Real and faux maths

I refer to your special report ‘New maths learning fever sweeping India’ (EW February). While Summiya Yasmeen has dealt very well with the need to improve math learning in schools, she has mixed up the genuine (math labs, activities and games) approaches with quack (abacus-based) approaches.

Numbers computation is only a very small and insignificant part of mathematics. Real mathematical understanding is about visualising abstract arithmetical, algebraic and geometrical concepts and applying them to real life situations. Math labs, activities with materials and math games help students understand these concepts.

Abacus-based methods and Vedic mathematics only help students do computations faster by memorising certain short cut formulae without any understanding of underlying concepts. The real challenge of numerical computations in mathematics is ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘why’ to apply them. Abacus-based methods only teach the ‘how’. These skills are not directly useful in any sensible post-primary maths curriculum.

While it is to the credit of the entrepreneurial spirit of these so-called new maths learning organisations that they have cashed in on the mathematical ignorance of the masses, by no stretch of imagination can these companies be said to be promoting real mathematics learning.

S. Sundaram
Principal, Atul Vidyalaya

Secondary schools lacuna

Congratulations on your cover story ‘How to reap India’s demographic dividend’ (EW February). Your effort to map out an alternative pro-education and health budget is commendable. Your suggestion to cut defence spending, food, fertiliser, higher education and other non-merit subsidies to mobilise funding for investment in the social sector won’t go down well with the ubiquitous arms dealers in the national capital and India’s pampered middle class. The Indian middle class has become accustomed to free lunches, be it cheap cooking gas, water or higher education. Any effort to cut these subsidies will provoke widespread protests. Hence cutting middle class subsidies should be done in a gradual way.

Though you’ve done a good job suggesting resource mobilisation alternatives, I believe you’ve missed a very important segment of the education system. India has very few secondary schools, and with the success of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, the number of children entering secondary schools will quadruple in the next two years. The government must launch an unprecedented drive to build thousands of secondary schools to cater to this huge inflow of students.

Keshav Ganguly

In my resource allocation proposals I have suggested the construction of 603 Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (secondary) schools and 603 vocational (post class X) schools in fiscal 2007-08 — Editor

Path-breaking story

I want to congratulate you on the choice of cover story themes over the past few months — they are topical, well-researched and well-written. In particular the cover story titled ‘How to reap India’s demographic dividend’ (EW February) is path-breaking.

Dr. R. Natarajan on e-mail

(Dr. R. Natarajan is a former chairman of the All India Council for Technical Education — Editor)

Clean chit for Left Front

Your editorial titled ‘Taking the pain out of land acquisition’ (EW February) on the acquisition of agricultural land for Tata Motors by the Left Front government in West Bengal has prompted me to think about what can be done to ease the woes of farmers. First, a tribunal or committee should be set up to hear aggrieved farmers who should be encouraged to argue their case, so they get a fair deal. Secondly the Trinamool Congress and Krishi Jami Raksha, which represent Singur farmers, need to be invited to attend the hearings of the tribunal so they can ensure a fair deal for farmers.

However the Left Front government in West Bengal is doing much more than any other state government to ensure that the state’s farmers are not short-changed. It has already established a claims office in the area which has a transparent procedure. It has also set up a tribunal to adjudicate the land compensation demands of farmers. Quite clearly, strenuous efforts are being made to ensure a fair deal for farmers, 95 percent of whom have agreed to the land acquisition for the Tata Motors project in Singur. The agitation in Nandigram has been artificially created by the Trinamool Congress which has been repeatedly trounced in election after election by the CPM.

Suchitra Prabhu

For parental glory

The education news item ‘Great expectations tragedy’ (EW February) struck a chord within me, as I too have been a victim of trauma inflicted by parents and relatives who constantly pressurised me to score over 90 percent marks in every examination.

Though in most cases parental pressure does not to lead to death, many students are emotionally scarred for life by excessive parental pressure which breaks down a child’s self-esteem and self-worth and often even impedes the development of his/ her cognitive skills.

Little wonder that unable to cope with the demands of parents, young adults resort to extreme measures like suicide and drugs. But the case of young Biswadeep Bhattacharya, who was beaten to death by his father, makes one question the role of parents as protectors and nurturers.

Shweta Malhotra