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Real results of an imaginary method;Briefing;International

CHINA. A new approach to teachingarithmetic is said to be having extraordinary success in China and Thailand, The imaginary abacus system has been piloted by Beijing's Normal University in 50 North China schools with pupils of average or below average ability.

Dr Wu Xinchun, associate professor, explained physical abacuses made numbers less abstract for first-year primary pupils. But within a term they could dispense with the machine and use the imaginary one to add and subtract numbers from 1 to 10,000.

He said that in maths tests third-year primary children using the technique outperformed a control group of sixth-year pupils. The pilot schools have been able to complete the six-year maths curriculum in three years and have halved the number of periods devoted to the subject, he said.

Hong Kong mathematician Simon Wu, who is also using the method on his pupils in Hong Kong, Thailand and south China. said that once pupils mastered arithmetic, their performance in other subjects improved. "The abacus is a tool to help children discover their own potential,"he said.

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