Part 1 Primary Impressions

Dated: 11th Sep, 2016

Mephistopheles, while introducing himself to Faustus says, “   I am the part of that whole which wants to do good but does evil.” Something similar has happened with the subject of mathematics. A very simple discipline has been made very difficult. I have met with many students in schools and all feel harassed by mathematics.  Grasping simple concepts and learning basic calculating skills, even in cities has become tough. In the rural areas the situation is grimmer. The quasi literate teachers are teaching first or second generation education seekers. And when a 5th grade student can’t do an addition or a subtraction question, the media makes a mockery of the system.

Languages are the only platforms which convey information- education- to the students. So language and information are two different concepts. Before we can convey information, we have to teach the languages. Educationists are of the opinion that by languages they mean Hindi, English, Urdu, French etc in which the information can be conveyed to the students. Least do they understand that every discipline has a definite language or vocabulary and without learning that language no student can make progress. The languages let me call them by a more appropriate term- the dialects, are different for different subjects. So when doctors talk among themselves they can understand each other well but can’t make anything about what the economists are telling each other on the other table. And a student of art can make nothing out of the clatter going on around him.

The English language is easier than language of the English literature. Physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, bio-chemistry and other disciplines, differ in the idiom of the language because concepts in each case are associated with a distinct vocabulary. Mathematics also has a distinct language and without learning such a language how can a primary student be asked to solve descriptive questions. At higher stages descriptive variety vanishes and monotony takes over. But at stage one the math philosopher asks: If mummy bought 6 mangos and papa bought 11 mangos how many mangos arrived in the house? The student gets lost in the scenario and loses the count. But if I tell him/her 6+11=?, the answer offered will be correct.

Now why is such an approach followed in mathematics at the primary level?

If we go by the quantity of information which this subject conveys, is frugal. In case we keep the portion called geometry away from this discipline the subject shrinks in size. There are four basic calculating skills which once learnt lay the foundation for introducing the grocery mathematics called arithmetic at the primary level. But the mathematicians are yet define the basic skills technically. Therefore the field is quite open for everybody to force feed personal ideas to the budding students. It is here that scope for producing high valued, so called conceptual math books for primary students becomes available for commercial gains. These use and throw books are introduced in the upscale public schools initially. Later on these books are introduced, on the sly, in the schools erected to cater to the needs of the middle class. Educating every child is the task set by the governments. The investment made by both the governments as well as the parents is huge at the initial level. Apart from the usual outlay, Sarva Shikhsha Abhiyan spent Rs. 1,15,625 crores spent during last 5 years. The result is before us. Where has all the money gone?

In order to make a small subject look big the information is conveyed through parables and riddles. The 1st five years are lost in this way. The students become apprehensive and lose their confidence because every question becomes a test for them. Math evaluates the worth of students instantaneously- continuously. Math phobia sets in necessarily!

I have found that there is hardly any concept in arithmetic which can’t be taught in the field of geometry. So unitary method, ratio and proportion, fractions, profit and loss and other applied portions can be taught geometrically. Since geometry is an activity based subject as well as a (visual) art can command more respect from the students. Once introduced the students can see visually how the numbers move. But this discipline is discouraged for obvious reasons.

What makes the students, especially in the villages to dropout at the primary levels?

The villain is the mathematics! Layer upon layer of deception and sabotage have been woven over the last century, like a bee hive to make a very humble and beautiful subject look like a monster. This monster frightens young students till the breakdown stage arrives. The primary student leaves the school. He matures overnight on the streets. No, my dear student! You are not to be blamed when you select a wrong path. We are responsible! Listen to me! Take Care! Take Care!

The green desert, enchanted pool tricked them
O God! It wasn’t fair, not fair
To snatch their share of wisdom
And wed them to despair.
In my land-rare, superior
Plenty made me poor!
Take care my child!
The feet approaching are familiar
Take care, take care!

The earth’s wounds are gaping holes
Ready to swallow permanently
History’s harvest, vomit doles
Undignified leisure, sad satire
Take care, take care!

The rising rain is pain adrift
To fill the river of thirst and lift
Pangs of hunger-universal
Same bread, same primordial moment
Expands for ever like a sphere
My past fills your future
Take care, take care!

The cushions of my speech rival
The canines of my pen, her tongue
In freezing fear entwined my frame
And helpless courage creeps to fog
A sheet of paper, a drop of tear
Take care my child!
The feet approaching are familiar
Take care! Take care!