When comparing the abacus and the calculator, it is important to outline the differences between the two. The abacus, for example, requires the user to have knowledge of the processes of arithmetic--and the ability to move counters (beads) in proper sequence to obtain a desired result. This being the case, unless one is a skilled abacus operator who has spent countless hours in practice, chances are the use of an electronic calculator will yield results more quickly than that of an abacus. This is especially true in areas such as root extraction, vector analysis, trigonometric calculations, etc.
Additionally, abacus calculation helps to develop mental concepts concerning numeric relationships, which is not the case with a calculator. For example, it is possible to demonstrate place value by adding a digit, or set of digits, to itself or themselves ten times. This shows movement to the left by one place--and the presence of "0" at the end of the total.
Another difference from a calculator is that the abacus does not require electrical power and can be used under most physical conditions. Further, the abacus does not require programming to perform trigonometry or other functions--as does a calculator. However, the limitation of the abacus is based on the knowledge and ability of the operator.
Abacuses can also be connected in series. This means that if large numeric values need to be calculated, two or more abacuses can be joined and treated as one abacus. This cannot be done with a calculator.
There are certain testing situations in which those being tested are not permitted the use of calculators. This usually results from the concern that calculators can be programmed with formulae that make problem solving automatic--and no longer dependent on the knowledge of the person being tested. The abacus, however, offers no more aid and comfort than a pencil and a piece of paper--and is in no way programmable.
Contributor: Fred Gissoni