On the road to make math fun

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By MITA MUKHERJEE
  • Published 25.06.12
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An army major who quit to become a mathematics teacher has embarked on a self-funded tour of the country to promote the subject.

Madanlal Baldevraj Ghai, 70, stayed in a dormitory at Howrah station to keep costs down during the three days he spent in Calcutta recently, meeting officials of the primary and secondary board and the school education department to offer suggestions on how to make the study of mathematics more interesting.

“India has produced brilliant mathematicians not just in the Vedic and medieval ages but also in modern times. Unfortunately, for quite a few years, not many students have been pursuing the subject at the higher level, which has resulted in a decline in the number of top-quality mathematicians,” the former teacher at PMN College in Rajpura, Punjab, told Metro.

“We, the elderly mathematics teachers, need to reach out to students and guardians in every corner of the country to dispel the misconception that mathematics is dry and boring,” added Ghai, who has an MPhil in the subject and is pursuing his PhD at Punjabi University, Patiala.

His 50-day tour was also prompted by the Prime Minister declaring 2012 as the year of mathematics as a tribute to Srinivasa Ramanujan, the autodidact mathematician who died in 1920 at the age of 32.

Ghai visited Kanpur and Bhopal before Calcutta and plans to cover Visakhapatnam, Raipur, Surat, Jaipur, Delhi, Noida and Kurukshetra before returning home to Patiala.

His wife, two engineer sons and doctor daughter support his mission, even though they worry about him backpacking alone across the country at his age and putting up in spartan lodgings.

But Ghai is used to making difficult choices and going it alone. In 1972, he had left the army because he did not like the “defence policies” and returned to his first love, mathematics. Two years ago, he toured the country for the first time to popularise Vedic math.

This time, the goal is to help make math lessons fun. “The policy makers should understand that for students to develop an interest in the subject, the syllabuses need to be reduced and the teaching techniques made enjoyable,” said Ghai.

His prescription? “Students between classes VI and XII should be taught the subject with practical examples, whereas mathematics teaching from the undergraduate level should be entirely research-based.”

Modest successes keep him going. The Punjab government “agreed” to his suggestion of allotting 25 per cent marks to practical math in school. In Bengal, an official promised to examine his suggestions.