Mastering mathematics has long been seen as a must for Chinese students who want to be successful at school. When most parents and schools try cramming arithmetic and algebra into their children's brains as early as possible, an elementary school in central China's Hubei Province, however, made an unconventional decision to cancel math lessons for its first and second graders.
Starting fall semester 2015, students at Zhengyang Primary School were allowed to opt out of math classes for the first two years until they enter the third grade, Hubei Daily reported.
Freed from solving math problems and remembering the multiplication table, students could instead enroll in music, science and literature classes.
By the time they picked up math, the school discovered that children who missed two years of math ended up performing better in the subject compared with their peers.
Students in class at Zhengyang Primary School /Hubei Daily Photo
The school's curriculum reform was pushed forward by its principal Wu Zhenqiu, who believed first and second graders were not ready to digest the abstract concepts in mathematics.
"When children are in the lower grades, it's the best time for them to form and develop imaginal thinking, not abstract thinking that is required for mathematics," Wu told The Beijing News.
The school only reintroduced math as a mandatory class after students entered third grade, when children are believed to enter a critical stage in obtaining mathematical skills.
"Also, first and second graders cannot read much," Wu added. "Parents and teachers have to read aloud the questions for students to solve the problems. It's such a burden for everyone and a waste of time."
With time and energy saved, children can have time to pursue their interests, expose themselves to a variety of subjects and in turn inspire potential, Wu explained to Hubei Daily.
When the school first introduced the curriculum change, many parents expressed concerns that their children would be left behind. The school thus separated children into experimental and regular classes, and kept teaching math to students in the regular classes.
It turned out, however, that children in the experimental classes reportedly scored higher in math compared with their peers after they started taking the subject.
Local educators held talks with students from experimental classes with no math at Zhengyang Primary School last Monday. /Hubei Daily Photo
Last week, local education authorities sent a group of experts to evaluate the school's curriculum reform and they arrived at the conclusion that the principal's attempt was valuable and worthy of further exploration.
"It has been proved that it is possible for children to finish elementary school math courses in three years," Professor Yang Xiaowei from East China Normal University told The Beijing News. "To have children get temporarily left behind is better than making them think studying math is a chore."