Comparing the World’s Mathematics

by Bryan Dennie

International schools come in many flavours. We may consider categorisations in different ways:

  1. By curriculum – UK, International Baccalaureate (IB), American, Canadian, Chinese National Curriculum, Singaporean, French, German, and many others
  1. By the teachers – Some may have most teachers from one country, others may have a solid mix of local and international teachers from many countries.
  1. By the students – where ‘international’ may mean ‘expat’ or where ‘bilingual’ may refer to schools where local students are learning international curricula.

But mathematics is an area where a vested interest is held by all. And while there is some truth in the “Math is math” spoken in The Incredibles 2, there are some differences to be aware of and consider, especially in schools where different perceptions may be held among students, parents, and teachers of different nationalities.


The advantages of UK curriculum are that is well written and understood by teachers and is highly valued by parents. This is coupled with an emphasis on the use of mental techniques for computation. The curriculum is well balanced between number (numeracy) skills, geometry, pre-algebra and algebra, and statistics/probability.

The external examinations in High School are highly regarded. There are several choices that schools make from a selection of English National Curriculum, Edexcel and Cambridge. Schools may use well-regarded systems in Primary from organizations like White Rose or Cambridge. For middle school, the use of English National Curriculum or Cambridge lower secondary predominate. For high school, IGCSE Mathematics or International Mathematics followed by A level are in common use. 

The International Baccalaureate (IB)

PYP, MYP, and DP – A balanced mix of the advantages found in many of the world’s curricula. All three divisions include the use of mathematics in real-life situations, the discovery of patterns, a strong emphasis on communication, including the DP IA, and a highly regarded external examination system. The PYP and MYP planning frameworks allow for schools to use their choice of curricula within teaching and learning but also specify required understandings by certain grade levels.


-including Common core and AP. A highlight of advantages includes ‘discovery learning’, strong investigative explorations that connect mathematics to real-life scenarios, and the use of visual frameworks to complement algebraic processes. Also highly regarded for its rigor, includes a strong emphasis on the use of geometric proofs.


– including BC, Ontario and New Brunswick provincial curriculum. Like the IB, Canadian curriculum is well-regarded for its balanced approach to teaching and learning. Knowledge and understanding, communication, and real-life applications.

Chinese National Curriculum (CNC)

– Part of the compulsory nine-year education in China. Used in all public and private schools, including bilingual schools. Highly regarded internationally for its rigour and emphasis on algebraic techniques. High degree of complexity in its problem-solving and use of geometric proofs.


– While the curriculum is not available to non-affiliated schools, the supplementary exercise books are readily available for purchase and many parents do so. The main teaching techniques are well known: bar modelling for computational and algebraic processes, CPA (concrete, pictorial, abstract) visual frames, and a significant emphasis on mental techniques for computation.

I’m always interested in listening to stories and experiences connected to mathematics teaching. I’d also like to hear about further maths topics you may find interesting. Please let me know if you have any suggestions or feedback to share about this article. My hope is this information has been helpful.

Bryan Dennie is the Secondary Mathematics Department Leader,  Keystone Academy, Beijing, China

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