Very few students show interest in pursuing Mathematics courses in India. G. KRISHNAKUMAR looks at the status in the context of the International Congress on Mathematical Education in Seoul.
Attracting young talents to take up Mathematics education at the undergraduate level seems to be one of the major challenges in the country’s higher education sector today.
The issue will be part of the discussion on the ‘status and outlook of Mathematics Education in India’ to be held at the 12 International Congress on Mathematical Education (ICME) that began at Seoul on Sunday (July 8).
The Indian delegation comprising expert teachers will make a presentation on the ‘scope and challenges of Mathematics education’ in the country at the congress.
A report to be presented by the Indian delegation before Mathematics scholars from around the world pointed out that “a burgeoning urban middle class pushes its children towards degrees in technical education. On the other hand, there are a large number of students, especially in rural areas and small towns, who have little access to coaching shops that prepare students for medical and engineering education”.
Experts said that many of them are inquisitive, playful but find mathematics classes dull and boring. “Some of them show remarkable talent for mathematics, which often remains unacknowledged by teachers. Courses of study, instruction and evaluation process all encourage cramming and expertise in the art of passing examinations. Unfortunately this examination syndrome persists at graduate level as well. Teachers' own education is in the same milieu, and hence their ability to transcend these is questionable,” they said.
The report found that majority of the students at the tertiary level hail from semi-urban or rural areas and lack communication skills in English, leading to loss of confidence. Often this becomes an obstacle to realising their potential in Mathematics as well, it said.
Research found that there are about 400 universities and 18, 000 colleges (including engineering colleges and polytechnics) in the country, where the teaching and learning of mathematics takes place. Out of around two million students enrolled for undergraduate courses, about four lakh enrol for post-graduate courses. The estimated number of students pursuing post-graduation in mathematics is around 25, 000. The number of students pursuing pre-doctoral or doctoral research in mathematics is in the range of 800 to 1,000 and there are about 30,000 teachers working at the undergraduate or post-graduate levels.
The report said that no articulated framework sets out the parameters of undergraduate mathematics education unlike in the case of school education. It said that a central concern is that students understand the internal structure of mathematics well enough to not only engage with its vitality but also to relate it to other disciplines and society.
“This calls for an awareness of its history so that recent progress may be appreciated. This also implies achieving depth in some areas while obtaining a global view of all mathematics. The approach should also help achieve the ability to analyse, model and solve problems and the ability to communicate mathematics rigorously. An important societal goal of university mathematics education is the creation of a small pool of potential mathematics researchers and a larger one of mathematics teachers,” the report said.
Experts said that a classic statement, that curriculum goals are always set by persons other than those who are supposed to achieve them, comes readily to mind while perceiving the status of undergraduate mathematics education in India.
“The young adult learner has little or no say to construct her own view of mathematics, nor in which aspects of mathematics to seek depth. Tremendous rigidity in packaging content and little opportunity for students to explore applications across disciplines or outside the university (in industry or social contexts) limit learning, precisely when students are at just the right age for such exploration,” they said.
The report said that Mathematics education at the undergraduate level needs to cater to the needs of many different programmes in Science, Engineering, Commerce and Social Sciences. Understandably, the knowledge requirements of mathematics vary considerably for these programmes, but there is as yet no perceptible consensus on these differentiated needs, it said.
Stating that assessment plays an important role in guiding and helping teachers judge how well students have learnt a particular topic, the report observed that assessment of student learning in the country has been generally equated with assessment in the individual courses that make up the mathematics “major”.
“Rarely does one see assessment of basic skills that a student is expected to have, or an overall understanding of the core curriculum. It is rare to hear of a faculty sitting together across the sub-areas of mathematics to discuss modes of assessment in processes such as exercise of mathematical maturity, problem-solving ability, and ability to write and understand proofs, though they would consider these to be essential capacities for students,” it said.
The report said that the most alarming aspect related to assessment is “teaching to the test”, that is, faculty only aim to teach those aspects that can be assessed in written tests. Since performance in examinations is high stakes in India, critically affecting jobs or entry into higher education, students conspire in this as well, it said.