British Abacus Association (BAA)- Reimagine the abacus: The indispensable computing device and the computing brain

The following article from the BAA offers an insight into the possibilities and uses of the abacus as a learning tool for the visually impaired community.

The abacus is generally regarded by some special educators as the best all-around computing device available to students with visual impairments in East Asia and the United States. It has been used widely in their education systems. “The abacus is the best computing device for students with visual impairments to learn arithmetic” Dr. Lin, Ching-Jen said, the Director of the Center of Education and Rehabilitation for the Visually Impaired, National University of Tainan in Taiwan. Meanwhile, the current evidence shows the abacus training may be applicable in both educational and clinical settings to benefit persons who are visually impaired, persons with different types of disability and the elderly with or without cognitive impairment.

We visited the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles (INJA) and the IMPRO Valentin HAUY, Association Valentin Haüy (AVH) (with blind and partially sighted people) in 2019 and where no abacus training was taught. The visits led to the discovery of the brain science behind this learning. Abacus learning is not just limited to numeracy but is also founded on the coordination and interrelationship of the brain and the hands in what is referred to as the abacus-based mental calculation (AMC). The AMC is shaped by computing the abacus, students with visual impairments could touch to get a sense of space to acquire the AMC skill to perform fast and accurate calculations without physical abacus with appropriate instruction. The AMC could unlock the potential of computing brain, and this may be a lifelong skill. Furthermore, the coordination and interrelationship may also be the key to benefit persons with disabilities. Previous studies indicate that the abacus training can induce specific changes in the brain. It also may improve executive functions, working memory and intelligence quotient (IQ).

Our report presents the insights from organizations and experts with a pilot test in Taiwan by the Center of Education and Rehabilitation for the Visually Impaired, National University of Tainan (NUTN), the Taipei Parents’ Association for the Visually Impaired (PAVI), the Taiwan Chamber of Commerce (TCOC). Special thanks for the advice from Ms. Marie-Renée HECTOR, the Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), Mr. Joe FitzPatrick and Ms. Sue Parsons at Dundee and Angus College. There will be a set of new abacus learning resources available in Europe for educators and students in the future.