Learning Mathematics the new way

Manasi Saraf Joshi
Sunday, 30 June 2019

Renowned physicist late Stephen Hawkings had said in early 2000 that the next century will be Century of Complexity. His words have not proved otherwise.

Renowned physicist late Stephen Hawkings had said in early 2000 that the next century will be Century of Complexity. His words have not proved otherwise. The recent controversy of introducing a new method to learn the numbers in Maharashtra State Board standard II textbook was adequate enough to underline the fact the country really needs to improve upon its school education system and Mathematics as a subject per se.

State board curriculum which caters to a large number of students in the state was under fire from various quarters of the society after the board of curriculum council members of Balbharati (the one responsible for producing curriculum textbooks) introduced a new method of learning the numbers.

The new method (which is obviously in Marathi) was slightly based on a few of the Indian languages and English language. But instead of gel in the system, it created controversy.

Why Mathematics as a subject suffered a decline in India?
India invented the zero, but math is seen to have suffered due to various reasons. If globalisation was one among many, the real fall started after Independence when the Pure and Applied Mathematics were separated. However, Princeton University Professor and winner of Field’s Medal Manjul Bhargava feels that the decline was because of giving more importance to engineering, especially after Independence. And that was the reason IITs are at the pinnacle of engineering education in the country. Similarly, Mathematics is not taught in India as a subject itself but as a tool for engineering and an eventual engineering career. The focus on getting good marks eventually to get into revered institutes of learning and thereby having a hefty paying job kills the very interest in the subject. However, the reality is that math is a critically important skill for a person to feel competent and capable of interacting with and participating in society.

Systemic challenges
According to the proceedings of 12th International Indian Mathematical Society, the landscape of mathematics does not restrict only to teachers and students or comprehend the education system, but democratic modes of functioning, social and political aspirants of society too play an important role. Education in India is provided and controlled by three levels: the Central government in Delhi, the state governments and local sources (largely private). The linguistic and cultural diversity of the Indian subcontinent offers multiple ways of approaching mathematical experience.

Similarly, curricular and pedagogic processes are not locally shaped and the state educational authority is as remote as the Central government from the viewpoint of a school. While this enables curricular homogeneity, it tends to stifle local pedagogic ingenuity.

According to some Indian scholars, the central challenge of Indian education is dealing with the metaphorical triangle of ‘quantity, quality and equality’.

The major challenge
One of the major challenges before making the subject interesting at the elementary level was a failure in creating a pool of good mathematics teachers in the required numbers. 
An important agenda for mathematics education in India is research in mathematics education. University departments, while undertaking research in education, by their typical structure, tend to attract largely people who are neither mathematically trained nor thus inclined.

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