Once, calculators came from Taiwan- now we're getting maths lessons too

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The Independent Online
Whole-class teaching, with a difference, will form part of the Government's drive to fight poor numeracy in schools announced yesterday.

A new numeracy task force will examine whole-class teaching of the sort used in Asian countries such as Taiwan. The teacher teaches the whole class at once but ensures that all children take part in the lesson.

The task force, under Professor David Reynolds of Newcastle University, will also investigate whether calculators should be banned for under-eights, the best way to teach multiplication tables and whether parents should be given Taiwanese-style text books to help their four and five-year-olds with maths.

Professor Reynolds said the group was not looking at a return to the type of whole-class teaching used in the Fifties, when teachers lectured and some children snoozed at the back of the class.

Instead, they were interested in "interactive" whole-class teaching used in Taiwan and tried out recently in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham.

Anita Straker, director of the National Numeracy Project set up by the Conservative government in January, said that so far, interactive whole- class teaching appeared to be working well. "It is having particular benefits for children with special educational needs."

The task force aims to further the new Government's aim that 75 per cent of 11-year-olds should reach the expected standard in maths by 2002. The target in literacy will be 80 per cent. At present the figures are 55 per cent and 57 per cent.

Professor Reynolds said one of the biggest challenges for schools was to reduce the range of achievement which was larger in Britain than elsewhere.

Common text books, he suggested, might be one way of overcoming the problem. In Taiwan, parents were given text books to help their children even before they started school. In this country, by contrast, every school had its own worksheets. The task force will also investigate whether calculators, used more extensively in British primary schools than in many other countries, are contributing to our poor showing in maths

David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, said: "Children under eight need to know that calculators exist but they must also have the basic tools of calculation themselves."

He said the Government was prepared to be judged on its success in meeting the literacy and numeracy targets. "I know these are tough targets but we must have clear goals which can drive all our other work on raising standards in schools."

But David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The experience of the Barking and Dagenham project proved conclusively that additional money is needed if schools are going to have the necessary support to achieve the targets."

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/ Union of Women Teachers, said his members would have no difficulty with a return to whole-class teaching. "They never wanted to abandon it in the first place, until they were told to do so by teacher trainers, academics and advisers - and politicians."

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