Math is everywhere around us, whether we realize it or not. Every time we Google something, or order something online, or automatically get recommendations for products that we are looking for, there is Math at play behind the scenes. Google uses algebra to rank websites based on relevance, and all ecommerce and OTT platforms employ probability and statistics. Even understanding the spread of Covid-19 is a Math problem.
Math is an important life skill
It is important to realize and remember that there is much more to Math than what we learn in school. Math is more than arithmetic; it is computational thinking; it is data science. In a world that’s increasingly powered by data and artificial intelligence (AI), Math skills are more important than ever. If Math and English were the key skills of the 20th century, it can safely be said that Math and Coding and Data Sciences are the most relevant skills of the 21st century.
Every child today needs to have good, or at least reasonable, math skills to be relevant in the job landscape of the future, as many of the most valuable jobs in the coming decade will involve some level of mathematical thinking. Owing to the growing adoption of automation and artificial intelligence, old job roles are either evolving or giving way to new ones. Already, we are seeing that people who have mathematical and analytical skills are preferred over others for jobs in the spheres of data science, programming, and machine learning. Math, in today’s world is a superpower, and yet almost a “fundamental right”.
Math needs to be taught in the right manner
It is important that children’s exposure to math should happen right from kindergarten onward and with an approach I like to call “Math by Reasoning”.
When you think of multiplication, do you think of “tables” or do you register the fact that multiplication is nothing but repeated addition? It is a matter of deep concern that most kids in Grade Three don’t know that 12 x 4 is another way of expressing 4 x 12, but they know, singularly, that 12 x 4 = 48 and 4 x 12 = 48.
When math is taught visually, by distilling the core principles, it helps to establish the concept in the student’s mind, and they are then able to apply it in a new context. They see Math as a friendly, useful power and begin to love it.
Not all online classes and e-learning programs get it right
With the ongoing pandemic, parents are increasingly concerned about their children not being able to get quality education. Although online learning has become the new normal for many schools, being in an online class doesn’t mean that the child is actively learning. In most cases, the teacher is broadcasting a fixed curriculum for all students, and students are merely seeing it; they do not have the opportunity to grasp the concept or ask doubts. Videos reduce learning to highly passive watching. Rote learning has moved to watching, which is even worse.
Even outside school, most of the existing eLearning platforms are either free videos, or classes with thousands of students. The freedom to ask doubts in a judgement-free environment and the opportunity to practice under supervision are crucial to learning. However, pre-recorded videos, or even “live” videos, don’t really allow for students to interact with their teachers or with each other in a meaningful one-on-one manner. It has much the same joy as talking to a chat-bot. Even the teacher’s ability to stimulate the child’s thinking by creating meaning, wonder, and joy around the subject is limited in such a setting.
Math, when learned intuitively, becomes second nature
We need to steadily challenge the conventional way in which students have been taught Math and inculcate a strong base of skills such as coding, data analysis, and problem-solving, which matter in today’s world. Our world needs inventive thinkers who will work to solve the biggest problems we face today in every sphere of life – medicine, education, sanitation, environment, economy, and others. For this, the new-age pedagogy should focus more on helping students visualize and build their own mental models to understand concepts better.
Math should be learned like one learns a language – by visualizing the answer; by solving the problem intuitively rather than memorizing a bunch of formulae and applying them. Students learn better when they learn visually. There’s a way to visualize almost every Math concept, even the fact that the sum of the angles of a triangle is 180 degrees.
Learning Math is like learning to ride a bicycle, or swimming. It might seem difficult at first; one might even fall or flounder on some occasions. But, over time, you learn to do it intuitively. It then becomes something like a second nature and instills in you an inquisitive, problem-solving mindset. And that’s something worth trying for – a trait we should try and inculcate in our children as we prepare them for the future.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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