Everyone’s favourite genius, Albert Einstein, said many things that are just as profound at E = MC2.
There are a whole bunch of memes that have done the rounds in this instance. Some of them are fun jokes that make use of Einstein’s picture and relate to some of his concepts and ideas, and some of them are actual quotes.
Now this is what is so interesting! Einstein recognised that a big part of genius is the propensity for sticking it out – for not giving up, and for making sure that you make enough effort, until what was once difficult becomes easy. This is one of the key elements in mastering Maths and other learning skills to grow the brain.
Staff writer for The New Yorker and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell picked up on this theme in his book ‘Outliers’ (his other most famous work, of course, is the best-selling ‘The Tipping Point’). Gladwell’s theory purports that people who grow up in Eastern cultures are better at solving Maths problems and other brain-twisters than their Western counterparts because of their cultures, and that this has a lot to do with the crops that they grow.
While Western cultures grow crops in the summer and then harvest them and leave the soil for a while before they start growing crops again, Eastern cultures grow and harvest rice in paddies year-round, which is more labour-intensive and requires staying power. While Western kids are busy are ‘taking it easy’ and hibernating for the winter, Eastern kids are still tending to the paddies and making sure that the rice is harvested.
This, he says, has over time translated into a culture where Western kids, bogged down by Maths complexities, tend to give up on the problem too soon, while Eastern kids have more staying power – which of course ties us back to what Einstein said – that he sticks with problems longer (even though he was a Western kid). Gladwell’s discussion also includes the simplicity of the Asian numbering system, particularly in China. And THIS, dear friends, is there the abacus comes so beautifully into the picture.
You may know that the abacus actually had its roots in the Middle East (most of the world uses the Arabic numbering system of 0 to 9), then spread to China via the famed Silk Road, and then made its way across the Sea of Japan to the Japanese mainland, where it took root and flourished. But the point is this: China and Japan (and South Korea and South-East Asia), being the quintessential Eastern countries, all make use of the abacus to help their kids solve Maths problems.
For this reason, we agree with Malcolm Gladwell – that Eastern kids are better at solving Maths problems and other brain teasers, not just because of their culture of harvesting rice – but also their culture of using the abacus! Now how cool is that?
What is truly wonderful about an increasingly globalised world, is that all of that abacus knowledge and training is now available right here in Africa.
We believe – because we have seen it with our own eyes – that people who use the abacus stick with Maths problems because they think they can. And once they start doing it more and more, then they know they can. It reminds us of the beautiful story of The Little Engine that Could.
And so, if there was ever a doubt in your mind that the abacus is like fruit and vegetables for the brain, then ponder and wonder no more. For the proof of the pudding, dear friends, is most definitely in the eating – and our abacus kids are filled with delicious, nutritious, healthy and hearty abacus pudding 🙂