Is 450 a prime number? The Math controversy in Maharashtra!

I am so good at Mathematics that I am 100% sure that the number after 449 is 450! But is 450 a prime number? Is 450 divisible by 3 or 5 or 7? What is the square root of 450? What is the nth root of 450? My first statement is 100% accurate, but after all these arguments, I am now uncertain how good I am at Maths. What is the meaning of being good at Maths? Is your aim in life to become Dr Mrs Naralikar or Dr Naralikar? If it is not so, then you do not need to know the answers to all these questions. Why do we need to learn any subject? Why are we introduced to so many subjects while we are students? I assume that the main idea is to make us a rounded personality. See, the aim is to round off; we do not need to know the figures in fractions or fourth decimal in real life. 450 is good enough in real life instead of 449.9999999… etc. Is 450 a Prime number is a rhetoric question!

Recently there has been a big discussion going on in the state of Maharashtra about the way numbers are spoken and pronounced in Marathi. Mathematics expert Dr Mangala Naralikar declared that by changing the way the numbers are currently pronounced, Mathematics as a subject would become easy to learn. Majority of people find Mathematics very tough and challenging to learn and understand. This difficulty can create problems in these people’s day to day lives as their skill sets may not be good enough to perform basic transactions in day to day life. QED!

Q.E.D. or QED (sometimes italicised) is an initialism of the Latin phrase “quod erat demonstrandum”, literally meaning “what was to be shown”. Traditionally, the abbreviation is placed at the end of a mathematical proof or philosophical argument to indicate that the evidence or argument is complete, therefore used with the meaning “thus it has been demonstrated”.

See the Mathematicians want to say “I am done with a problem”, but they make it complicated by using the term QED!

Maths1

People taking part in Maths Olympiad, people talking of Fourier transform, discussing algorithms among themselves is fine, but when they start talking about their expertise in a WhatsApp group of ordinary human beings, things become tricky. Is Math Olympiad winner a genius or Sachin Tendulkar? Who has achieved more? Is achievement in Cricket lesser than achievement in Maths? In the academic world, a lot of importance is given to people who are good at Maths. They are considered geniuses, super intelligent, and so on. Is being good at Maths so important in life? In our day to day world, too much emphasis is given to Maths. One writes excellent poems, or she is a fantastic singer. Is it not good enough? Are you dumb if you are not good at Maths?

Ok here is a disclaimer! I have done Master’s Degree in Engineering and have learnt a bit of complex Maths. Come on! How many engineers use Maths in their day to day work! In my school days, there was an emphasis on knowing number tables by heart. Smart ones were expected to know tables up to 30 and also the tables for 1/4, 1/2, 1 1/2. I remember an incident which happened ages back. We were in Dallas in an amusement park. We bought something to eat, and I had the US $7.38 ready to pay. When the girl completed her calculation, I paid the money. She was surprised and asked me if I were a genius. I just smiled. I felt as if I had conquered the Mount Everest! (Not exactly, some minor peak!)

Why is Maths challenging to learn? I can find so many reasons. Proper methods of teaching and good teachers are the most important ways of making Maths attractive. My daughter Priya had a teacher who mixed up between one million and one hundred thousand. Then students are afraid about answers; in Maths, these are either right or wrong. Because of this black and white clarity, the human gets a little worried because he is proven dead wrong.

Many researchers think that teaching to find out approximate value is one of the best ways of teaching maths. Using approximation teaches your brain to collate your eye observation and brain calculation. If there are 25 oranges in a tray, ask children to tell the number of oranges without counting. By observation, we start to understand how to visualise and then count.

Many things can go wrong while learning Maths. You may know the method, but you may not see the reason behind it. So any variation in the problem will create issues of understanding. You will start feeling that you are not good at maths. It can so happen that you have solved the problem correctly almost till the last step, but you make reading or writing error, and write minus instead of a plus sign! Examiner will give you zero marks! QED! You are not good at Maths! But it is not so, you only have made a small error in reading or writing!

Learning Maths is like putting the building blocks on top of each other. If the foundation is not right, then you will find it difficult at a later stage. What you learn in school, you should know even at a later stage in education. Some of us are required to use mathematical knowledge in the day to day work too! Knowing fundamentals is essential for such people.

Maths2

The slide above shows where Maths is used in different streams. While I was doing my Master’s degree in engineering, we had Prof Wartikar who taught us Maths. For three months, he explained to us why Maths is essential to understand engineering subjects properly. Till then, we just used to study and appear for Maths exams without understanding why we were doing it.

maths3

You don’t need things shown above in day to day living. To me, the fear of maths will go away if you have the right teacher to teach you. There is one crucial aspect, dyslexia.  People with Dyslexia find it very hard to learn maths for obvious reasons. One more critical point is that some people have the brain needed for Maths, and some don’t have the brains for Maths. These two extremes are not more than ten % of the population. But it is the rest 90 % of the people in between who face problems in Maths. What do we know in real life? Plus and Minus, a bit of multiplication and division. In real life, it does not matter if you take a minute more to count your notes.

What is the big noise about anyway? It is not that people do not count even with today’s method of pronouncing the numbers. With digital payments and computerised billings, you don’t count these days. The world has enough people who are quite comfortable with Maths, and they will perform the necessary tasks where complex maths is needed. Others are only users. It is ok if they find Maths difficult.

In all this episode, I saw a giant size ego coming into the picture. After some other experts created a big noise against the new method, the authorities declared that they would rethink about the original approach. Dr Mrs Naralikar proclaimed that if this happens, she will resign the post! Why? Can it be only my way or the highway?

Advertisements