Calculators not the problem

17th October 1997 at 01:00
In the Mathematics Extra, (TES, October 3), an excellent article by Tony Gardiner pointed to the confusion around the word "numeracy". He argued that short-term initiatives directed towards a narrow and limited view of numeracy were ill-conceived and might divert energy away from what is really needed - a proper rethink of the mathematics national curriculum. Over the years, many of us have expressed our dissatisfaction with the behaviourist "can do" orientation of the curriculum, the artificial fragmentation of mathematics into separate targets and the absence of rigour and coherence in the specification of its levels.

It is a pity that Tony strays from what he knows about, to make assertions that simply are not borne out by the evidence. He implies that use of mathematics should follow mastery of basic skills. Yet all the evidence points to the fact that skills and their use should be developed together. It is the separation of comprehension and proficiency that hinders progress. What a pity too that Tony cannot resist implying that students' difficulties stem from the fact that they are required "routinely" to work with calculators. He must know that this is simply not true.

Does Tony really feel he has no option but to support the politically-correct line that calculators are the problem in primary school mathematics and should be banned? Surely a more constructive position for us all to take is to put time and energy into designing tasks which exploit the unique potential of calculators and other technologies, and which address the range of problems we know students have in developing meaning in their number work.

PROFESSOR CELIA HOYLES Mathematical sciences Institute of Education University of London London WC1

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