In defence of the calculator

30th May 1997 at 01:00
Is there anyone else besides me who is perturbed that the new Government's Group of Ten (TES, May 16), set up to plan the number diet of our future citizens, does not include anyone who is positively in favour of calculator use from an early age?

Living in a world increasingly geared to the use of the latest in new technology, we will fail our children disastrously if we do not recognise that they will be entering an entirely different world from the one for which we, as children, were educated. To establish a "think tank" whose personnel see calculator use as, at worst, a menace and, at best, to be delayed until after children have developed the skills of mental arithmetic, is irresponsible.

Moreover, it begs the question of what is meant by mental arithmetic. Does it mean the ability to give instant answers to quick-fire mental calculations or does it mean the mental strategies required to "work it out"? The former, while useful as an added bonus, is in the long term much less useful than the latter.

Unless we clearly distinguish between these two faculties and plan early number education to cater for them both, we will be failing to provide an education appropriate to the age we live in: an age of constant change and increasing complexity which cannot be dealt with by a population reared on precepts appropriate for earlier ages.

Calculator use from an early age integrated into the acquisition of general number strategies has been shown to develop a high standard of number competence, and personal confidence, while delayed calculator use, after a different kind of early experience, has equally been shown to develop calculator dependency and the loss of calculating skills and number confidence.

The choice is ours and we make the wrong choice at our peril and that of the adults of the 21st century.

JANET DUFFIN

16 Longmans Lane

Cottingham, East Yorkshire

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