UK Students Learning Times Tables Early Means Math Success

Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools in the UK’s coalition government, said that more British schools should have their students learn the times table by heart in order to prepare them for tougher mathematics material down the road. His statement was in response to recent claims that children in primary schools around Britain lack numerical confidence and are, as a result, struggling with numeracy throughout their academic careers.

The Government recently announced plans for broad changes in England’s National Curriculum that will have the schools focus more on core subjects like language arts, science and mathematics. The just-published draft proposal makes memorization of the times tables up to 12×12 a requirement for nine-year-olds. By the time they leave primary school, students should feel confident in being able to manipulate numbers up to 10,000,000. If the provision becomes part of the adopted curriculum, it will represent a change from the current requirement that kids know the 10×10 table by heart by age 11, and can handle numbers only up to 1,000.

The National Union of Teachers insisted the approach would “stultify the learning process” by failing to give children the freedom to develop at their own pace.

But Mr Gibb insisted that learning key pieces of information by heart gave pupils the confidence needed to tackle more complex issues at a later stage.

In a speech to the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education in central London, he said: “There are things that do need to be taught by rote, for example multiplication tables.

Gibb said that the Government believes that knowing the 12×12 times table is an appropriate goal for students in Year 4. To back up his assertions he quoted a recent study release by the Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania that linked a grasp of numeracy concepts like long division and fraction manipulation to later success in subjects like mathematics and technology. More importantly, these gains were visible in all students, regardless of ethnic and racial background, or income level.

Mr Gibb compared learning times tables to playing the piano, when children repeatedly practice scales and chords by heart.

Speaking afterward, he said: “The working memory is only so big and there are certain things you need to embed in your mind.

“When you play the piano, you have to acquire an automaticity to it and that comes with practice. The same comes with learning to read. All these things come with practice and that’s what multiplication tables are about.