Despite opposition, ministers banned the use of calculators in national maths tests for 11-year-olds in England from 2014. Many believed that if calculators were introduced too early then children could develop a habit of simply reaching for a calculator and becoming too reliant on them. Calculators became the scapegoat for poor results and perceived low numeracy standards. Yet many academics argue that this was political posturing, a backward step and a myopic view of the situation at hand.
Even the 2014 national curriculum suggests that calculators should only be introduced towards the end of Key Stage 2, and only if pupils have achieved a solid understanding of the basics and are secure in written and mental arithmetic.
Prior to the new national curriculum, children were freely allowed to use calculators from the age of 7 but the government felt children’s ‘dependence’ on calculators for basic maths was preventing them from gaining a true mastery of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
But does touching calculator buttons from an early age really stop children thinking? Are they really bad for the fundamentals of mental arithmetic and calculation? We allow children to use other computers from any early age but calculators seem to get a raw deal and our cast as technological black sheep.
Robust evidence from a number of studies have shown calculators can have positive impacts and are highly effective teaching and learning resources.