STUDENTS in California could soon be learning maths the Singapore way.The most populous state in the United States has endorsed the use of made-in-Singapore maths textbooks in some 5,700 elementary schools there.This means schools can tap into state funds to buy these textbooks, the first Asian content to be approved for use in schools in the US.
'This has potential beyond California, as a lot of states base their standards on California,' said Mr Jeffery Thomas, founder of SingaporeMath.com, which distributes Singapore textbooks.
Two series, one for kindergarten and the other for Grades 1 to 5, equivalent to Primary 1 to 5 here, have been approved for use by California's board of education.
The primary series is adapted from the Primary Mathematics Project (3rd edition), first published by Singapore's Ministry of Education and publisher Marshall Cavendish in 1982.
An Earlybird Kindergarten Mathematics Standards Edition has been specially written for use in the US. Singapore maths textbooks enjoy an edge over their Asian rivals as the language of instruction is English.
While there had been interest in maths textbooks from Japan, it was 'daunting' translating them into English, said Mr Thomas.
For the Singapore math texts, the main tweaks needed were to change Singapore's dollar and cents into American currency, or to use 'apples' in examples instead of tropical fruits like rambutans or durians.
It is too early to project how many schools will use the books, one of about 10 titles on the list of approved maths textbooks for Californian schools.
But the primary maths textbooks could potentially reach more than 3 million students.
Currently, the books are used by 70,000 pupils in 700 to 800 schools in the United States, mainly in states like Massachussetts, New Jersey or Wisconsin.
Forty universities are also training trainee teachers how to teach Singapore math.
Mr Thomas, who lived in Singapore from 1992 to 1997, set up a business selling Singapore math textbooks with his Singaporean wife Dawn Yuen almost 10 years ago.
Based in Portland in the US state of Oregon, they sold these books primarily to parents who homeschool their children before 'Singapore math' started to make waves in the US about seven years ago.
Educators there started taking notice of Singapore students' strong showing in maths.
They beat students from about 40 countries to finish first in the subject in the 1995, 1999 and 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).
Experts say Singapore maths cover fewer topics but in greater depth, compared with the way maths is usually taught in the US.
A study of the maths textbooks by the American Institutes for Research said the texts 'provide rich problem sets that give students many and varied opportunities to apply the concepts they have learned'.
After surveying several American school districts which used the books, researchers found that these books 'can produce significant boosts in achievement'.