x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Young mathematicians in Dubai count their way to the top

Over 1,700 students take part in the tenth National Abacus and Mental Arithmetic Competition. With quiz

DUBAI // The whistle blew, sending hundreds of seated children into a frenzy of arm waving and scribbling.

The children were completing advanced mental arithmetics as part of the National Abacus and Mental Arithmetic Competition.

The arm waving, teachers say, is the children working out complicated equations on an abacus only they can see.

"They are using an imaginary abacus," said Lewis Yeddanapalli. "When they are moving their arms, they are moving the beads in their minds.

"The abacus has been imprinted into their brains."

Mr Yeddanapalli is one of 27 people in the UAE who operate centres that teach the Universal Concept of Mental Arithmetic System (UCMAS).

His 200 pupils, along with more than 1,700 others, took part in yesterday's competition in Dubai.

The goal of the programme is to teach children to calculate complex sums, in their heads, in fractions of a second.

Children are given a sheet containing 200 complex sums. Theyhave to answer as many of them correctly as possible in just eight minutes.

"If you try and do it yourself, you will take 40 minutes," says Mr Yeddanapalli. "My children can do most of it in eight minutes."

UCMAS was founded in Malaysia in 1993, and a national competition has been held in the UAE for the past 10 years.

The founder of the school, Dr Dino Wong, developed the system after witnessing students in China calculating sums at lightning speed.

"I thought they were geniuses, but when I asked the professor, he said it was through practice," he said.

Mr Wong, whose system has spread to more than 55 countries, said that while the number of students participating is uncountable, he estimates it to be about 3.5 million.

"A lot of people say that abacuses are antique, that they should only be found in museums," he said. "They say that today we should only use the computer, but that dulls the mind.

"The abacus helps us to discover the genius within. We are all geniuses, it's just that we don't know it yet."

Aryan Dharan, a nine-year-old from Millenium School Dubai, won last year's international competition in Malaysia in his category, Elementary B.

Aryan has participated in the UCMAS programme for three years.

"It's helped me in my sums at school," he said. "All my teachers always praise me for that. I'm better in other subjects, also. It's helped me improve my leadership qualities."

His mother said there had been a noticeable effect on her son's attitude.

"This is the best thing we have ever done for him. His confidence and concentration has increased so much.

"Now, I'm not teaching any maths. He can do anything himself."

Another of last year's champions, Adnan Ansari, 13 from Our Own English School, Sharjah, said he wasn't happy with this year's paper, and that nerves got to him.

"I'm not happy with the result today. It was because of the nervousness, and the pressure."

The exams were held in an ampitheatre at Al Nasr Leasureland, Dubai, surrounded by thousands of parents and teachers watching intently from the audience stalls.

The children attend UCMAS centres for two hour classes, once per week, where they are drilled in the use of the abacus.

Mr Yeddanapalli, a centre manager in Al Khan, Sharjah, said the abacus increases "brain horsepower".

"We are increasing the brain power for students," he said. "They will become better not only at doing maths, but in every subject.

"Once their brains work faster, they can learn anything from Arabic to Zoology. They will complete a two hour exam paper in one hour."

mcroucher@thenational.ae