English and Chinese children's performance on numerical tasks
DOWKER A., Li AM.
ast Asian pupils have consistently outperformed Western pupils in international comparisons of mathematical performance at both primary and secondary school level. It has sometimes been suggested that a contributory factor is the transparent counting systems of East Asian languages, which may facilitate number representation. The present study compared 35 seven-year-old second-year primary school children in Oxford, England and 40 children of similar age in Hong Kong, China on a standardized arithmetic test; on a two-digit number comparison test, including easy, misleading and reversible comparisons ; and on a number line task, involving placing numbers in the appropriate position on four number lines: 1-10, 1-20, 1-100, and 1-1000. The Chinese children performed significantly better than the English children on the standardized arithmetic test. They were faster but not significantly more accurate on the Number Comparison and Number Line tasks. There were no interactions between language group and comparison type on the number comparison task, though the performance of both groups was faster on easy pairs than those where there was conflict between the relative magnitudes of the tens and the units. Similarly, there were no interactions between group and number line range,, though the performance of both groups was influenced by the range of the number line.. The study supports the view that counting systems affect aspects of numerical abilities, but cannot be the full explanation for international differences in mathematics performance.