Math is one of the oldest and most fundamental of all academic disciplines, and the importance of mathematics across all societies and countries is widely recognised. But which countries stand out as having particularly strong mathematics programs?

What processes have enabled these countries to give their students a better chance to achieve success in math? In this article, we attempt to answer 15 of the most important questions about the top math countries and their achievements.

## 1. Which Countries Rank as the Top Math Countries?

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the countries that rank in the top ten for maths performance are Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong SAR, Macao SAR, Taiwan, Japan, Estonia, Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands. These form a group of countries that are widely considered to be the best in the world at mathematics. Singapore has consistently ranked top for many years, repeatedly outperforming other countries in the global Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests.

South Korea follows closely behind, finishing as the runner-up in the last PISA test. Hong Kong SAR, Macao SAR, Taiwan and Japan have all been highly ranked in the latest test, with the Far East forming a significant portion of the top ten list.

Alongside this, the Northern European countries of Estonia, Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands have also performed strongly, showing the diversity that is attainable in world-leading mathematics performance.

## 2. What Educational Strategies Are fuelling the Success of Top Math Countries?

Looking closely at each of the above countries and analysing their educational strategies gives us some insight into what is fuelling the success of the top math countries. The Far East countries all boast a strong mathematics culture that places great importance on the subject.

Singapore and Japan have a stringent education system, which focuses on rote learning of basic concepts and fundamental understanding. Textbooks are closely regulated, with robust curriculums providing a structured learning structure. This has allowed their students to master the basics of mathematics and build a strong foundation upon which they can continue to develop their skills.

Intertwined with this is the participation of the parents in their children’s learning. The “tiger mom” parenting style exists in the Far East, with parents closely regulating their children’s behaviour to ensure that they are achieving the best results possible.

Math classes are often deeply embedded in the extra-curricular activities that children take part in and this has resulted in a higher performance in maths. The Northern European countries, on the other hand, take a much more relaxed and individualised approach. Estonia, Finland, and The Netherlands, for example, place less of an emphasis on rote memorisation and instead focus on real-world applications of mathematics.

They often use open-ended activities in the classroom to encourage experimentation and exploration of topics, which allows the student to develop a deeper understanding of the material. This approach has been highly successful in generating a more thoughtful approach to mathematics that rewards problem solving and unique solutions.

## 3. What Are the Teaching Methods Used in Top Math Countries?

Mathematics teaching in the top math countries tends to revolve around the usage of the ‘five steps of mathematics’ — understanding, memorising, analysing, problem solving and reasoning. Each of these steps is carefully planned, with teachers employing a mix of methods to give students the best opportunity to excel. In Far East countries such as Singapore, the emphasis is on understanding.

Here, teachers utilise a range of techniques, from lectures and group discussion to visual and audio methods. Offering practice problems and having enthusiastic teachers helps to foster a positive classroom atmosphere that is conducive to mathematical learning.

In Northern European countries, the focus is more on teaching the underlying principles of mathematics rather than simply memorising facts and formulas. Activities, projects, games and puzzles are used to stimulate critical and creative thinking, helping students to think in a more open-minded way. Also, instead of a focus on marks and grades, teachers concentrates on generating a greater understanding of the material and building a solid basis of maths knowledge.

## 4. What Are the Main Challenges Faced by Top Math Countries?

Despite being recognised as the best in the world at mathematics, all of the countries in the top 10 face significant challenges. The Far East countries must grapple with the need to nurture more creative thinking and individualised approaches to mathematics and away from rote memorisation. This situation is further complicated by the high expectations and pressures that parents impose on their children to perform well in maths and other subjects.

Meanwhile, in the Northern European countries, there is a need to make sure that maths teaching is engaging and stimulating for all pupils. Maths education can be very competitive and many young people can opt out as it is seen as too hard.

As such, there needs to be more emphasis placed on making maths accessible and enjoyable for all students and fostering an environment in which all pupils are supported to reach their full potential.

## 5. How Are Top Math Countries Encouraging Girls into Maths?

Gender inequality can be a major issue in maths education, with the subject often being seen as something that is dominated by boys. To combat this, the top math countries are taking proactive steps to get more girls interested in maths.

Finland, for example, has launched an initiative titled “Girl’s Mission”, which seeks to make girls more aware of their opportunities within maths and encourage them to take part. The program is supported by the country’s Ministry of Education and Culture, as well as the teachers, who have provided support and guidance to the participating girls. Singapore has also developed a “Dare to be Different” program, which was designed to raise the aspirations of female students and create more female role models in the fields of science, maths, and engineering.

The program focused on offering guidance and advice on possible career paths in the STEM fields and was held in partnership with some of Singapore’s top universities.

## 6. How Are Top Math Countries Supporting Low-Achieving Students?

The top math countries recognise the importance of making sure that all students have the opportunity to excel in mathematics. To achieve this, they have implemented strategies to support low-achieving students.

In South Korea, maths classes are grouped as per ability, with more attention and resources dedicated to those students who score lower in the tests. This has resulted in a more efficient learning process, with teachers being able to focus on the areas that need more work. Singapore also has an ‘extended mathematics syllabus’, which allows students who are struggling to keep up with the mainstream curriculum to receive extra support.

Specialised classes and extra tuition are provided for these students, helping them to catch up with their peers and gain a better understanding of the material.

## 7. How Are Top Math Countries Encouraging More Student Involvement in Maths?

Encouraging students to become more involved in maths is an important step in achieving success. To that end, the top math countries are taking steps to engage students more with the subject. Singapore’s ‘Be a Maths Champion’ program reaches out to primary and secondary school students, offering the chance to take part in events such as maths camps, contests and talks.

These activities are designed to make maths more interesting and more accessible to students, and also to provide them with opportunities to gain prizes and recognition for their achievements. Estonia also organises maths competitions, with the top spots being awarded with money prizes and recognition.

These events are aimed at both primary and secondary school students and have helped to create a positive competitive atmosphere in the subject.

## 8. What Are the Differences in Maths Education between Top Math Countries?

Despite the similarities in the approaches of the top math countries, there are also some important differences between them. For example, the educational systems in the Far East countries place greater emphasis on memorisation, whereas in the Northern European countries there is more of a focus on exploration.

The teaching styles are also somewhat different, with the Far East tending to rely more on lectures and group discussions, whereas the Northern European countries tend to prefer open-ended activities and projects. Furthermore, the systems in each country are all very different. In the Far East, classes are much larger and quite regimented, while in the Northern European countries there is often more emphasis on individualised learning and creative problem-solving.

## 9. What Are the Positive Impacts of Maths Education on the Top Math Countries?

The success of the top math countries has had a positive impact on their societies in a number of ways. The mathematics prowess of pupils in these countries has enabled their economies to become powerhouses in global markets.

As students become more knowledgeable in maths, they are also able to apply their skills to other areas, such as engineering and finance, resulting in more reliable infrastructure and more robust economies. The success of the top math countries has also helped to raise the bar in mathematics education worldwide, with more countries looking to emulate their success and implement their innovative strategies.

## 10. Are the Policies of the Top Math Countries Appropriate for Developing Countries?

The strategies employed by the top math countries constitute only one aspect of their success in maths. These policies may not be appropriate for developing countries as other factors, such as poverty and lack of resources, may make them difficult to implement. In these circumstances, it is important for education policymakers in developing countries to look at ways to improve maths education that take into account the local context and the needs of the population.

These strategies may include a focus on basic skills and concepts, rather than complex theoretical topics, as well as boosting the number of qualified teachers.

## 11. What Types of Maths Opportunities Are Available in the Top Math Countries?

The top math countries are home to a variety of maths opportunities, both in education and in the workplace. As far as education is concerned, there is a wide range of maths classes and courses available to students in each of the top countries. In the Far East, these often focus on traditional maths topics such as algebra and calculus, while in the Northern European countries more emphasis is placed on creative problem-solving and computer programming.

In terms of work opportunities, the top math countries are home to a variety of highly sought-after jobs in the fields of data analytics, engineering, finance and more. Many of these jobs require a working knowledge of mathematics and have high wages, making them attractive to students and professionals alike.

## 12. What Are the Criticisms of Maths Education in the Top Math Countries?

The success of the top math countries has not been without some criticisms. One of the most common criticisms is directed against the educational systems in these countries, which may lack creativity and stifle individualisation. The Far East are particularly criticised for the reliance on rote memorisation, which many believe fails to stimulate critical thinking.

Meanwhile, in the Northern European countries, it is often argued that the relaxed attitude to learning can lead to complacency and a lack of drive.

## 13. How Are the Top Math Countries Fostering the Application of Mathematics?

Despite its importance, the application of mathematics can be hard to implement in the classroom. To facilitate this, the top math countries are taking a range of approaches.

In the Far East, the emphasis is on applied problem solving and real-world examples, which provide students with the opportunity to learn how to put their knowledge into practice. In the Northern European countries, the focus is more on project-based learning. Here, students are encouraged to explore topics and come up with their own unique solutions to problems.

This helps to develop their critical and creative thinking skills, as well as giving them the chance to explore real-world applications of mathematics.

## 14. What Steps Are the Top Math Countries Taking to Make Maths More Accessible?

Maths can be a difficult subject, which can be further exacerbated by a lack of access to resources or learning materials. To combat this, the top math countries are taking a range of steps to make maths more accessible and enjoyable. The Far East countries are utilising technology to make maths more approachable, with computer and tablet-based programmes being used to help students master the basics.

In the Northern European countries, there is a focus on collaborative learning and engaging activities. Teachers often utilise computer games, puzzles and other resources to keep students interested in the subject, while also regularly offering extra help or one-to-one tutoring if needed.

## 15. Are the Strategies of Top Math Countries Being Emulated by Other Countries?

The success of the top math countries is increasingly being recognised and many countries around the world are now attempting to emulate their approaches. The Far East countries, in particular, are being followed by many other countries in the region. For example, countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are all attempting to implement similar educational strategies and approaches to those used in Singapore.

Meanwhile, the Northern European countries are also beginning to inspire other nations. Finland’s success in maths has been recognised by countries such as the United Kingdom, who have attempted to adopt similar classroom strategies and teaching approaches.

ConclusionThe top math countries have achieved success through a variety of strategies, ranging from rote memorisation to creative problem solving. By understanding the techniques used in each of these countries, we can gain a better understanding of what it takes for a nation to excel in mathematics.

It is clear that the top math countries have been highly successful and their strategies can be of great benefit to other countries looking to improve their maths performance.