I teach abacus/mental arithmetic and I’m always asked, is it good?
Yes, I would answer "It is good because you’ll learn to handle big problems fast with good guessess, within a certain percentage of error or so".
You’ll learn to do arithmetic fast, in that way you can spend your time thinking about what the numbers mean. Use that rapid arithmetic skill in the examination battlefield and you know you have the right weapon.
But, I must warn you. Learning abacus is boring. It involves plenty of calculation. It requires persistency and consistency as well as patience to practice daily. Once you stop training your brain, your brain function will begin to decline slowly again.
So to learn or not to learn? That is the question.
Well…. abacus is not the only aid in town. There are other methods on brain training, flash memory. Again, once you stop, memory fades away.
But because abacus/mental arithmetic requires you to calculate sums quickly, it activates the largest region of the brain. Your Prefrontal cortex is actively working.
Preforontal cortex = frontal lobe (also known as motor function – foundation of creativity, memory, communication, and self-control).
Putting aside this medical term and scientific research, my humble thoughts is that once kids achieve good mental calculation skill, they will attain confidence in exam and self-esteem in their life skill.
Different Abacus School
The 7 beads (2 beads on top and 5 beads below) is Chinese abacus.
Taiwan’s abacus, or the so call ‘traditional abacus’ (1 bead on top, 4 beads below), is a Japanese modified version of the Chinese abacus, aka Soraban. (There is a long history on abacus which you can goggle to find out.)
Then there is also another school of people who feels that there are too many formula to remember so they prefers 9 beads abacus and adopt essential formula from traditional abacus. The adventage of this is it is similar to regrouping/renaming taught in school, easier to understand.
All have their pros and cons. All have been around a long time. All require the students to practise diligently. Result wise, it is individual. Some went through the tedious foundation learning but some prefer to do a quick and run learning approach.
In my opinion, the best time to learn abacus is K2 to P2. Once kids achieve good mental calculation skill, they will attain confidence in exam and it will be earlier when they are promoted to P3 to handle more complex problem sums. Also P3 onwards kids have additional subject – science to handle, that leave them lesser time to devote time to practise, not to mention they usually have lots of other enrichment classes to attend.