The aim of the study is to determine the extent to which secondary school learners are dependent on
using calculators for performing basic calculations and operations. The purpose of the study is to obtain
findings and conclusions that can be used to inform educators on the impact of learners' use of
calculators on their possible tertiary studies. The study also aims to add to the body of knowledge
regarding the use of calculators on secondary school level, in the South African situation in particular.
The study took place in Mpumalanga Province of South Africa. Three of the rural schools in
Thulamahashe circuit of Bohlabela district namely Orhovelani High School, Bombani High School and
Godide High School were selected to take part in the study. Grade 12 learners of these schools, a total of
183 learners, were involved in the study. A questionnaire was compiled from typical questions in Grade
8 to 10 school textbooks, chosen to cover a broad spectrum of basic calculations. These questions were
arranged in ten categories of four questions each, later reduced to three questions each after the pilot
study. The categories are: Addition and Subtraction, Multiplication, Fractions, Division, Mixed
calculations, Square roots, Substitution, Exponents, Trigonometry, and Powers of Primes.
Two groups of learners were selected at each school, one group allowed to use calculators (Group WC)
and the group (Group WO) not. The questionnaires were issued to both groups simultaneously during
the afternoon study period at each school to avoid disturbance of the normal running of the schools.
Data collected from the three schools were combined.
The analysis of the data is based on quantitative research methods. Student responses to the
questionnaire are analysed quantitatively using standard statistical techniques. Results of the two
groups are compared.
Results show that learners are dependent on calculators with respect to basic mathematical
calculations, and particularly so in the categories of Fractions, Division, Square Roots, Exponents and
Trigonometry. In the category of Addition and Subtraction and in the category of Multiplication traces of
dependency is evident in calculations with larger numbers. Learners lack knowledge and skills in the
categories of Exponents, Substitution and Powers of Primes. Even with calculators learners experience
problems in the categories of Fractions, Substitution, Exponents and Powers of Primes.