Two IMO gold medalists from the high school affiliated to South China Normal University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, smile after the contest held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2017. (Photo by FENG ZHOUFENG/FOR CHINA DAILY)
Fu Yunhao, an IMO gold medal winner in 2002 and 2003 and a math instructor at Guangdong University of Education in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, was highlighted last year by People magazine as an example of the failure of the intensive math education model. The magazine reported Fu's academic "decline".
He has not completed his bachelor's in math at Peking University, which exempted the IMO champion from admission exams in 2003 after he twice failed to pass the physics exam.
The magazine report, which irritated Fu, depicted him as a loser who lived a "genius fantasy existence" until it was too late to realize there was more to life than the IMO.
Fu said in a post on his WeChat account, "It is hard to understand the reporter's assessment that a common school post is a humiliating job for an IMO champion."
He also said working as a teacher at a normal university is the best way to maximize a contribution to society.
Xiong Bingqi, a freelance educational worker, said it was time China reformed its talent assessment and enrollment system to play down the importance of exam scores. Then, young people could better focus on their interests while developing practical problem-solving abilities, enabling individual talent to be better harnessed.
"Solely banning IMO coaching for primary school students is far from solving the problem," Xiong said.
There have been increased calls among the public that, as China strives to build an innovation-driven economy, it must reform its educational system, and math should be the first subject to be addressed.
Zhang Jie, a think tank researcher on economic and social development with CITIC Group, said: "Now is the time to minimize the shortcomings of the old system. We can draw lessons from teaching methods in the U.S. to prompt students to focus more on the logical thinking methods and fun behind mathematics. That's the foundation for advanced mathematics and the wider application of math in other fields.
"It certainly does not mean China's original math teaching method is wrong. Instead, it is very effective and efficient in eliminating mathematical illiteracy at a primary level among a large population."