by Toshio Nakano, Honorary Professor, Daito Bunka University
1. The Historical Development Of Zhusuan (Abacus Mental Arithmetic)
The calculation tool called zhusuan has a very long history. From around years 3,000 BC - 2,000 BC in Mesopotamia (now Iraq), it is said that lines were marked on sand and little rocks were used for calculation. Subsequently a calculation tool that is known as the "line zhusuan" was made in ancient Greek, and the Romans also made "groove zhusuan" which they used for calculation. It is said that these tools were introduced at China but there are many different theories on how calculation tools spread through the world.
From around 770 BC - 476 BC, people in China used "suanchou" for calculation. And the oldest record of a calculation instrument similar to the zhusuan can be seen in a document dated 200AD. The Principles of Algorithm is the first bead-calculation book in China, written by Wang Wensu, an expert in bead calculation during the Ming Dynasty. According to the document, the first zhusuan was introduced to Japan from China in sixteenth-century.
While studying the tool for 400 years, Japan has improved and revolutionized the soroban (abacus) to what we use today.
Zhusuan is practical and useful in solving mathematical problems and it is especially handy in teaching the concept of number to children in the lower grades.
2. The Importance Of Zhusuan Education
Children around the world seem to have a tendency of disliking calculation. But the basics of life are built upon calculation. Children who dislike calculation may not necessary become failures in life, but they do tend to have difficulties. This might result as a delay in the development of the brain functions related to calculation.
2a) Improvement Of Mathematics
By teaching zhusuan to children, especially at the age of 4 ~ 9, they will improve their use of the four arithmetic rules by twice in speed once they have obtained this ability.
The most remarkable result of having a zhusuan education is that one can calculate simple numbers by using mental arithmetic which is "calculation without any tools".
At the present, we are living in the so called "computer era". Of course, computers are faster than zhusuan if it is calculating complex numbers, that is, only if the computer is programmed properly. But the important fact is that people are the ones that operate computers. In Japan, results have shown that people who are weak in mathematics are more likely to make input mistakes. People who operate computers need the ability to grasp numbers and words accurately and with speed. The best way to improve this ability is zhusuan education.
2b) The Educational Value Of Zhusuan
At this moment, the zhusuan tests are divided into 20 different ranks. The ones that show zhusuan abilities higher than the fifteenth rank "counting from the bottom" have constantly maintained their grades in the uppermost classes in Japanese high schools. These results are due to the fact that zhusuan education has deeply effected the activation and development of the human brain.
Still it is unclear to whether the human brain has developed only after the zhusuan education or a hereditary "good brain" has improved due to zhusuan. Schools presently involved in psychology, cerebral studies, and education are conducting studies on the effects of zhusuan related to this topic. Occasionally, reports have been made from these researches at a particular academy, and in the future new answers to this question would come about.
2c) Effects Of Zhusuan Education On The Human Brain
Cerebral studies have made remarkable progress in the recent years. Professor Toshiro Hayashi of Kyoto University, who is a representative scholar in this study, has reported the following in the issue titled "The Human Brain and the Zhusuan"
"The nerve tissue of the sense nerve, which controls the movement of the fingers, has been found to be very abundant, which means the movements of fingers when using zhusuan requires many nerve tissues to move simultaneously. Furthermore, these movements of fingers especially the thumb and index finger require greater skills compared to playing a piano."
With regard to the above, it could be said that zhusuan education is a necessary step in basic human education. Its educational value to children is vital to human brain formation.