Abacus Or Calculator: Does It Matter?

Math has been around for centuries, and there are a variety of tools that have been used to help with calculations. Two of the most popular are the abacus and the calculator. However, being used for the same idea, both are poles apart, hence, what is the difference between the two technologies?

A calculator is a device that performs arithmetic operations on numbers. The most common type of calculator is the electronic calculator, which uses a variety of input methods to perform operations on numbers whereas an abacus is a device that is used for counting. It is a frame with a number of beads or balls that are moved along the rods to count. The abacus is a manual device that is used for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

In this post, we will navigate through the basic differences between Abacus and Calculator and understand what science says about the two. 

Abacus vs calculator: Exploring uses

While the abacus is one popular tool that is versatile and easy to use, there are mainly two ways in which people use an abacus. 

  • The most popular one is to use it for mathematical calculations. 
  • Furthermore, people use the abacus to perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. 
  • Apart from this, this calculation tool is also used to calculate the square roots and cube roots. 
  • Interestingly, the abacus is often used to play games and host children’s activities too. 
  • People also use abacus to keep track of time. One popular way is to use the abacus to keep track of the days of the week. Another popular way is to use the abacus to keep track of the months of the year.

Calculators, on the other hand, have functions mostly related to mathematical operations.

  • The most basic calculator is the four-function calculator, which can perform basic arithmetic such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. 
  • A Scientific calculator usually has more buttons than a standard calculator, as it needs to be able to perform trigonometric functions, logarithms, sine/cosine, and exponential operations. The scientific calculator also usually has a larger display to view long equations and see more digits at a time.

Does one have an edge over the other?

A calculator can perform mathematical operations much faster than an abacus and can store data for later recall. A calculator can also handle more complex calculations than an abacus, making it a more versatile tool for students and professionals. 


Both abacus and calculators excel at performing mathematical calculations due to their historical background dating back millennia ago. However, most countries now use electronic calculating devices instead of old-fashioned counting boards and have replaced them worldwide anyway. Nonetheless, both old-fashioned counting boards and electronic calculating devices are useful tools for teaching math skills as they complement each other quite well when used correctly. 

Long-term benefits of the Abacus

An abacus is a manual device used for counting and has its own benefits

  1. Abacus equips one with the ability to manipulate numbers 
  2. It trains the user to develop better mental acuity
  3. It helps the user to have a sharper memory and focus 
  4. Provides faster calculation skills 
  5. The user learns memory-to-recall techniques
  6. Increased speed of calculation 
  7. It fosters a higher IQ
  8.  Improves Math knowledge and skill

Long-term benefits of Calculator

  1. Calculators help in developing spatial reasoning skills. For example, while using a graphing calculator one has to visualize the graph. This skill is useful in mathematics, engineering, and other STEM fields. 
  2. Calculators help in developing problem-solving skills. By trial and error, learners try to find solutions to various problems. This is often used by mathematicians and scientists. 

Abacus vs calculator: downsides

  • The abacus can be difficult to learn and master
  • It can be time-consuming to use an abacus for calculations
  • The abacus is not as widely used as other methods of calculation
  • It can be difficult to find an abacus when you need one
  • There is a limit to the amount of information that can be stored on an abacus

While the calculator is an excellent tool for estimation and computation, on the other hand, it also has some downsides.

  • It is important to remember that it can be difficult for people who have to learn disabilities or dyslexia to use calculators.
  • Repeated use by children can lead to a dependency where they may, later on, find it difficult to carry out even simple math operations. 
  • A student or individual can make mistakes, such as punching the wrong buttons, forgetting to change the mode, incorrect rounding up of values, and wrong methods of evaluating brackets.

Abacus vs Calculator: What does science recommend?

Research has suggested that children who have skilled in mental abacus have shown to exhibit great arithmetic abilities. Those children who have been taught abacus functions in their early years have enhanced non-symbolic number sense and skills. Abacus learning seems to build a solid foundation of mathematical aspects for children and makes mental math easier. 

Using a calculator on regular basis may inhibit basic skill acquisition for students. While performing basic processes like addition or subtraction using a calculator, children may get used to the convenience of a calculator which might take away their learning of those skills from them. The calculator can be of efficient use once the foundation to perform simple math is built. Its use makes more sense when long complex problems are to be solved in later stages of education such as derivations or integrations. 

Both- the abacus and a calculator are visual and kinesthetic tools, an abacus can teach concepts better and a calculator can solve problems of time and speed. They both have their effective uses in their own places. For enhanced learning, students should be introduced to abacus math and later on given the provision of calculators once their understanding of concepts is clear. 

In a challenge presented between the usage of abacus and calculator the abacus won by 4 points to 1 and therefore was believed to be more popular. 

Results showed that, with addition and subtraction, the abacus has an indisputable advantage over the calculating machine. Its advantages in the fields of multiplication and division, however, were not so decisively demonstrated.

Key differences

Although an abacus and calculator are both calculating tools that can perform major mathematical processes such as addition, multiplication, division, and subtraction, there are many differences between the two. 

InventionIs an ancient device and was made in 500 BC.Is a modern technology device made in 1967?
StructureMade of wood, rods, and beadsIt is an electric device made of plastic and other technical materials.
CharacteristicsDoes not have numbersHas numbers on the device
FunctionMostly performed counting, and simple processes on addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.Can perform complex processes like square roots, percentages, and so on.
Prevalence in the present timeHardly used in classrooms  or workplaces in today’s timeCommonly used in workplace and classrooms


The abacus and calculator are both mathematical devices and even though the abacus is not widely used in today’s time, it was quite successful in its own time. The abacus enhanced mental math abilities and even had a fine impact on memory. Given its major benefits, the use of the abacus faded away because times changed and new technology came to rise. 

The calculator is a modern device that is much easier and swift to maneuver. It performs all processes of mathematics smoothly and quickly and is preferred by most people. The abacus can help in the initial years of education of children to teach them the basics of mathematics and build a foundation for the same. However, with time its use will become redundant and children are more likely to shift to electronic calculators once they are capable of doing so. 

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