With calculators, spell-checkers and predictive text now being a common feature on computers and mobile phones, will today’s children still need strong mental skills to get by?
Using technological software may be quick and easy, but there are real disadvantages that come when a child is so dependent on online assistance; namely, they will lack mental agility, fluency and accuracy, and they probably won’t be using their brain to its full capacity.
Everyday tasks as simple as checking they’ve received the right change, or working out ratios of ingredients when preparing meals, require mental calculations which a child reliant on technology could struggle with.
A student who looks to spell-checker to ensure the accuracy of their work will struggle when completing it offline; they’ll be marked down for inaccuracy during handwritten exams, or perhaps they know an answer but their poor spelling lets them down because the examiner is unable to understand their intention.
Looking to the future, strong mental arithmetic and literacy skills are important in whatever career a child chooses to pursue, and are still noticed and sought after by most employers. A child who has these abilities will feel more confident and at ease in the workplace.
In addition to all of the above, reading and writing, and solving mathematical calculations exercises the brain and keeps it healthy. The brain is a muscle, and like the other muscles in the body, it needs to be exercised and stimulated regularly to keep functioning at its optimum. According to Dr Kawashima, key activities such as mathematical calculations and reading out loud help to lay down neural pathways and keep the brain from degenerating.
Dr Ryuta Kawashima is a professor at Tohoku University in Japan and he is a leader in the field of Brain Imaging in Japan. He has conducted numerous experiments and research to discover what activities stimulate the brain and what activities don’t.
In a key study, Dr Kawashima conducted research to find out what would exercise brain more: playing very complex video games, or solving mathematical calculations of adding one digit numbers to each other e.g. 1 + 2 + 5 + 3 + 6 etc. Although at the outset he was sure that the video games would activate the brain more, when he measured activity using MRI scans, he saw that video games actually stimulated the brain very little, but that the arithmetical calculations had the brain firing on all cylinders.
Dr Kawashima says, “The prefrontal cortex, the area for thinking and learning, of both hemispheres [of the brain] is active during simple calculation. Dealing with numbers is an important and sophisticated activity for human beings. … From primary school to college, simple calculation triggers brain activity. … Calculation is extremely helpful in training and developing your brain.” (p.34).
At Kumon, we aim to foster independent learners through our Maths and English programmes. Our students do not rely on calculators, dictionaries or tools to advance through their study; instead they are encouraged to become self-learners who develop in academic ability and skill with each worksheet they complete. Through daily practice our students develop in understanding, fluency and pace, allowing them to advance to more complexed work.
If you’re interested in enrolling your child, visit our website www.kumon.co.za to find your nearest study centre.
Sources for this article:
Kawashima, R. 2003. Train Your Brain. Kumon Publishing Co, Ltd. Tokyo, Japan
Kawashima, R. and Koizumi, H. ed. 2003. Learning Therapy. Tohoku University Press. Sendai, Japan