The Taboo of Negative Numbers in Primary Education


Performing subtraction, as opposed to addition, is a rather daunting task for many primary school children; especially when using the so-called method of 'Subtraction with Regrouping’ (SWR). We argue that the main reason for this is because the concept of negative numbers is not introduced at an early stage of primary education. Negative numbers have been considered as a taboo for too long and measures need to be taken to break this taboo to increase children's interest in mathematics. The SWR method is well-understood when a small number is subtracted from a large one; especially when there are no zeros in the large number and every of its digit is greater than that of the smaller number, like 758-231. Things can get rather complicated for children when the large number contains 0 as a digit or when they have to subtract a large number from a small one, for example 7045-2658. In the SWR method, a non-zero number is decremented by 1 when 10 is borrowed from it; for example, 5 becomes 4 when 10 is borrowed from it. However, the exception is that 0 becomes 9 when 10 is borrowed from it. This leads to an inconsistency in the procedure; hence, creating a confusion in children's mind. In this paper, we propose a direct method of subtraction, whereby the number 0 can be rightly replaced by -1 without disrupting the procedure. This can only be done when the children are taught the concept of negative numbers before tackling subtractions.

Author Information
Krishna K. Busawon, Northumbria University, United Kingdom
Vimi Neeroo Lockmun-Bissessur, Université des Mascareignes, Mauritius
Radhakhrishna Somanah, Université des Mascareignes, Mauritius

Paper Information
Conference: ECE2023
Stream: Primary & Secondary Education

This paper is part of the ECE2023 Conference Proceedings (View)
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To cite this article:
Busawon K., Lockmun-Bissessur V., & Somanah R. (2023) The Taboo of Negative Numbers in Primary Education ISSN: 2188-1162 The European Conference on Education 2023: Official Conference Proceedings
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon