Literacy fallacy

20th February 1998 at 00:00
I am writing to say how captivated I was by the ideas expressed by Bryan Chapman in his letter "Who needs mental arithmetic?" (TES, February 6). These reflect my own views exactly although I fear he fails to go far enough. It is not just mental arithmetic that has no part in a modern primary curriculum. Reading and writing have no part to play in the 21st century either.

If we consider the examples given. What need has a checkout girl to read or write? She merely waves a bar code over a beam and the rest is done for her.

The waiter, it is true, has a more difficult problem. However, it would be advantageous, indeed, in restaurants favouring a foreign cuisine, advisable, to replace the menu with pictures. Alternatively the order could be recorded on tape and replayed in the kitchens. It could be replayed to the diners if any doubts arose. No more arguments as to who ordered the pillau rice!

Most works of any real worth in English literature are already available on video or as an excellent BBC serial. Indeed this is surely a working definition of good English literature.

I can see now that too much time and money is spent teaching children knowledge and skills they will not need. Ideally children should be taught nothing, merely kept occupied and entertained, until they are old enough and strong enough to work, say 13 or 14 years of age. They should then be taught in the workplace on a "need to know" basis through a series of national vocational qualifications.

If there is anyone out there who still clings to the idea that mental arithmetic has some value I will dispel that delusion now. At the instigation of a contentious colleague I set one of my weaker groups the following problem. Fifty students and four teachers were evenly divided between two coaches. How many people were on each coach? The majority were easily able to type in 50 + 42 = and get the answer 52, an answer I was readily able to confirm on my calculator, and without the need for outmoded mental arithmetic.

JIM MEDWAY 5 Gainford Road Reddish, Stockport

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