All things being equal

Emine Şimşek, Dr Ian Jones and Dr Iro Xenidou-Dervou
Mathematics Education Centre

This international project has found that the meaning of the equals sign is widely misunderstood – impacting global achievement in mathematics, particularly algebra.

Funded by the British Academy, Emine Şimşek worked with academics, teachers and students in six countries and discovered that the misunderstanding is worldwide, but is more pronounced in some countries. For example, in this sample, student understanding is strongest in China and weakest in New Zealand.

It seems that the problem stems not from textbooks, but rather teachers’ knowledge, understanding and ability to explain the concept.

The UK Government’s £41 million trial, introducing Chinese teaching methods in English primary schools, includes the translation of Chinese textbooks. However, given the research outcomes, investing in teacher education may be more beneficial.

In this way, the project highlights the important role of research in informing policymaking.

It also demonstrates the significance of international collaborations. The cross-cultural nature of this study showed that the problem is global, and that a common factor is not necessarily textbooks but teaching.

Şimşek continues her ground-breaking work into primary children's mathematical cognition as a Research Associate within the Centre for Mathematical Cognition.


Academics, teachers and students in China, England, New Zealand, South Korea, Turkey, and the US, including:

  • Institute of Education, Massey University, New Zealand
  • The University of Nottingham Ningbo, China
  • University of Notre Dame, USA
  • Department of Elementary Education (Mathematics Education), Korea National University of Education, South Korea