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The Daily Telegraph Story About MathsPOWER


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August 1, 2002


It is a well-worn science fiction cliche that in the future teachers may one day be replaced with computers.

As ridiculous as that idea seems one Sydney company is getting better results from students with a computer program than with a flesh and blood tutor.

Computer software company Back to the Future (BTF) Education says that the improvement they are getting from students using their mathematics tutoring program have stunned parents, schools and even the students themselves.

Anthony Tannous, head of BTF Education has been in the educational software field for almost ten years and was surprised by the struggle that children go through trying to tackle basic work.

As part of the service they offer they send out assessments for students to do to gauge their level of education and, he says, “It's quite surprising how poorly they do on them.”

He says that many of the parents are also surprised and are not fully aware of how badly their child is doing. “Yet it's not an indication of their ability” says Tannous “it's more an indication that they just haven't grasped that concept when they should have.

“And then they've moved on, and as you and I know, most of the work they do is ongoing, it builds on previous work. So if they miss out on anything in previous years then it only tends to get worse through school.”

After looking at the Board of Studies website he noticed that there was an increasing number of students doing lower level mathematics over the years. Tannous believes it is “Because they didn't have the confidence, understanding or the skills to handle anything harder.

“The results that we've been seeing have shown us that most children are pretty capable providing the appropriate help is given at the right time.”

He says that the reality of the education system is that the teachers have only a limited amount of time to teach a concept before they have to move on, but some children need just that bit of extra help or reinforcement.

Even those who do well in school generally only do so because they get extra tuition. The number of students needing that extra help, and parents seeking it, is increasing. Unfortunately for many parents the costs of tutoring put it out of their reach.

“For far too many parents tuition is not an option, it's too expensive.”
Even the range of other educational material available, usually distributed by direct selling, was prohibitively expensive.

Tannous looked around for a product to market to fill this gap but found nothing suitable, so instead he encouraged people he knew with the expertise to put together their own software.

Tannous got together with his wife Felicity Tannous (a primary school teacher), his brother-in-law Steve Dunn, a high school mathematics teacher and his colleague to provide “affordable help, that's not going to take up too much time for the child, that will give the sort of results the parents are looking for”.

The result was a series of high school mathematics programs that can provide two years of tuition for $400, each with an average of 200 lessons. At the moment there are programs for year 7 and 8, 9 and 10, and year 11 and 12 general, advanced and extension programs. The programs are relevant to other states and even for New Zealand and Papua New Guinea and there has been some interest from India and Britain.

The programs also deal with another problem with tutors in that they concentrate on reinforcement. At the prices tutors charge most parents can only afford a tutor to come in once a week.

But Tannous says “Most kids need reinforcement, if a child is learning something today that is not reinforced within 48 hours it generally gone.”

Students use the program three times a week and the lessons are reinforced. They can do them at their own pace and there are assessment sheets that come with the software to gauge a child's progress. Students watch the lesson until they get 90% on the assessment sheet. The only students who don't respond to the program are those who don't use it properly.

Tannous shows proof of some amazing results. Students moving from C grades to A grades, or improving their marks by 50% to 100%. Results that are verified by the parents and schools, some of which have taken an interest in the program.

Tannous says that the students get excited about using the program and need very little encouragement. For example he says that renowned youth worker Father Chris Riley from Youth Off the Streets uses the program with his students on the farm and have taken on a whole new attitude toward maths work.

Father Riley says that on one occasion one of his teacher's aids was starting a reading lesson and the students just wanted to do maths.

“These are kids who haven't been in school for years. So for them to complain about not doing maths is something unusual.”

For more information call Back to the Future Education on 1300 133 831 or visit the website at

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