About Abacus MathsAbacus Maths is all about making your child count – both literally and figuratively. And hey, if you want to grow your brain, whether you are 3 or 103, we’d love to help you!

We work from the principle that, if you were born (and here you are), you exist to serve a purpose and make a huge impact on the world. By making your child count the numbers, you massively grow their brain. By making their brain grow, they make a lasting impression on the world, because it teaches them the skills and the discipline needed to be excellent in whatever field of endeavour they choose.

What does it all boil down to? A willing heart, and a little bamboo-and-bead device called the abacus.

This has always been the reason why Sharné Bresler and Quinnette Brits, a pair of erudite teachers who also happen to be sisters, got out of bed in the morning, and decided to go and make a difference in the lives of the children at the schools where they taught.

Their noble efforts were thwarted somewhat by the system in which they found themselves. They saw hundreds of kids who had incredible potential, but they just weren’t coping. Seeking a way to assist them so that they would truly bloom and grow, their persistence led them to a teaching method that involved an ancient counting frame called the abacus.

Initially the idea seemed overtly simple. But like most great discoveries, in time it dawned on these two ladies that they had come across a truly remarkable way to teach kids not only how to count, but also how to think. Their journey began in 2007.

After working with a series of other companies that imported the abacus to South Africa, this feisty pair decided that it was time to go it alone in 2011. Together with Sharné’s husband, Beyers, they put their heads down and focused (no doubt with their newfound abacus brain power), and Abacus Maths was born.

And now, they are very pleased to tell you that the magic potion YOU have been waiting for, is the abacus. They are excited to share its secrets with you.

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Our Brand Story

Ours is a proudly independent South African company.

From 2007 to 2011, Sharné Bresler started teaching the technique of the Japanese abacus for SEMAS, the international company affiliated with the abacus. It was a refreshingly revolutionary change to the way she had taught, for many years, in a normal high school. Even so, there proved to be numerous constraints in terms of using the SEMAS model to its fullest potential in South Africa.

Despite the age of modern communication, the biggest issue was the ineffective management of an international operation under local conditions, especially with parents expecting a progression in service quality and outcomes for their children. Abacus Maths decided to break away and begin its own orbit.

However, rather than viewing this as a negative, the international organisation distanced itself from local mismanagement, and asked Sharné to become the South African president of SEMAS – a real feather in her cap. Abacus Maths are also the founders of AMSASA, the Abacus Maths Soroban Association of South Africa. Within AMSASA we have hosted national competitions since 2014, affording our top students the opportunity to qualify for international competitions. Our competitor companies (with whom we enjoy a friendly rivalry) that want to promote the paradigm of mental Maths educational skills also support these competitions. Together we have made South Africa proud by having no fewer than 6 world champions in the 2017 international GAJSMA competition, where we outperformed top countries such as Japan, Singapore and India – all bastions of the top Maths achievers globally. Currently, Abacus Maths has more than 3,500 students supported by almost 40 amazing partnering franchises and schools, tutoring Abacus Maths skills in all 9 provinces. We bring the best international practices that our trainers and founders, Sharné and Quinnette, learn in Japan, and pass them on to all our partners. The biggest advantage in our approach to teaching basic mental skills is involving all the learning senses, especially the tactile sense of learning. Our small group settings allow children to get the personal attention and focussed input they need to progress to the next level. This year Abacus Maths and AMSASA are hosting the international GAJSMA competition and we expect SA to be the best again, out of more than 20 top countries being represented by their young achievers.

A History, and How it Works

Let’s take a look at the history of this very cool device (way cooler than your smartphone) and its inner workings, split into four:

Ancient History

Research seems to suggest that the word “abacus” originates from Greek, which was morphed into Latin and then Middle English. But it appears to have had its first roots in the Hebrew word ‘abaq,’ meaning ‘dust’ or ‘sand used as a writing surface.’ By all accounts, the earliest users would draw in the sand to work out their calculations. It was used by the Egyptians and Greeks, and eventually adopted by the Romans. Like roads, the Romans took the technology and improved it, adding many of the features we still see in use today.

After making its way across the world from the Roman Empire to China via the Silk Road, Japan finally adopted the technology from the Chinese around the 14th Century, where it is still manufactured today, despite the abundance of calculators.

Modern History in Japan

The abacus is used in Japanese schools, primarily as an aid for faster mental calculation. While its utility as a counting tool for Maths is undisputed, the effects of the abacus on growing the whole brain, not just the mathematical part, are well documented.

Of course, it’s not for nothing that the abacus found a home in Japan, where it is known as the soroban. Although its roots can be traced back to the Middle East, it was in Japan where the abacus took flight. Although their economy has been in recession for 20 years (mostly due to low an ageing population with low growth rates), Japan still has the world’s third-largest economy after the United States and China, and is at the cutting edge of innovations like robots and augmented and virtual reality. We believe it’s all thanks to the abacus.

Malcolm Gladwell makes an interesting and rather controversial postulation, that the reason eastern kids work harder and smarter than their western counterparts has to do with geography: initially, in the west, grain crops were grown, which were only harvested in the summer, with the winter left to hibernate and “chill;” but in the east, rice was mostly grown, which takes longer and is more labour-intensive to farm. Over time, this resulted in different work ethics, where western kids would give up on problems more easily because they found them too hard, while eastern kids would stick with them more. Perhaps this had something to do with the abacus too!

What is truly amazing is that this philosophy, so deeply embedded in how the abacus works, was also acknowledged by Einstein, who said, “It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stick with problems longer.” This is how a simple little device shapes people’s minds, when properly used.

Is your kid the next Elon Musk? Sign up, and we’ll take you to space and beyond…

History of the Abacus in South Africa

The local history of the abacus is not as well-documented, although it has been around for some time. Japan has strong ties with South Africa due to the motor industry (Toyota manufactures cars in Durban), and because both nations share a strong culture of the importance of education.

The abacus was known in various circles, but its use was limited. The founders of Abacus Maths, through their involvement with predecessors, were first exposed to the culture of the abacus from partners in India in the early part of the 21st Century. Sharné and Quinette began their journey with the abacus as a teaching device back in 2007, and Abacus Maths as a stand-alone entity was born in 2011.

Abacus Maths has been at the forefront of development of both the device and the technique used to get the most out of it, with South African kids trained by us consistently faring very well in international championships. In 2017, for example, saw no less than seven kids bringing trophies home for being World Speed Maths Champions.

The next chapter of our history will be written with you…

How it Works

So, how EXACTLY does the abacus do the trick? Well… it grows the brain by breaking complex calculations into bite-size chunks, which allow even young kids to turn hard stuff into silly putty in their hands. If you want to know how the abacus calculations are done, we are more than happy to help you with that. Please sign up with us today, either as a client/parent, or an Abacus Maths facilitator.

Explaining the Names

If you’ve come across any of our material, had a chat to us, or have been browsing the website, you might have seen a number of names or concepts, and you have no clue what they stand for or mean.

Fear not! We explain them here:

Soroban
  • This is the Japanese word for the abacus, which is an ancient counting device. Even today, it is used to teach people how to improve their brain power. While calculators tend to make us mentally lazy, the abacus enhances our brains and makes us grow mentally.
GAJSMA
  • This is an acronym that stands for the Global Association of Japanese Soroban Mental Arithmetic. In a nutshell, the Japanese wanted to formalise the abacus and its global impact, so this organisation has sought to do that. For more information, please log onto www.gajsma.co.jp.
AMSASA
  • This is also an acronym that stands for Abacus Maths Soroban Association of South Africa. This is an organisation to which we are strongly affiliated, as it takes the first two letters of its name from our company. Through AMSASA, we promote the use of the abacus as a simple yet powerful teaching tool for helping to grow minds in South Africa – this is our mission and purpose, the reason why we do what we do. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world.”
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