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Chinese Mathematics Stereotypes?… Story by Alex Chow

‘’Chinese students are geniuses in mathematics”—Is it a stereotype?

If there are Chinese students in your school, people will perceive they are geniuses in mathematics. This is the most trivial stereotype about Chinese, but does it hold any truth?

Here are the statistics: according to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) which is a standardized test among the globe, when it comes to mathematics Chinese students are always in the top of the academic pile. There are up to 30 percent of students in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan that reached the highest level in math performance.

However, American students are in the bottom, as 25 percent of American students did not reach the PISA baseline for “level 2” in math proficiency. Comparatively only about 10 percent of students in countries such as Canada, Korea, Shanghai, and Singapore, failed to reach that benchmark. Also, there are only two percent of students in America that achieved the top performance.

Mapping IQ... The supposed average IQ of different countries is listed, with China's slightly above the US's. Photo By: Our World in Data.
Mapping IQ… The supposed average IQ of different countries is listed, with China’s slightly above the US’s. Photo By: Our World in Data.

First off, many Chinese have higher intelligence quotient (IQ) than their American counterparts. This is backed by the research of Richard Lynn, a British Professor of Psychology, and Tatu Vanhanen, a Finnish Professor of Political Science, who conducted IQ studies in more than 80 countries. Hong Kong’s citizens have the highest intelligence quotient among the world, at an average of 108, while the average in America is 98. IQ is another possible reason how the current stereotype on Chinese math skills came to be. However, there are known faults in this test, and while it can sometimes accurately gauge proficiency it is not definitive—acquired cultivation also plays a vital role in mathematics.

As you may know, China has a much higher education standard than America. The width and depth of the syllabus of mathematics in China is superior to America. In China, mathematics is a compulsory subject, students have mathematics class nearly every school day. Chinese students have longer time to learn and practice mathematics than American.’’ Practice makes perfect.’’ It may prove that Chinese is not genius, but are hard-workers.

Additionally, the competitive Chinese society boosts the academic results of students. In China, there is a famous saying ,” Knowledge can offer you a new leaf.’’ Chinese people believe that studying in a good college can push them into an upper social class. As a result, there are huge competition for colleges.

Rigorous Testing... National tests in China create a lot more competition than in the US. Photo By: ICEC.
Rigorous Testing… National tests in China create a lot more competition than in the US. Photo By: ICEC.

For example, there are only 18% of students in Hong Kong have a chance to study in colleges. China has the greatest Gini’s coefficient, education is the ladder for people getting rid of poverty. Thus, Chinese students study very hard. On the other hand, there are far less competition in America. There is not a vast gap between blue and white collar workers. Even if students cannot study in colleges, they could still have decent income. Hence, American students have smaller motivation to strike for excellence in academic.

Last , the mindset about studying. The Chinese have a growth mindset while America has a fixed mindset. Growth mindset is all about diligence—in general, Chinese students believe excellence can only be achieved by hard work instead of talent. If they aren’t doing well, they’ll work harder, and they’ll be successful. However, American students tend to believe in talent, if they don’t get a good result at the beginning, usually they will not try to put more effort to improve it as they think themselves are not good at it.

To conclude, Chinese students outperform American students in mathematics is not because they are geniuses, it is because of the work ethic behind the excellence.