Arresting Declining Interest In Numbers

New Delhi, January 27: | Updated: Jan 28 2003, 05:30am hrs
Theres no mistake about it. After the gruelling regime of Standard 10 school board exams, fewer and fewer Indian students are willing to push the boat out and continue studying Mathematics in the last two years of high school.

Instead, with the improved flexibility in choosing subjects in Std 11 and 12, students are beginning to believe that it makes more sense to leave Mathematics out of the loop, a subject they believe will serve little purpose to their post-school efforts.

Consider the example of schools in the Capital. A student who studies Mathematics (as compulsory) until Std 10, can now choose to study commerce without this subject in Std 11 and 12. Apart from that, theres a veritable smorgasbord of subjects to choose from -- sociology, business studies (a popular option), political science, geography, economics and civics. With the pressure of student outflow as a result of restrictive subject-choosing mechanisms, more schools have decided now to twist around and offer students what they want to study. At the receiving end is Mathematics -- what is probably a subject that has been given more sociological and practical importance than any other, in Indias educational community.

"I found Mathematics extremely difficult in Std 10, and though I am still undecided about what I want to do after school, I am quite sure that there is no point in doing Mathematics in Std 11 and 12," says a Std 11 student of the Delhi Public School (DPS), who has chosen to study commerce without Mathematics, adding, "I dont believe that I will remember any of the Mathematics I studied in school, and whatever basic material I need, I feel I got it 10 years back."

Few students will admit that the teaching of Mathematics in Indian schools is anything more than routine and monotonous. Would Mathematics student numbers increase if teaching of the subject was made more interesting and inspiring

"I certainly would give it a thought, though I dont see how much headway could be made with most students -- its an Indian mindset about Mathematics that needs to be worked on, and not just the way the subject is taught," says a Std 10 student from DPS who has decided to study arts next year.

Thats the key, most likely. To make mathematics, more, well, un-Mathematical. One company has decided to use the opportunity to revive an interest in Mathematics, and in one sense, it is not surprising. Casio of Japan, currently one of the worlds largest manufacturers of calculators has embarked on a campaign to interface with students and the teaching community across the country, ostensibly to reinvent and repackage the subject in the interest of the student.

Says Casio Indias chief manager of market planning, Kulbhushan Seth, "We are trying to see how we may contribute to making the teaching of Mathematics easier as well as stimulating the analytical skills of students through a proper understanding of the subject. The aim of the subject should be more in problem solving with an emphasis on interpretation of the results rather than mere mechanical calculations."

Speaking about a seminar titled Supporting Classrooms with Technology held at DPS in RK Puram in the Capital, Mr Seth says, "It is imperative that schools play an active role in our endeavour to bring about a change in the Mathematics syllabus to make it more contemporary as the learning tools for Mathematics are changing tremendously worldwide."

Barry Kissane, an educationist and mathematician from Australia was also involved with Casios programme, and is currently conducting workshops and giving talks in Delhi schools. "The workshops which interfaces with teachers puts it in a better position to respond to technology, the way it has been in Australia," says Mr Kissane, "For many people in India, there is a serious unfamiliarity with technology that can be used in the classroom, and a part of this exercise is to liberate a mindset -- phobia of technology." In a business sense, Casio has much to gain from increased study of Mathematics. Already in the bag are recommendations for the use of its popular calculator models, by the International Baccalaureate Organisation of Geneva and the Council for Indian School Certificate Examination

The logical conclusion to any drive would be the increase of students studying Mathematics after Std 10, and that would be confluent with Casios business interests as well. But as the DPS student says, there is a mindset that needs to be deconstructed and rebuilt.