Five KwaZulu-Natal pupils recently returned with accolades from the 2012 International Pama (Pan Pacific Abacus and Mental Arithmetic Association) Abacus and Mental Arithmetic Championships held in Taiwan.
Kamilah (Grade 3) and Kemuel Moodley (Grade 5) and Ryan Gatonby (Grade 5) of Chelsea Preparatory School; Kaylin Behari (Grade 5) of Penzance Primary School and Andrea Reddy (Grade 6) of Gordon Road Girls’ School were among the 24 children who represented South Africa in the international arena.
Soroban (the Japanese word for Abacus) Education Mental Arithmetic System (Semas), first introduced in South Africa seven years ago, is a teaching method which uses the Japanese abacus as a tool not only to improve a child’s mental arithmetic ability but to enhance their mental and memory capacity, intuitive thinking, creativity and increase their IQ by up to 25 points, while also boosting their confidence.
By using the beads and rods, each of which has a value, pupils are able to solve complicated sums in a matter of seconds.
The international competition comprised six papers – three abacus papers to be completed in three minutes and three mental papers to be answered in one minute.
Multiplication and division papers have 30 questions each and add/subtract sums 20.
Competing against children from Canada, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, USA, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand, the boffins came home with four bronze medals and one silver, which Andrea scooped.
Andrea, who started the programme when she was nine years old, much later than her counterparts, raced against the calculator when she was put to the test by Daily News staffers recently.
She mentally calculated 30 sums in a matter of seconds.
The Daily News staffer was still at question number 5.
“When we go shopping, Andrea calculates every item in the trolley before we get to the cashier. She even compares prices and works out exchange rates much faster than any of us can. It’s a great advantage to us,” said Andrea’s mom, Komla Reddy.
The boffin once notified the author of a maths textbook that his sums were incorrect.
When asked if they often correct teachers in their classrooms, all five shook their heads briskly.
“I’m not allowed to put my hand up any more. When my hand goes up my teacher ignores me until another child raises their hand,” said Kamilah, the youngest of the brainiacs.
Ryan said he found the visualisation technique useful in other subjects too.
Semas instructor, Tracy Hauptfleisch, said: “Maths, by itself, is very abstract. By using the abacus it’s very easy to see what ‘four’ actually means.”
Hauptfleisch said although anyone could learn this tool, it was best to start when a child was about three years old, before they had fully grasped the concept of maths. The programme is aimed at children between the ages of three and 11.
There are 400 pupils enrolled with Semas in the province and Hauptfleisch said pupils could join a class at any point in the year.
South Africa is set to host the 15th Pama Championships in December 2014.