Enter a classroom in any abacus center in India and you will see children busy with something that looks like a toy — tiny brown beads compiled neatly in columns. On the wall is propped a similar toy, though bigger with large, shiny yellow beads.
The teacher calls out a complex calculation, almost like an open challenge. A little boy, barely seven, comes forward and recites a seemingly funny rhyme. He also moves the yellow beads up and down and gets the answer down pat. No furious adding, counting or subtracting! Amazed?
Welcome to the world of abacus education, where rigid arithmetic takes a backseat and visuals and imagination gain centre-stage. Here children learn to use the abacus, an ancient Chinese invention, to solve basic arithmetic sums with speed and accuracy. Institutes, which offer abacus education, claim that they use arithmetic as a tool to develop mind skills, memory and lateral thinking abilities.
Popular in Asian countries like Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand, abacus education is relatively new in India. But several entrepreneurs have been quick to tap the business potential of this non-formal education tool.
Scientific theories associate the left hemisphere of the brain with numerical and academic abilities, and the right hemisphere with creativity and intelligence. Proponents of abacus education claim that while formal education focuses merely on left-brain development, the abacus brings about “whole brain development”.
“If the brain is not developed at an early age, one’s mental abilities can start declining by 20 years of age. That’s why we must tap them young,” says Dhaval Shrimankar, CEO, NurtureMinds.com.
The brain gyms — as these institutes are called — are not stand-alone entities, but, instead, operate through a network of local franchises in urban and semi-urban areas. The reach and popularity of abacus education can be gauged from the burgeoning franchisee network.
Today, the same innovative education is available in the US and Canada. The system has taken the home-school communities by the storm. Private centers just like Score or Kumon are springing up from west coast to the east coast.
As an alternative to investment for a franchise, books are directly sold to the interested customers. Many of the patrons take up on roles of tutors as well as franchise owners.
How does Abacus work?
The abacus consists of 13 vertical rods, separated into two sections by a horizontal bar. Each rod contains one bead in the upper section and four beads in the lower section.
When given a sum, the child recites a rhyme corresponding to the kind of calculation involved. This also makes learning fun and easy. Simultaneously, the child moves the required beads up and down. The position of each bead signifies a specific numerical value. At the end of the rhyme, the position of the beads touching the horizontal bar, gives the answer.
As the course advances, the abacus is taken away and the child is encouraged to picture the abacus mentally to come up with the answer. After sufficient training, the child becomes adept at moving the beads mentally and no longer needs to recite the rhyme aloud to arrive at the answer.