Until recently, we led the world on the intelligent use of calculators in schools. Because other countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, are behind us is no reason for us to turn the clock back too.
The Cockcroft Report, published in 1982 at a time when calculators were just cheap enough to be used in schools on a large scale, came to the conclusion after much consideration that "the availability of calculators in no way reduces the need for mathematical understanding on the part of the person who is using it". Following the report, one of the Cockcroft committee members, Hilary Shuard, set up a primary mathematics project funded by the School Curriculum Development Council. Part of this project looked at the implications of a Calculator Aware Number curriculum, which showed clearly that calculators helped mental methods. Indeed, the Cockcroft report had recommended that "mental mathematics", not just "mental arithmetic", should be encouraged for a variety of reasons and that "whatever textbooks or work cards are used, the level of difficulty can never be matched exactly to every child's needs".
Why is it that the Cockcroft words of wisdom are praised everywhere in the world (there is a recent Chinese translation) but ignored at home? Why should the considered views of the only national committee of inquiry into the teaching of mathematics in schools in recent times be ignored in favour of a minority of mischievous pedants?
It was a great pleasure to witness the international respect that Hilary Shuard received, shortly before she died in 1992, at the International Congress of Mathematical Education in Quebec. Her ideas had been tried around the world and had worked. Fortunately, Hilary Shuard was invited to join the working party which constructed the first version of the national curriculum in mathematics. The working party was convinced of the arguments in favour of using calculators and mental methods and it is now statutory. It is the reactionary comments of politicians, various ranters and others, such as newspapers with sales figures in mind, which have tried to rubbish these ideas and turn the clock back.
And a dash of cold water on German teaching: at a recent inaugural day for a new professor in Sussex. It was interesting to hear Professor Christine Keital from the Freie University in Berlin comment on how much she admired the British system. Let us defend and be proud of our achievements not constantly agonise about what we do.
PETER REYNOLDS 6 Rosebery Road Felixstowe, Suffolk