A team of high school students in the United States have beaten China in the International Mathematical Olympiad for the first time in over 20 years, and nobody seems more excited than Chinese parents.

 

High school students in China have won this Olympiad 18 times since 1990, so why are they celebrating the United States’ victory? It’s no secret that there is a lot of emphasis on rigorous studying in China. Studying advanced mathematics is taken to the extreme in China by beginning the math Olympiad training in elementary grades.

 

A classroom of students in China

(archive.desmoinesregister.com)

“I can’t care less whoever got the golden cup, as long as math Olympiad is not popularized in China, and my child won’t be forced to study it,” said a mother living in China.

 

There is a bonus point policy in China that awards extra points on school entrance exams to winners of the mathematics Olympiad. This sounds like a good policy, but it does more harm than good. Students sink all of their free time into studying mathematics, even if they hate it, because these bonus points are important for gaining the competitive edge.

 

“Hopefully, the Math Olympiad won’t scourge our children anymore! It has shattered so many kids’ dreams,” said a Chinese internet user on Weibo.

 

Most of China’s math champions avoid becoming mathematicians, even though they are among the best in the world. If the students really enjoyed mathematics, they would likely continue to study it even after completing their entrance exams.

 

An argument could be made that many students in the United States don’t study enough, but the over-studying that’s taking place in China is just as problematic. These students could be spending more time pursuing their interests and hobbies that can help lead them to finding their life’s passion and a career they love.

 

Should China keep the bonus points policy in place? Is it really problematic that many Chinese students are spending their free time studying something they don’t like? Leave a comment or talk to me on Twitter @Karbowski_Devon.