China / Cover Story

Math olympiad training may not add up

By Luo Wangshu (China Daily) Updated: 2012-11-27 07:43

Olympiads for young children could be a damaging formula, reports Luo Wangshu in Beijing.

OK, answer this question. The marines are assigning dorms to new recruits. If each available room is shared by three marines, 20 will have nowhere to sleep. If six share a room, two lucky marines can each have a room to themselves. If 10 share each room, how many rooms will be left unoccupied?

This may not be a tough assignment for an experienced sergeant or applicants for high school or college, but the brainteaser (answer on page 6) isn't for them. It's for 8-year-old students at after-school or weekend classes in Beijing.

Math olympiad training may not add up

Wang Fengshu watches with concern etched on her face as her grandson Tang Haolong figures it out at a math olympiad class in Wuhan, Hubei province. Provided to China Daily.  

In August, the city's education authority banned schools from awarding places to students simply on the basis of an outstanding performance in the Mathematics Olympiads, held every academic year, in November, April, May and June.

However, dozens of math-training courses under names such as Advance Mathematics, Logical Training or Happy Math are still thriving by teaching the skills required to solve problems as difficult as those included in the math olympiad.

The phenomenon has attracted the attention of the Ministry of Education, which intends to lessen the influence of the olympiads, according to Yuan Guiren, the minister, at a news conference in September.

The influence of the math competition has been highlighted by the issue of access to good middle schools. A dearth of satisfactory educational resources is at the root of the problem, said Yuan, adding that the State Council has already planned the distribution of resources.

Li Songyuan should soon have no difficulty solving the marine sergeant's quandary over rooms. She started additional math tuition in the summer, and even though she's only a third-grader, she's a late starter.

"I am OK with math olympiad class, but I prefer physical education," said the 8-year-old, who attends a three-hour math class every Sunday evening.

Although the classes, which cost 2,700 yuan ($434) for 15 sessions, are officially known simply as "math class", the girl still refers to it as math olympiad class.

Li's class has nine students, all accompanied by their diligent parents, including her mother Zhao Xingli, 35. Zhao takes notes and discusses the questions with the other kids and their parents. "I come to every class with her, no matter what, storms or blizzards," she said.

"The questions are difficult. I couldn't solve them if I didn't attend the class, but it means I can help with her homework. She is not gifted at math and so we go through the questions together after class," she explained.

Zhao hopes her daughter can win a medal at an upcoming city-level math competition to ease her path to a better middle school.

Math olympiad training may not add up

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