feedback. The standards for the next three years' senior high school stage, is still being developed. The second development is about a large-scale and multi-level teacher training program in Mainland China which is currently being implemented and will involve 10,000 master teachers at the national level, 90,000 at the provincial level, and 900,000 at the city or regional level. He invited the audience to contribute comments and suggestions about the two initiatives.
ZHANG Dianzhou concluded the Forum by suggesting the establishment of a coordinating group for further communication and cooperation among mathematics educators in this area of research.
As a follow-up to the Forum, the transcribed records of the speeches, mainly in Chinese but some also in English, have been made available. These presentations can be obtained by contacting FAN Lianghuo. A website focusing on Chinese mathematics education and its comparison with international mathematics education will be established in near future. In addition, the proceedings of the Forum is being planned for possible publication.
To conclude this brief report, we wish to express our gratitude to the IPC and its chair, Prof. Fujita, the speakers, the participants, and all the local organizers (including especially the NOC) and helpers who made the Forum possible and successful.
National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University
1 Nanyang Walk, Singapore 637616
Department of Mathematics, East China Normal University
3663 North Zhongshan Road, Shanghai 200062, China
Shanghai Academy of Educational Sciences
21 North Chaling Road, Shanghai 200032, China