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Maths is back in the reckoning

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With international conferences taking place and dedicated institutes coming up, the future of studying Mathematics in India are looking brighter, writes LIFFY THOMAS

Fresh start: The International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM 2010) saw Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand playing chess simultaneously with over 40 mathematicians. Efforts like these, experts believe, would create an environment that would renew students interest in mathematics. — Photo: P.V. Sivakumar
Fresh start: The International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM 2010) saw Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand playing chess simultaneously with over 40 mathematicians. Efforts like these, experts believe, would create an environment that would renew students interest in mathematics. — Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

Things slowly seem to be looking up for careers in Mathematics in India.

Not that its prospects were any less all these years, but a number of factors contributed to the dwindling interest in the subject among youngsters. Some of them being poor interest and fear among students to pursue the subject beyond Class XII or under graduate studies, inadequate number of qualified and experienced teachers, little awareness on the research prospects and the application of Mathematics in almost every field and parental pressure.

Some mathematicians would like to believe that India playing host to the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM 2010), held in Hyderabad in August, was one step to create awareness. The Congress was certainly a great opportunity for participants to see some of the best practices followed in other nations as well as learn about the levels one can reach.

In September, Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay and the Tata institute of Fundamental Research signed an MoU to set up the country's first National Centre for Mathematics (NCM), which is to come up at the IIT-B campus in a couple of years.

The centre is modelled on Oberwolfach Mathematics Research Institute in Germany — one of the world's oldest research centres in mathematics. The main focus of NCM is to increase the quality of Ph.Ds, where short-term programmes would be conducted for research scholars.

New developments

According to J.K. Verma, professor at IIT Bombay's department of mathematics, with the government expanding higher education with eight new IITs and 14 new universities coming up, at least 25 new departments of mathematics are in the process of getting formed. “The requirement is huge but the supply is less and quality poor. We need to take into account that every new university department would need 30 faculty members,” says Mr. Verma. “At IIT-Bombay, the sanctioned strength is 60 but we are only 32, there are so many vacancies in every IIT.”

It is a similar plight in a majority of arts and science colleges in Chennai. R. Balasubramanian, Director, The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, also agrees. “In Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), in every department, including maths, there is a shortage of mathematicians,” he says.

Lack of teachers

But, is it justified to have more institutions coming up with no talent to teach? R. Ramanujam, mathematics professor, feels it is possible to get more youngsters to enter the field, provided one identifies and nurtures them. “In that case, the proposed number of IITs is inadequate,” he says.

Talking about the how countries such as Russia and Singapore have tapped its talent either by grooming students at the higher education or at the school level itself, Prof. Ramanujam says that India has to invest in mathematics at the basic level.

Or be innovative at the higher level. “A university in the Netherlands recently started a programme in M.Sc. Maths with specialisation in education. This would only help produce good maths teachers, which is the biggest challenge we have to rise to,” he adds. Mathematicians say only some students want to pursue master's or take up research after undergraduate studies and the few who join have “poor stuff” in them.

In September, IIT-Bombay and the TIFR signed an MoU to set up the country's first National Centre for Mathematics (NCM)


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