FT - Why Singapore’s kids are so good at maths 13min

Governments around the world have sought to incorporate elements of the “Singapore model” into their own approach to teaching maths and science. The latest is the UK, which earlier this month announced that half of England’s primary schools would adopt the style of maths teaching that is used in Singapore, with up to £41m in funding over four years to train teachers and provide new textbooks. But what is it about Singapore’s system that enables its children to outperform their international peers? And how easy will it be for other countries to import its success? ... A sense of being dwarfed by vast neighbours runs deep in the national psyche, inspiring both fear and pride. In a speech to trade union activists on May Day last year, prime minister Lee Hsien Loong told citizens: “To survive, you have to be exceptional.” ... Aiming to move away from simple rote-learning and to focus instead on teaching children how to problem solve, the textbooks the group produced were influenced by educational psychologists such as the American Jerome Bruner, who posited that people learn in three stages: by using real objects, then pictures, and then through symbols. That theory contributed to Singapore’s strong emphasis on modelling mathematical problems with visual aids; using coloured blocks to represent fractions or ratios, for example. ... The Singapore curriculum is more stripped down at primary level than in many western countries, covering fewer topics but doing so in far greater depth — a crucial factor in its effectiveness

Foreign Policy - China’s Gold Rush in the Hills of Appalachia 17min

In December 2014, Presnell became the first person in North Carolina to be convicted of felony ginseng larceny on private property. He joined other thieves across Appalachia — the mountainous strip of territory extending from southern New York through the Carolinas down into Mississippi — who’ve been arrested, fined, even imprisoned for various ginseng-related crimes, including poaching, illegal possession, and unlawful trade across state lines. ... Cornett went into business for the same reason poachers are keen to rob him. The global market for ginseng root, popularly used as an herbal supplement, is estimated at more than $2 billion. Long a staple of traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng products are also ubiquitous in Korea and increasingly popular in Singapore, Malaysia, and other countries with large ethnic Chinese populations. These days, most ginseng is mass-produced on large, pesticide-sprayed farms under the artificial shade of wood and fabric canopies. Wild ginseng, which tends to grow in temperate forests, is considered more potent and fetches a higher price. Plants like Cornett’s, cultivated in the woods, are closer to wild than to conventionally farmed ginseng. ... Dwindling supply and robust demand have inflated wild American ginseng’s value. In 2014, according to public and academic data, the 81,500 pounds that were legally exported commanded an average wholesale price of $800 per dried pound. That was almost 15 times more than the going rate for farmed roots. Nearly all exports go to China, where a burgeoning middle class is willing to pay marked-up retail prices — sometimes even thousands of dollars per pound. ... Scientists believe ginseng is native to both East Asia and North America because some 70 million years ago, the two land masses were part of a single megacontinent known as Laurasia

Quartz - The story of the humble latex, which laid the foundation for the global web 8min

Williams’ discovery of the mysterious block was followed by dozens of reports of similar findings on beaches across western Europe. The blocks, materializing from the Atlantic surf, would cast the spotlight on gutta percha, a Victorian commodity whose obscurity belied its crucial place in modern communications. The humble latex would accelerate global telecommunications to a previously unimagined pace; cement the British empire’s grip over the world’s critical messaging systems; and spur industry and academia to devise some of the foundational theories of modern physics. ... The Victorian system of submarine cables literally laid the foundation, in many cases, for today’s fiber-optic networks. The globe-spanning networks of the day spawned business titans, and technological innovators, that bear close parallels to today’s internet-enabled tycoons. Gutta percha was largely replaced by polyethylene by the 1950s, ending a century of industrial telecommunications use. ... in 1832, a Scottish surgeon stationed in Singapore with the East India Company named William Montgomerie wrote a paper about gutta percha’s unique properties: it could be moulded in hot water but it hardened as it cooled. ... It was as if the Elon Musks or Steve Jobs of the day were all focused on the same, potentially world-altering technology. ... Pender’s businesses left a legacy. Vestiges of his cable empire live on in today’s telecom conglomerates. His firms formed the core of Cable & Wireless