Eight year old Stiaan Scheepers shows why maths matters
|Stiaan Scheepers and Hantie van Niekerk|
Stiaan Scheepers, who hails from Rustenburg, travelled all the way to Germany to compete as the youngest participant in his category and came in the top ten... despite suffering a mishap when his soda bottle spilt all over his worksheet and he lost valuable time in completing the test. Up against children from all over the world, Stiaan had to, in the two-hour test, tackle a variety of pure maths problems including square roots, cube roots, squares, cubes, fractions, time, prime factors and much more. Calculations that, given his young age and his mishap, impressed the judges. Some of the top ten finalists and winners were from another 3rd world, India and showed remarkable dedication and maths intellect.
Is Stiaan a child prodigy in maths and another ‘Einstein’, you might ask? Well, according to his teacher Hantie Van Niekerk, who runs one of the dynamic A+ Students franchises that teaches the Japanese method of Soroban (Abacus), any child that is exposed to early brain development can excel at maths. “Stiaan’s proficiency in maths is purely because, from the age of three, he has been exposed to ‘brain gym’ which integrates the left and right brain hemispheres. Practicing finger exercises on the Japanese soroban starts to refine motor skills and learning to move from the abstract to the concrete allows him to grasp the notions of adding and subtracting and he is then able to step up the numbers and solve more complex maths.”
Early childhood development in maths is crucial to the healthy development of a child’s cognitive development. International research shows that the younger children are exposed to primary maths methods the better equipped they will be to going into the formal school system.
According to Marlene Mouton, who brought the A+Students maths education system to South Africa, statistics like the 2016 Trends in International Mathematics & Science Study (TIMSS), a quadrennial test sat by 580 000 pupils in 57 countries, where South Africa was at or near the bottom of its various rankings shows that there is a fundamental failure in providing maths literacy to our young children.
“When, after five years of school, about half of our children cannot work out that 24 divided by three is eight, it points to a crisis not only in our school system but in the future of our youth in being able to lead productive lives”.
Problems in maths are evident from early grades in primary school and are compounded as learners progress through school. Young children are not being taught basic mathematics methods – and at school are taught very long, inefficient methods to perform calculations with larger numbers. “Introducing math concepts should start in the pre-school years,” says Marlene Mouton, “where they can gain a basic idea of the practice through language and practice. Number sense or the basics of learning about numbers is the first vital math skill a child must develop before reaching kindergarten.”
A+ Students hosts annual Regional and National competitions
Marlene Mouton, by setting up the A+Students franchise, together with non-profit sister company, PAMA South Africa, an approved member of the Pan Pacific Abacus and Mental Arithmetic Association of Taiwan Chamber of Commerce, hopes to change the course of maths education in South Africa. With 620 teaching facilities in all nine provinces teaching close to 30 000 students since 2006, and by hosting the 17th PAMA Global Abacus & Mental Arithmetic Championship on the 28th December at the Hilton Hotel in Sandton, she hopes to be able to show government, teachers and parents that, with the right teaching methods and commitment to turn the tide in maths education, more children like Stiaan Scheepers can achieve great things at the age of eight.