I bought a calculator for my son. He is 8 years old, and is in primary 4. His school, just like every other primary school in Nigeria, doesn’t use calculators for primary school pupils. But I still bought a calculator for him, only that he will use it at home for his homework. I don’t allow him to use it for all his calculations because he won’t be allowed to use it during exams; so I didn’t want him stuck in the exam hall.
I will give anything for the reaction I got from my son for such a little gift. He was so happy. He kept thanking, blessing and praying for me. He said I made him feel like he’s in secondary school (lol). The best part of it was that he immediately started writing down numbers on papers to calculate and all. Honestly, I’ve never seen my boy feeling so happy and grown up, not even when I bought a dictionary for him.
For reasons I am yet to understand, Nigerian schools are skeptical about introducing school children to the use of calculators until they get to their senior secondary school classes. If you ask me I’ll say Nigerians enjoy making things so difficult for themselves and for others. We want our children to be computer gurus immediately we give birth to them but we think that using calculators in solving math problems will ‘dull their brains’. This sounds so paradoxical if I may say.
In this age when exams are becoming computer based we are still clinging so hard to old ways of doing things. I could remember that during our time JAMB doesn’t allow candidates to come into the exam hall with calculators, yet they want them to solve lots of mathematical problems within a very short time. Now they are allowing in only customised ‘adding machine’ in place of a good scientific calculator.
But my problem today isn’t with JAMB, it is Nigerian primary and junior secondary schools that wouldn’t allow students to solve problems with the aid of machines. Anytime I complain about this, the ‘educationists’ around never hesitate to tell me that calculators are not good for students. I believe the Nigerian education system does not give room for the use of calculators in these schools. Teachers themselves believe that it shouldn’t be introduced into the education system.
Below are some of the assumptions given by some Nigerian educationists on why calculators should be kept away from school children:
- a. Calculators make children less analytical. This of course is a fallacy. If someone is not analytical, the person won’t know what to ‘press’ on the calculator.
- b. Calculators do not encourage the development of problem-solving skills. Well, calculator, as far as I know, helps people to solve problems faster. So I guess the person already has the problem-solving skills before using the calculator.
- c. The use of calculator reduces someone’s self-confidence. I believe what they meant here is that the person will be so dependent on machine that without it, he will feel lost. Well, teachers should find a way to help their students not to become dependent on machines. The students can alternate between using and not using calculators to solve problems.
- d. Using calculators do not help students to develop and sharpen their mathematical skills. The person that said this made reference to primary school pupils not being able to solve simple calculations using place values. Well, that is not an excuse for not introducing calculators early, don’t you think?
- e. Calculator makes students lazy. You won’t believe that the teacher that said this is teaching Mathematics to SS 3 students. I don’t know what Nigerians see in stress and suffering. Well, if being lazy is the only way to find the easy way out, then let our students be lazy.
To refute the above assumptions, I will mention the changes I noticed in my son these few weeks I introduced him to a calculator. These changes are:
1. He is motivated to do his homework. Before, he drags his feet each time he has math homework that will require much calculations. The thought of placing numbers and marking out strokes seem to discourage him. But since he got this calculator, he couldn’t wait to do his math homework once he gets home.
2. He became faster with his calculations. I don’t know why but I noticed that calculating numbers seems easier for him now, even without using calculators. I think the calculator has taught him the answers to some common additions and subtractions. He can now look at some simple additions or subtractions and tell you their answers even without working them out.
3. He searches for his errors. Unlike before, if he makes a mistake and I tell him, he will just say, “mummy, leave it like that.” But now, if his calculates without his calculator, crosschecks the answer with the calculator and sees that he failed it, he will try to locate where the error is coming from. It is as if the use of calculator has made him not to see his homework as tiring.
4. He feels in-charge and confident. Maybe this is because the calculator tells him he got some answers right and also because he has a simple machine to take care of. I don’t really know but I can see the boy is feeling all grown-up these days.
5. He loves math once again. I think this is the best of them all. When he was in nursery school till he got to primary 1, he preferred his math assignment than any other one. This positive attitude towards math changed as he got to primary 3. But I’m happy he has gone back to his old self again.
All I am advocating for is that we begin early to introduce our children to calculators. This exercise should start from primary 3, or primary 4. I don’t think this will discourage our children from learning and developing mathematical skills; it will rather make them see it as an easy subject.
The world is fast changing and getting advanced; let us not allow it to pass us by.