A welcome sign of the times (table)

PUBLISHED: 06:47 26 February 2018

Yes, times tables are learning-by-rote - but they are also incredibly useful for building confidence in the classroom and in later life, says Sharon Griffiths.

Yes, times tables are learning-by-rote - but they are also incredibly useful for building confidence in the classroom and in later life, says Sharon Griffiths.

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We should all be glad that children will be tested on times tables, says Sharon Griffiths

Right then, quickly now: what’s eight times nine? Seven times six? 9 x 5? 11x12?

If you answered those without even thinking, you’re probably over fifty. If you struggled you’re probably under thirty.

And if you’re eight years old you’d better start practising soon.

Times tables are back on the curriculum. Next month 290 schools will take part in a trial five-minute online test to see how well Year 4 pupils have learned them. By 2020 it will be compulsory for all state schools.

Five minutes online? What luxury. At least there’ll be no ritual humiliation in front of the entire class. My primary school day started with a session of mental arithmetic every morning. Either that or spelling tests. A dread time as our teachers whizzed round the 49 of us in the class, giving us only seconds to answer.

Show-offs loved it. Slower brains lived in dread.

But eventually we all managed to read, write, spell and do sums in our head.

My sons’ hopeless school didn’t teach times tables, so I taught them. Why would you not? It’s like having a mini calculator in your head. Even in these hi-tech times, calculators can break, phone batteries die, but while you’ve still got your head you’re not helpless.

Above all, learning our times tables when we were so young (most of us mastered 12 x 12 by the time we were seven) gave us a feel for numbers and a confidence in dealing with them, which served us in good stead when we moved on to the serious stuff.

Maybe it also stopped us being scared of sums – which is half the battle. It also came in very useful when I worked as a barmaid before the days of automated tills.

Times tables make life easier.

Diarist Samuel Pepys, who had a degree from Cambridge, didn’t learn his times tables until he was 28, when he paid an old sea captain to teach him. He was terribly excited about learning as it saved him being diddled when he was buying supplies for the navy. He thought times tables were a form of magic.

They almost are.

The big aversion to rote learning back in the 1970s was because too many children had learned things by rote, Gradgrind-style, without having a clue what it was all about. But sometimes, you can’t understand properly until you’ve learned the basics. That’s where times tables come in.

By not teaching children times tables we’re making their lives much harder for them. We don’t want that, do we?

Altogether now: One nine is nine, two nines are eighteen, three nines are…

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