Pupils to use `dumbed-down' calculators

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SPECIALLY "DUMBED-DOWN" calculators are to be compulsory in some A-level maths exams as part of the Government's drive to raise standards.

At present, candidates are allowed to take any calculator into an A-level exam, including those which draw graphs and solve algebraic equations. The new, official calculators will provide less help and government exam advisers say that this will make the examinations more demanding.

Critics say the decision to introduce officially approved calculators for some papers is "daft" and that the use of normal calculators does not lower exam standards. They argue that students need a sophisticated grasp of maths to operate the graphic calculators and those with algebraic functions.

But ministers, who have already insisted under-eights should not be given calculators, are determined to curb their use even among sixth-formers. They originally wanted a calculator-free paper but have agreed to the compromise of an approved calculator.

New rules, which will come into force from 2002, stipulate that computers, graphic calculators and calculators with computer algebra functions will be barred for a quarter for the examination.

Professor Margaret Brown of King's College, London said the decision to produce "official" calculators was ridiculous. "Students should be able to do some maths without calculators but it is possible to set some questions which require an algebraic answer for which you can't use calculators.

"And in order to use an algebraic calculator sensibly, you need to have a very good understanding of maths. That is a sufficient test. I can't see the point of training pupils to use two sorts of calculators, one of less than maximum power."

The changes are the result of the introduction of new A and AS-level courses from next September. As many as 75,000 approved calculators might be needed in the first year.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which advises the Government on exams, said a specification for the new calculators had not yet been agreed upon, but they might be produced by several manufacturers. A spokesman said: "New A-level maths exams will include papers in which candidates are permitted to use calculators which will not offer graph-drawing or equation solving features, nor will they permit candidates to store formulae they should know, as machines currently allowed inA-level exams do. These arrangements will add specific demands and help to ensure the standard and challenge of A-levels are safeguarded."