The learning of tables was something that took up a disproportionate amount of time in our own school-days. There were the multiplication table right up to the 12 times table. We had the complicated table of money, the complicated table of length, the complicated table of weight, the complicated table of capacity.
In this respect today’s schoolchildren are much more fortunate. The introduction of decimal money, for a start, has got rid of at least one complication table. All children need to learn now is that there are 100 pennies in $1. The schools have also gone completely metric ahead of the nation. This has got rid of three more complicated tables. The metric system of length, weight and capacity is simplicity itself.
That leaves only the multiplication tables – and even here today’s children come off well. The only reason for learning the 12 times table was because 12 pennies made a shilling and 12 inches made a foot. Neither of these applies in the modern schoolroom. The 11 time table (which was never really essential anyway) has also been dropped. This means that today’s pupils only learn as far as the relatively simple 10 times table.
In many cases they aren’t even called upon to learn these tables off by heart. The modern swing against memorization has made the old table-chanting lesson obsolete. In most modern classroom the tables are displayed prominently around the walls and pupils are allowed to refer to them while working out sums, on the theory that constant reference will in the end help the pupils to memorize them painlessly.
The removal of so much drudgery has, of course, left room for the teaching of other things and has had a widespread effect on the old arithmetic curriculum.
According to some critics, the lessening of emphasis on the learning of arithmetical tables has led to them being pushed far more on one side than they ought. Many sixteen year old school-leavers are now completely unable to multiply or divide, a thing which would have been impossible twenty years ago. Traditionalists would also argue that there has to be a good deal of boring work in life, and that children might at least get a little bit used to it at school by having to learn something which may seem to be mainly rote learning. However, one can be sure that knowing the ‘times tables’ is certain to be of value to every child after school leaving, and seems to be a useful form of mind training which is being neglected.