The word ‘abacus’ is believed to have originated from the Greek words ‘abax’ and ‘abakon’, which means ‘calculating table or tablet’. Early abacuses were intended for counting large numbers and were immobile.

Contrary to popular belief, the earliest known calculating board was not a Chinese invention. Rather, it was devised by the Babylonians around 300 B.C., while the Chinese abacus we are familiar with today took after the Roman’s grooved abacus and was invented around 1300 A.D. The latter was seen as the precursor to computer and proved to be an efficient and accurate mathematical calculation tool.

Ancient Chinese abacus worked on a 2/5-system which had two beads on the upper deck and five on the lower deck. The beads were manipulated to perform arithmetic calculations such as addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, and finding square root. This was later introduced to Japan and Korea and in 1930, the Japanese had it improvised and came up with a 1/4 abacus known as the soroban. The soroban used in CMA's curriculum, works on a base-10 system and eventually gained popularity over the Chinese abacus.

Mental Arithmetic is a form of calculation which is solely done by the human mind using mental power of performing mathematical calculations mentally, without using any instruments such as a computer or calculator.

In acknowledging the many benefits of abacus training, it is important to first understand how the brain functions. The role of the brain, as we know, is to gather and process information and then trigger a response telling the body what to do. It consists of five major parts, of which the cerebrum is the largest. It is the cerebrum that is largely responsible for the things we do, see, think, feel, and so forth.

When the four respective organs are stimulated simultaneously, a person's intellectuality will be enhanced immensely.

The cerebrum is made up of two main hemispheres, which are commonly referred to as the left brain and the right brain. Studies have shown that most of us have a dominant brain which we rely on extensively for day-to-day functioning. The left brain is responsible for the logical and systematic processing of information and is associated with reasoning, analysing, speech, and solving math problems. The right brain, on the other hand, is concerned with holistic functions such as figuring colours, geometrical shapes, music, and art and crafts.

Left and Right Brain Dominant Traits

Rather than using a single hand to manipulate the beads of the abacus, CMA advocates the use of both hands during abacus training. By applying the principles of the soroban (i.e. Japanese-style abacus) alongside mental calculation, and coupled with advanced techniques and multimedia-based learning, students quickly pick up the basics of the base-10 number system to achieve speedy and accurate mental calculations.

1) Complete state of-the-art classroom 2) Multimedia based teaching plus use of audio visual aids

A student is first taught the basics of the abacus, followed by visualisation training. This unique method enables them to execute mental sums by picturing an image of the abacus in their head and then manipulating the beads of the virtual abacus as though a physical abacus was being held in the hands.

Unlike traditional mathematical education which only uses the left brain, this ‘imaginary abacus’ training ropes in the creative right brain in creating a visual of the abacus while utilising the logic left brain to manipulate the virtual abacus. This concept of two-hand mental arithmetic requires the combined use of both the left brain and right brain.

Aside from the ‘imaginary abacus’ training, CMA’s comprehensive mental arithmetic training syllabus also encompass the following:

Both-Hand Training: To train students’ right and left brain simultaneously, hence create an all-round education. Relaxation Exercise: To train students’ concentration and focus abilities. Speed Training: To train students to have acute response when dealing with digits and stimulate latent capacity. Response Training: To train students’ perceptibility, judging and inferring abilities. Listen-and-Calculate Training: To train students’ hearing ability, concentration and memory. See-and-Calculate Training: To train students’ patience, imaginative ability and ability of high-speed calculation.

Studies have shown that the left brain, responsible for logic and analysis, is the dominant brain for the majority of people worldwide. Often, we rely solely on that side of the brain to process our thoughts and actions, thereby neglecting the functioning of the right brain which is associated with the creative and emotive aspects of our daily operation.

Brain development peaks during the childhood years when there is plenty of room for growth, learning new information, and acquiring new skill set. A child’s brain demonstrates highly adaptability to stimulants that boost their visual, sensory, motor, auditory and cognitive skills. Therefore, childhood experts recommend that children be exposed to new interests such as learning a language and playing a musical instrument, from as young as three, in order to encourage learning and developing the brain.

Mental arithmetic can be said to be a healthy brain stimulant which promotes the use of both the left brain and the right brain simultaneously, thereby achieving a more balanced growth. As both sides of the brain are collectively engaged, learning is enhanced and concentration, memory, and creativity are all improved upon.

Mental arithmetic should not be viewed only as a tool that helps children improve their maths. It challenges the way they think and focus, and shapes the way they:

  • Listen and comprehend
  • Visualise and imagine
  • Memorise details
  • Work with speed and accuracy
  • Concentrate on a task
  • Process information
  • Tackle problems

“A research done by the Nippon Medical School has determined that the right brain is associated with visual and auditory activities such as recognising images and listening to music while the left brain is linked to logical thoughts, such as performing a mathematical calculation.

The study, performed on 200 students over 10 years, investigated on brain waves during various activities. Assessments conducted on abacus users unanimously demonstrated high levels of brain activity in the right hemisphere, which indicated pronounced usage of the right brain in performing mental arithmetic calculations. The average person typically performs scientific and mathematical calculations using the left brain but this study has proven that by visualising an image of the abacus in their head, abacus users were able to tap into their right brain, thereby achieving a balanced usage of both hemispheres.

The research team went on to conclude in its findings that abacus learning is beneficial in helping children understand the numerical system and mathematical formulations. They were better able to memorise complicated number sequences and focus on tasks. Their ability to utilise the right brain helped yield other positive traits, such as self-confidence, better academic performance, and exhibit creativity in problem solving.”

Find out more about the report on Abacus Training & Brain Development

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