Prime Minister Manmohan Singh favours popularising mathematics as an academic discipline, saying the general perception that the subject does not offer attractive career possibilities is no more valid as new opportunities are now available to mathematicians.
Dr. Singh was inaugurating the yearlong celebrations of the 125th birth anniversary of mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan here on Monday by declaring December 22, Ramanujan's birthday, the National Mathematics Day and 2012 the National Mathematics Year.
The Prime Minister reminded parents and students that mathematics was “the mother science,” which was also influencing the study of social sciences in a big way.
However, he regretted that the country did not have enough competent mathematicians. “It is a matter of concern that for a country of our size, the number of competent mathematicians we have is badly inadequate. Over more than the last there decades, many of our young men and women with natural ability in mathematics have not pursued the discipline at advanced levels.” This resulted in a decline in the quality of maths teachers in schools and colleges.
Dr. Singh said the perception that mathematics did not provide attractive career options might have been valid until some years ago, “but, today, there are many new career opportunities… and the teaching profession itself has become much more attractive in recent years.” The mathematical community had a duty to address the shortage of top quality mathematicians in the country and must reach out to the public, especially in the modern context wherein mathematics had a tremendous influence on every kind of human endeavour.
“Mathematics has also influenced the study of social sciences in a big way. Students, parents and people at large need to be aware of these facts so that the study of mathematics as an academic discipline gains [in] popularity,” he said.
Ramanujan came from an economically disadvantaged background and had but minimal training in mathematics, yet his genius overcame formidable difficulties to reach the pinnacle of greatness, he pointed out.
“The Ramanujan story illustrates the inadequacy of the university evaluation system in the early decades, while at the same time it shows that the system displayed enough flexibility to take care of mavericks like him. A genius like Ramanujan would shine bright even in the most adverse of circumstances, but we should be geared to encourage and nurture good talent which may not be of the same calibre as Ramanujan.”
Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, who is also the chair of the national committee that is organising the celebrations, quoted from the correspondence between Ramanujan and Cambridge mathematician G.H. Hardy, in which Ramanujan admits to not having a conventional university education and describes himself as a “half-starving man.”
The correspondence demonstrated the fact that it was not necessary to follow a regular university course to realise one's genius and that there were discoveries to be made beyond formal education. It also showed that students should be encouraged to strike a new path for themselves and that “the genius in many of our young minds may never be recognised because of extreme poverty,” Mr. Sibal said.
Dr. Singh released a commemorative stamp on the occasion.
Ramanujan's biographer Robert Kanigel was honoured by Tamil Nadu Governor K. Rosaiah.
Union Ministers G.K. Vasan, V. Narayanasamy and Jayanthi Natarajan and Tamil Nadu Higher Education Minister P. Palaniappan were present. Vice-chair of the national committee M.S. Raghunathan outlined the programmes planned for the next one year as part of the celebrations.
Delhi University Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh proposed a vote of thanks.