Family & Parenting

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Teaches His Kids ‘Singapore Math’—But What Is It?

Singaporean students have the best math scores in the world—so Bezos might be on to something!

When your father is Jeff Bezos, the mastermind CEO behind Amazon, you can be sure you’re going to get a top-notch education. And indeed, Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie have taken some unique approaches to teaching their four kids, who are ages 12 to 17.

“We tried all sorts of things,” Bezos’ wife, MacKenzie, told Vogue of home schooling their three kids, “including off-season travel, kitchen-science experiments, chicken incubation, Mandarin lessons, the Singapore math program…”

The Singapore what? Also known as the “mastery approach,” the Singapore math program, which is primarily used in Shanghai, China, and Singapore, is based on breaking down one particular learning goal into several objectives.

Rather than teach students separately based on their individual skill levels, they’re encouraged to “master” one problem together before moving on as a group to the next. For example, the process of adding two numbers is split into 23 consecutive learning goals, which are taught in a linear manner and then tested by the teacher.

math class photo
Getty Images | Matt Cardy

By contrast, U.S. schools typically use the “mindset approach” to teach math. Under this methodology, a broader concept is presented before breaking down the problem into detailed phases.

Singapore scored the top slot on reading, math and science in the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, so it’s no wonder that other countries and parents like Bezos are interested in Singaporean teaching methods. In fact, the United Kingdom announced in 2016 that it will devote £21 million over the course of four years to implement the approach in its primary schools.

As far as Bezos’ interest in the curriculum, perhaps it stems from his resourcefulness, a trait he says he learned from his grandfather.

“He would take on major projects that he didn’t know how to do and then figure out how to do them,” Bezos said while speaking on a panel at SummitLA, which CNBC covered. “As a kid, I got to see him solve all these problems.”

The Singapore math program isn’t the only alternative teaching method Bezos and his wife use to educate their kids. They also allowed them to use sharp knives beginning at age 4 and power tools around age 7 or 8. That might seem crazy to many parents, but Bezos and MacKenzie believe taking risks and being self-reliant teaches children to be resourceful—a trait that is no doubt tied to success in many arenas.

“My wife, much to her credit, she has this great saying, ‘I would much rather have a kid with nine fingers than a resourceless kid.’ Which, I just think, is a fantastic attitude about life,” Bezos said of their unorthodox approach to parenting.

Getty Images

We’re not so sure about letting our kids play with knives and power tools. But Singapore math might be worth a try—at least when it comes to addition and subtraction, there are no sharp objects required!