Looks like calculators could soon be a thing of the past - at least for over 3,000 UAE children who are graduates of the Universal Concept Mental Arithmetic System (UCMAS) as they can mentally solve mathematical problems within seconds.
XPRESS had a close encounter with a group of UCMAS students and we were left speechless by their skills: solving a problem mentally as well as with the abacus. They were so quick in getting answers to problems like 555 x 82; 308 x 66; 17,835 ÷ 41; 31,850 ÷ 65 ... it took them merely eight minutes to solve 350 such problems. What's more, we also saw them beat the calculator in multiplications and additions.
"Their minds work like calculators. This is all about concentration, comprehension and retaining a photographic memory," said Rajeswari Prakash, Chief Trainer, UCMAS, who accompanied the kids. "In the initial levels, the children are attached to the abacus; as they progress, they do away with the abacus and calculate mentally," explained Prakash.
These children represent a breed of which nearly 7,000, aged between eight and 13, are currently enrolled in 25 UCMAS centres across the UAE.
"Children usually come under pressure to excel in academics when they reach Grade 9. The pressure is so high that parents feel compelled to put them through a number of tuitions. The UCMAS graduates, however, have proved to be self-reliant, managing their studies all by themselves," said Soundari Raj, Managing Director, UCMAS, UAE, who introduced the programme in the country in 2003.
These children are fully confident of taking care of their academic and personal development owing to their UCMAS training, said Raj.
UCMAS, based on the traditional abacus method of arithmetic calculation, is known to improve the motor skills of a child, enhance concentration, observation powers, speed of thinking, alertness and, more importantly, synchronising the left and right brain functions.
Recalling the circumstances that inspired her to launch such an educational programme in the UAE, Raj said, "I came to Abu Dhabi in 1985 as a school teacher. Where my entrepreneurship skills were - I had no idea - until 2003. I saw children struggling over simple calculations. They were so dependent on calculators. That is when a thought struck me - to make them as self-reliant as possible."
Raj's hard work has paid off. In the last nine years, UCMAS has seen over 15,000 enrolments.
Jordanian Dorgham K. Sha'aban, the father of 10-year-old Adnan Sha'aban who is in level three, said: "Adnan has been taking UCMAS classes for only six months and I have seen tremendous improvement in him, not only in maths but also in other subjects. He has always been bright but he is brighter now! There has been an overall improvement in his studies and efficiency levels. I am planning to put my other children as well in UCMAS."
Indian M.K. Ansari, father of 12-year-old Adnan Ansari, is a proud man. His son, who is preparing to graduate next year, has won many national and international awards. He won the UAE UCMAS written arithmetic competition held on May 11 in Dubai, and was the third runner up in the international UCMAS competition held in Malaysia in December 2011.
"Adnan has always been an obedient boy, but now I have noticed he is grasping things very fast. He does all his school work by himself without the help of tuitions. His academic records are good and it's all due to his ability to concentrate in the class and enhanced grasping power."
Raj is quick to warn that some children give up the course as it requires a lot of dedication from both children and parents.
"The instructors impart the same knowledge to all the children, however, only some come out winners. This is because these children get a lot of support from parents."
UCMAS will soon be available in Arabic, said Raj. "We are already training 10 Arabic teachers. Right now, these teachers explain the syllabus and programme to parents and children in Arabic, however, the medium of instructional materials, such as the books, remains English. But by 2013, we will have even these in Arabic as well," she said.
She is also reaching out to children in the interior of the UAE. "I have been conducting courses at just cost price in places like Al Dhaid, Ruwais and Bida Zayed. We have seen a large Asian population going for UCMAS. However, we are not seeing too many Emiratis registering for UCMAS. My aim is to reach out to as many children as possible."
Raj is also working towards having UCMAS included as an extra-curricular activity in schools.
"Once this happens more children will be equipped with life-time skills and learn to become self-reliant, self-confident and self-motivated. We have approached some schools about this and are waiting for approval from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) on this."
The UCMAS programme has eight levels, with each lasting three months. Classes are held once a week for two hours. The cost for each level is Dh780 on average.
At the start of the third level, the child does away with the abacus and begins to calculate mathematical problem mentally.