With several debates in recent years over the approach used to teach maths to young children, one Maltese school is looking to the Far East for an innovative solution.

From the start of the upcoming scholastic year, the independent Chiswick House School will be switching to what is known as the Singapore Maths Approach, a technique based on “maths mastery” and hands-on learning

A study by the UCL Institute of Education and Cambridge University last year showed that children who were taught through the Singapore approach learned significantly faster than their classmates.

Students using the approach made, on average, an extra month of progress in a calendar year and academics predicted that the increase in their maths skills was likely to lead them to earnings as much as £200 (€236) a year higher after they leave school.

In Singapore, it has allowed students to rank first, in both fourth and eighth grade, in the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a test carried out internationally as a benchmark of students’ achievement in mathematics and science.

“The approach is primarily about problem solving,” Chiswick maths leader Esmeralda Zerafa told the Times of Malta.

“The most important thing is teaching for mastery: allowing the student to really grasp the concept rather than rushing through and moving to another one.

“It’s also very hands on: it departs from the fact that children are always playing with real things, so they’ll be using blocks, straws, different objects for a hands-on experience of mathematics.”

The approach focuses on problem-solving skills, encouraging students to think of different strategies to approach a problem, helping them become more confident in reasoning things out, finding solutions and taking risks.

“There’s a lot of research being done on maths anxiety,” Ms Zerafa said. “I’ve been in loads of classrooms where as soon as you mention problems children get a fright.

“That’s one of the reasons why exposing them to problems [which are referred to as ‘anchor tasks’ in the Singapore approach] is so important.

“The approach also caters for our more able students by stretching them further and giving them the opportunity to deepen their understanding.”

Teachers at Chiswick recently attended an intensive training course in London in anticipation of the switch and also visited schools in the UK where the technique is being used.

“Teachers learn a lot about asking the right questions, encouraging children to express why something is right,” Ms Zerafa added of the Singapore approach

Parents were briefed on the plans in June and, according to Ms Zerafa, responded positively to the new approach, while workshops are planned for September to help them fully understand how their children are being taught.

Maths teaching in State schools has undergone an upheaval recently, with the Education Ministry announcing last year that the contentious Abacus textbooks, which were blamed for causing maths anxiety, would be discontinued.

The Malta Union of Teachers said children who were not mathematical whizzes “struggled to grasp” the Abacus method.

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