Letter: Saving the comprehensive school ideal

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Sir: Part of the reason why children cannot do a simple subtraction of 40p from 50p (letters, 8 June) is that they have not learnt the subtraction tables of one digit from another by rote. They also need to learn the rules as to how to perform subtraction.

There has been extensive research into subtraction by cognitive psychologists over the past 30 years, and we have a fairly clear idea of the processes involved. Thus, there is a role for rote learning in education, in contrast to the views of Elizabeth Lawrence (letters, 7 June). If children cannot perform the single-digit subtractions fast enough, then they will have difficulty doing two-digit subtractions in their heads. Rote learning and practice are a simple method of ensuring that this knowledge becomes automatic. Of course, rote learning alone is not sufficient to learn subtraction, since the child needs to know when to borrow and other rules.

Dr EDMUND FURSE

Department of Computer Studies

University of Glamorgan

Pontypridd

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