Calculators under fire again

6th September 1996 at 01:00
Electronic calculators and modern teaching methods have once again been blamed for poor standards of mathematics, in a new pamphlet from the Centre for Policy Studies.

According to the author, Dr John Marks, calculators should be banned from national curriculum tests, and the curriculum itself should be changed to place more emphasis on arithmetic at key stages 1 and 2. This, he says, should be taught using the same traditional methods found on the continent.

The pamphlet is largely a summary of previous research, in particular that by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, pointing to Britain's poor maths performance compared with foreign competitors.

The pamphlet also cites the Second International Mathematics Study in 1981 (SIMS); the expected results later this year from the Third International Mathematics Study (TIMS); the report by HM Inspectorate on primary schools in France; and the "Three Wise Men" report on primary education by Robin Alexander, Jim Rose and Chris Woodhead.

According to Dr Marks, the accumulated research suggests that British schools concentrate on investigative mathematics, while schools on the Continent and in Pacific Rim countries emphasise arithmetic - producing higher standards as a result. He writes that only 20 per cent of British 13-year-olds can calculate one half of four-fifths - a sum mastered by 72 per cent of Germans at the same age.

The pamphlet recommends increasing the emphasis on arithmetic at key stages 1 and 2 of the national curriculum; cutting out the sections on data handling and using and applying mathematics; ceasing to require the use of calculators at primary schools; banning calculators from national curriculum tests; greater use of blackboards; and better textbooks. The Office for Standards in Education, he says, should be responsible for seeing that such changes are implemented.

"Arithmetic is important because if learnt at the right early age it provides the key to a whole host of practical applications in all walks of life, " he writes. "It provides a model for the later introduction of algebra, itself a kind of generalised arithmetic. And it provides a first taste of and schooling in a discipline in which the results are absolutely exact and precise."

Standards of Arithmetic is published by the Centre for Policy Studies, 52 Rochester Row London SW1P 1JU. Phone 0171 828 1176. Price Pounds 5.00

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