Monday, June 06, 2005

MATHEMAGIC

Mathematics is one subject that I dreaded the most when I was a student-in the schools and in the college also. The subject still gives shivers even in the month of June when the sun is burning the skin. Of course, a lot has be due to the kind of teachers and their method of teaching.


I shall start with the arithmetic problems that had to be solved or rather tackled at the school. There were some gems. Firstly, there was the one that related to cisterns and pipes. The problem could be like this- “it takes one pipe to fill the cistern one hour and the second pipe empties the same in two hours. Calculate the time taken by the first pipe to fill the cistern or the time taken by the second pipe to empty it”. The question was and still is why anyone would have such an arrangement! The second one relates to time and distance. It stated- “a monkey is climbing a greasy pole at two metres per minute and slips down one minute. Calculate the time taken by the monkey if the pole is thirty metres long.” What on earth made the monkey climb a greasy pole in the first place? Surely, such problems are monkey business.

At the high school it was the turn of algebra, trigonometry and coordinate geometry. The late teacher had a particular way of solving problems. His was a democratic method. He would ask us to make the choice between odd numbers and even numbers. Accordingly, he would solve the problems-i.e., write the solutions on the blackboard. The result was that our knowledge was basically restricted to the difference between odd and even numbers.

Worse was the experience in the college. A very experienced and senior Lecturer was really fast. He would divide the blackboard into three parts and each part contained a solution. He would want us to just look at the blackboard and copy the solutions. Surely, this is what is today called as multitasking in computer lingo! He was so fast that by the time we copied the second solution that the first one would be erased and the fourth solution was being written. No wonder most of us could not make any heads or tails of the subject.

After all these years of having observed the teaching of mathematics in the schools and the colleges, I have arrived at a conclusion. Most of the teachers involved in mathematics are only in search of tuitions-private coaching-generally at their homes. That is the reason why they don’t teach in the schools or the colleges. At the college level in the higher classes involving the Degree (graduate) students many spend their time in explaining the different theorems. Some of them take pain to tell about the life and times of the famous mathematicians. Things are just flying away off the tangent!

In recent times a new and a different thing has been observed. In the name of making the students informed about the computers, several changes have been made in the syllabus. What takes the beating is that the students opting for Mathematics honours course are taught things like Basic and FORTRAN. Worse is that all this is done even without the students having seen the computer once. It is all in the mind! The teachers are also not in the possession of any qualification in the teaching of these things. In the Engineering colleges-the private variety-the situation is even worse. Faculties who have just post graduation degrees in mathematics are not hesitant to take up the challenge of teaching advanced computer courses. No wonder, the students are unable to cope up with the syllabi are forced to take up coaching in private computer institutes. Clearly, it is a win-win situation for everyone. The students get engineering degrees and the teachers take their moments in the sun as computer experts. Newton and Liebeintz might be turning in their graves.

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