National Mathematics Day: Avoiding numbers is seldom an option

Published: December 23, 2019 12:53:17 AM

A strong mathematical foundation is the key to an individual being able to upskill or reskill.

maths, mathematicsNo matter what the root cause of the fear is, it’s never too late to overcome it.

By Divya Gokulnath

Mathematics is often viewed as a complex and ‘non-relatable’ subject. The pressure to perform and the general perception that maths is difficult makes approaching the subject an anxious experience. What we don’t realise, however, is that the fear of maths can end up blocking a lot of promising opportunities, and make one feel like this subject isn’t their cup of tea. This can have detrimental effects in the long run, since almost every aspect of our life requires some level of interaction with numbers. With the National Mathematics Day (December 22) marking the birth anniversary of the fearless mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (who had little formal training and yet made breakthroughs in the subject), it’s time to look at how the seed of maths fear is sown and what roots does it grow in the adulthood.

How maths is taught

The root cause of an irrational fear of maths lies in the way it is taught, often in an abstract manner with no linkage to real-life examples; students are unable to truly understand the ‘what’ and the ‘why’. To cope, rote-learning formulae and shortcuts become the go-to method to study. This is where the fear of maths first sets in.

Mathematics is a highly visual subject, and the evidence of every theory and formula we learn exists all around us. Therefore, when mathematical concepts are made relatable, students not just learn better, but also understand the beauty and impact of the subject. If students don’t have the confidence that they have understood the concepts, it becomes difficult for them to show confidence while applying the concepts too.

External pressure

Families and institutions often put a lot of onus on students performing well at maths without understanding that understanding the subject is what results in better performance. This creates pressure on students that can eventually develop into an aversion towards it. Students tend to resort to short-term memory-based approaches because of fear of exams, instead of understanding the underlying concepts. Poor performance in examinations can lead students to believe that they just aren’t good at handling numbers. This is a huge loss of potential as the reality is that every single student can excel at maths if they’re given the right approach in an encouraging atmosphere.

Implications in the adulthood

An aversion to maths that starts in the childhood can have effects on key areas in the adulthood as well. In today’s time, a strong mathematical foundation is the key to an individual being able to upskill or reskill. While technical mathematical formulae may not be the need of the hour for every occupation, being comfortable with using numbers for decision-making has become crucial to progressing in one’s career. Mathematics is basically a method to solve problems, and a strong conceptual understanding of the subject will make any individual both a better critical thinker and a problem solver. Outside of work, successfully managing personal finances is also reliant on carefully judging and juggling numbers. Whether it is taxation, investment opportunities, or home budget, avoiding numbers in the adulthood is seldom an option.

No matter what the root cause of the fear is, it’s never too late to overcome it. Maths is a life skill, and like every other skill, it can be developed and honed at any time. A fresh approach of looking at the everyday impact of numbers can help make the learning process easier. If maths is looked at with an open mind, it can help solve a variety of problems with logic and clarity—a useful skill to have in the game of life.

The author is co-founder, Byju’s

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