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Japanese teaching methods heading to the UK

Japanese children can perform mathematical calculations far in advance of their British counterparts just by mastering the abacus, new research has found.

School children as young as five are able to add up five numbers, each running into billions or trillions, in just half a minute - and some Japanese teenagers can add so quickly that scientists are at a loss to explain their skill.
Now British experts, including former Countdown star Carol Vorderman, are saying schools in this country could develop similar techniques to boost Britain’s ‘disgracefully’ low levels of numeracy.

In Japan, use of the abacus - parallel rods each strung with five beads - is taught to all six years olds, and it is widely used in China and other countries in the East which regularly head world numeracy league tables.

Millions of Japanese children also attend the country’s 20,000 after-school clubs, where they learn to add, subtract, multiply and divide much faster than they could with traditional pen and paper.

The head of the Academy, Chie Takayanagi, said that whereas people could resort to calculators nowadays, using an abacus sharpened their concentration and memory. In Japan, the best abacus users can enter competitions and some children do not even need to finger their beads as they can picture the abacus in their heads to make mental calculations.

Japanese teachers said that children in the West often found numbers hard to grasp because they were presented in too abstract a way, while the abacus provided a concrete picture of them.
One said the Japanese method of counting also helped because when children came to words such as eleven, twelve and thirteen they said ‘ten one’, ‘ten two’ and ‘ten three’, which was far more meaningful. They also learned their times tables like nursery rhymes, and sang them to tunes they remembered into their adult lives.

Ms Vorderman, who was known on the Channel 4 Countdown show for her fast calculations and who has written numerous books on maths, said numeracy in Britain was ‘disgraceful’ partly because schools under-emphasised the visual elements of teaching maths. She said scientific tests carried out in China using a brain scanner showed those who had been schooled in the West just used the computational side of their brains while those from the East used the visual parts as well.

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