Education Your Views: Don't let dogma kill the calculator

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The Association of Teachers of Mathematics welcomes the attention being given to mathematics at key stage one and two following publication of Numeracy Matters, the preliminary report from the Numeracy Task Force. While agreeing with many of its suggestions, we do not agree with the DfEE-initiated suggestion that calculator use be discouraged as far as possible from key stages one and two.

We believe there are two distinct types of calculator use which play a crucial part in students' mathematical education. First, students need to be able to use calculators to deal with real-life contexts, where, for example, the numbers are too large or numerous for easy paper-and- pencil calculations. Second, teachers may use calculators as a portable, easily accessible form of technology to aid the teaching of certain numerical concepts, for example multiples, sequences and place value.

We do agree that in many mathematics lessons the use of a calculator is irrelevant and that students do need to be able to perform mathematical techniques without a calculator. We support moves to encourage judicious use of calculators.

We do not know the basis on which the limitation of calculator use is suggested other than anecdotal evidence and dogma. The Third International Mathematics and Science Study showed that those students who used calculators frequently in mathematics lessons tended to achieve higher scores on the mathematics tests (which were sat without calculators being available). The recent Qualifications and Curriculum Authority report on performance in last year's key stage two mathematics tests showed that many students did not have the skills necessary to answer questions where calculator use was relevant. This would suggest that we should encourage effective use of calculators in the mathematics classroom.

Liz Cox, Annie Gammon and Ann Kitchen, Association of Teachers of Mathematics, Shaftesbury Street, Derby