THE CLASSROOM: Why so many children struggle with numbers

Sunday February 10 2019


By Kinga Morsanyi

You’ve probably heard of dyslexia, but have you heard of dyscalculia before? What is dyscalculia? Dyscalculia is defined as a condition that involves long-term, severe difficulties with mathematics – which cause significant problems with academic or occupational performance, or with daily activities.

Some typical signs of dyscalculia that parents might notice are using finger counting – even for simple arithmetic – struggling to retrieve number facts from memory (such as times tables), and struggling to learn new procedures.

Dyscalculic children might also have trouble using calendars and clocks, they might struggle with recalling the order of past events, and with following sequential instructions.rrying, given that research shows low numeracy might affect people’s life chances more negatively than low literacy.

Indeed, there is a strong link between numeracy and educational success, income, mental and physical health and even chances of arrest and incarceration.

Why diagnosis matters

Early diagnosis is particularly important, because missing the basics of mathematics makes it difficult for learners to follow subsequent topics. This can lead to frustration and negative attitudes towards mathematics, as well as school subjects in general.


Officially diagnosing children might also lead to faster changes in government policies. Once dyscalculic learners appear in official statistics, it is more likely that support will be offered.

It was only in 2009 that a UK report on dyslexia was published, which called for the availability of special training for teachers to support children with dyslexia. This initiative has been a huge success in the UK, and it is likely that the same result would be possible for dyscalculia.

What all this shows is that when it comes to dyscalculia, more needs to be done to help children who are struggling. So if you’re a parent worried about your child, it is important to raise this with your child’s school and seek support.

What parents can do

You can also help your child by practising some basic concepts and procedures with them. This can be done by manipulating everyday objects, such as beads or tokens, or playing simple number games. You can also play board games with a dice – which can help to demonstrate basic number concepts.

Computer based maths programs can also be used for repeated practice of arithmetic. As with literacy, it is important that you don’t see your child’s maths learning as solely the responsibility of schools.

Dyscalculia is a life-long condition, which continues to affect people beyond their school years. It cannot and should not be ignored. And a better awareness of the condition in parents, teachers and society generally could offer great improvements in the prospects of dyscalculic learners. (Conversation Africa)