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Why Studying Mathematics Remains A Big Challenge

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International Mathematics Day: 2024

By: Dr.Reyaz Ahmad Ganaie

International Day of Mathematics, also known as Pi Day, is an annual celebration observed on March 14. The day is celebrated by mathematics enthusiasts and educators worldwide to recognise and appreciate the significance of mathematics in our lives. March 14 represents the value of Pi (3.14)- March is the third month of the year while the following number is 14; hence March 14 is celebrated as the International Mathematics Day. It is celebrated to recognise the mathematical constant, Pi, which defines the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.

The value of Pi was first calculated by a mathematician named Archimedes of Syracuse. It was later accepted by the scientific community when Leonhard Euler used the symbol of Pi in 1737. The day was recognised in 1988 by physicist Larry Shaw as he organised a large-scale celebration at the San Francisco Exploratorium in the United States. It was first celebrated by cutting a Pi-shaped pie, and the recitation of the value of pi to as many decimal places as possible.

In 2019, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in its 40th General Conference decided to observe Pi Day as International Mathematics Day. The day is celebrated by various schools, universities, and mathematics organisations globally with a unique theme with an aim of promoting mathematics education and awareness.

International Day of Mathematics is a project led by the International Mathematical Union, with a new theme every year. This year the theme of International Day of Mathematics 2024 is ‘Playing with Math’.

The day provides a perfect platform to spread awareness and explain mathematics’ essential role in the breakthroughs in science and technology. The day highlights the importance of mathematics in improving the quality of life, empowering women and girls, and contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda (Sustainable Development Goals-17) of the United Nations.

Significance:

Pi is an irrational and transcendental number, which means that its decimal representation never ends and never repeats. Since its exact value cannot be known, we can never find the exact area or circumference of a circle.

People in Egypt believed that the pyramids of Giza were built on the principles of pi. The ratio between the height of the pyramids and the perimeter of their base is the same as that between a circle’s radius and circumference. Pi is a fundamental constant which has been significant in performing calculations and Mathematics has been studied and used by scientists. The day also coincides with the birth anniversary of scientist Albert Einstein. Widely renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking also died on this day in 2018.

Challenges

Generally for students mathematics remains a big challenge. The negative perception of mathematics hinders children from learning. The general attitude of people towards mathematics is that it is altogether difficult and stressful. Children do not just wake up one day suddenly hating math. Their disliking for the subject is learned throughout their years of bad experiences with the subject. These factors contribute to giving the subject such a bad reputation among the students. However many fields like physics, engineering, and even biology are dependent on mathematics.

The Status of Jammu and Kashmir

The closest point to the origin, Jammu & Kashmir is the most distressed state when it comes to rural school education. That learning levels are declining for both language and mathematics has been reported by the National Achievement Survey (NAS) conducted in 2017 and 2021. The 2023 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) survey was conducted in 28 districts across 26 states, involving 34,745 children in the age group of 14-18 years.

One rural district was surveyed in each state, with the exception of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, where two rural districts were surveyed. More than half of 14- to 18-year-old children in rural India cannot solve a simple three-digit division problem that is usually taught in Class 3-4 and struggle with everyday skills, including determining time and doing basic calculations, shows the latest edition of the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). The findings point towards a huge skill deficit among adolescents, many of them are only a few years away from entering the job market.

According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2023 in Jammu and Kashmir’s district Anantnag just 35 per cent in the age group of 14 to 18 enrolled in schools can complete the arithmetic test in Mathematics.

Furthermore, the report indicates that overall, 53 per cent of students could calculate time, 54.8 per cent could measure the length (hard) when the starting point is moved, and 57.6 per cent could apply the unitary method for everyday calculations. Regarding practical tasks, the report states that in the Anantnag district, of those who could do at least subtraction in the ASER arithmetic test, 71.3 per cent could manage a budget, 45.6 per cent could apply a discount, and 13.6 percent could calculate repayment. It is noteworthy that males outperform females across most of these application-based tasks. So it is high time for all stakeholders to fill these learning gaps among the students at all levels.

Opportunities

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 accords the highest priority to achieving foundational literacy and numeracy among all children by 2025. The policy states that the rest of the policy will be relevant for students only if they attain basic literacy and numeracy skills at the right age. Recognising this, the New Education Policy has adopted a renewed emphasis on foundational literacy and numeracy. Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) in New Education Policy strives to equip learners with the fundamental skills essential to navigate an increasingly intricate and interconnected world.

Bacon has rightly said, “Neglect of mathematics works injury to all knowledge since he who is ignorant of it cannot know other sciences or things of the world”.

Mathematics is the cradle of all creations, without which the world cannot move an inch. The absolute knowledge and wisdom of God are revealed through mathematics. The laws of nature are the mathematical thoughts of God, from rainbows, rivers meadows, and shadows to spider webs, honeycombs, and the markings on animal coats, the visible world is full of patterns that can be described mathematically even the small snowflakes are the example of symmetry in nature.

Mathematics makes our life orderly, prevents chaos and develops the power of reasoning, creativity, abstract or spatial thinking, critical thinking, problem-solving ability, and even effective communication skills. One of the beauties of mathematics is that there is actually often more than one way to solve a problem. That is fortunate because it provides us a way to check our work. It is also the salvation of students taking a timed test who can’t remember one way to work a problem, but do remember an alternative way to arrive at an answer. However, one thing every student and parent acknowledges is that there are many opportunities for those who are good at Mathematics to have career opportunities in medical, engineering, and as chartered accountants. So there is nothing better than this.

Suggestions

  1. Continuous professional development ought to be introduced to keep educators abreast of the latest teaching methodologies and technological advancements. Teachers should be encouraged to integrate critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity into the curriculum, fostering holistic learning experiences.
  2. Mathematics should be taught through Activity-based learning that focuses the use of sense organs and learning should be based on doing some hands-on experiments and activities. The idea of activity-based learning is rooted in the common notion that children are active learners rather than passive recipients of information. If a child is provided the opportunity to explore his/her own and provided an optimum learning environment then the learning becomes joyful and long-lasting.
  3. Remedial classes should be started for students facing challenges in foundational literacy and numeracy. Peer learning and collaborative activities must be promoted to address individual learning gaps. Technology ought to be utilized for personalized learning, offering adaptive content to cater to diverse learning needs.
  4. Last but not least we should develop a good attitude and strong skills towards mathematics. Teachers and parents should take extra effort to develop strong skills and a good attitude towards mathematics.

Conclusion

The ASER 2023 report underscores pressing issues in India’s education system, and overcoming these challenges requires strategic interventions. The deficiency in basic mathematical skills is equally concerning. These revelations underscore the urgent need for a comprehensive overhaul of the educational framework to ensure a holistic and effective learning experience. So it’s the responsibility of teachers, parents, researchers, and psychologists to frame strategies that lead to the development of a positive attitude towards this mathematics. Apart from the above strategies, it is necessary that parents-child mathematical interaction should be improved. These changes could carry long-lasting consequences for children’s achievement in the subject and help them to reduce mathematical anxiety.

In today’s digital world, data sciences, statistical skills and mathematical applications are crucial for the employment market, which is faced with a shortage of these much-in-demand quantitative skills. Considering this, mathematical anxiety has become a problem of global interest. So the combined responsibility of educationists, policy makers, teachers, mathematicians, educational psychologists, and parents can help to reduce mathematical anxiety. Nowadays, the major chunk of the jobs is in information technology. To be successful in this field, a person needs to be a good student of mathematics. Working in the IT sector is not possible without Mathematics.

We have to appoint very promising Mathematics teachers in our schools and colleges, who not only love Mathematics but also teach Mathematics to their students with immense passion and love. Unfortunately a misconception has been created about this interesting subject. There is always an atmosphere of panic in our society regarding significant subjects like mathematics. A stereotype has been established that it is next to impossible to understand mathematics effortlessly. The new generation of our nation lacks interest and inclination towards mathematics. So the best way to celebrate the international mathematics day 2024 is that we should foster an environment among students to study mathematics so that they can excel in all fields of their lives.

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