Over half of second-year students flunk math exam; teachers say this is a growing problem

This year, nearly 60 per cent of second-year Anna University students have failed in the mathematics paper in their third semester.

“In a class of 75 in electronics and communications engineering (ECE), nearly 50 have arrears in mathematics and this is supposed to be the brightest class, as many of the students were toppers in the class XII board exams,” says a third-year ECE student of the College of Engineering, Guindy.

The situation is not very different in electrical, mechanical, bio-medical and other fields of engineering.

“In June, when the class had a poor pass percentage, the university took steps to look into the issue. Faculty members were immediately changed and we were allotted experienced professors, instead of lecturers,” says another student. “But many of these professors too refrain from taking classes,” he adds.

Students say this year, the mathematics paper M3, which mostly focuses on integral calculus, differentiation and integration, had questions other than solved illustrations, which was unexpected. “We have a reference book with solved illustrations. Beyond that, we practise problems that repeatedly crop up in previous years’ questions papers,” says a student. “This time, however, nothing like that was in the paper,” he said.

While admitting this is a serious and growing problem, teachers and students blame it on different things.

Students say teachers avoid solving tough questions in classrooms, while teachers blame it on lack of time. “There are six subjects in a semester of three months. In barely 60 hours of teaching, we are expected to finish an extensive syllabus. Most students are not strong in the fundamentals of the subject and so it is impossible to start from scratch,” said a lecturer who teaches mathematics to first-year students.

“There are at least 20 students in the class who have scored a centum in their class XII maths exam, but only about three of them secured above 70 per cent in the mathematics exam here. Many have failed too,” she added.

The problem begins as soon as the student enters college, say teachers. For instance, last week, first-year students of colleges affiliated to Anna University attempted the mathematics paper, which according to many of them, was ‘very tough’.

“All the usual eight-mark questions were only for two marks in the paper. There were also typographical errors that confused students,” said a first-year engineering student of a private college.

N. Balachandran, former professor, Anna University, says the inability of engineering students to cope with mathematics in the college curriculum has always existed but has worsened over the years.

“Engineering mathematics has to do with application. Most students are not ready for that because they way they approach mathematics in school is very text-book oriented. That does not work in college,” he said. “Students seldom take an interest in mathematics. Few go to the library, borrow books and try out sums on their own. For most, it is a subject to be done away with as soon as possible,” he added.

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