Mast Kalandar

bandar's colander of random jamun aur aam

Mon, 13 Aug 2001

Vedic Mathematics for Schools?

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A brief summary of the reasons for my opposition to the
introduction of Vedic Mathematics in the school curriculum.
(In addition to the points already made in the joint statement
with many others).

The purpose of the maths curriculum in school education can be spelt
out as follows. At the practical level students should learn the
basics of arithmetic, algebra and geometry. More conceptually, the
students should be able to recognise symmetry and pattern and
construct examples of these. They should also learn to analyse
constructions made by others logically and critically. When I tell you
6 times 8 is 48 this should bring up a mental image by which you
convince yourself that this is correct---it is certainly *not* my
authority as a mathematician that should convince you!

Does the so-called Vedic Mathematics address any of these issues? In a
nutshell---no. The so-called method in Vedic Mathematics is a
collection of computational tricks. Moreover, these tricks are not
algorithms or recipes since numerous exceptions prevent them from being
applied uniformly. The only teaching method mentioned in texts on
Vedic Mathematics is the memorisation of some "shlokas". This is quite
contrary to getting students to see the symmetry for themselves. Finally,
with the emphasis on the "Vedas", there is an appeal to authority
which entirely negates the need to learn logic as a tool for critical
thinking. But for the name "Vedic Mathematics" no one would have looked
at this material even once.

The very fact that people from India are in demand in the software
industry---very definitely a mathematical-skill based industry, shows
that our syllabus is reasonably adequate. It is the
"Who? How? Where?" that causes problems in school education. Mathematics
(like other school subjects) needs to be taught by better-paid,
better-motivated and better-equipped teachers and schools. It is these
aspects that the government should be addressing.

Syllabus-making bodies naturally feel that their job is to improve the
syllabus. However, every such change should be done in consultation
with the best people in the discipline not just those in education and
government. In this case the oft-published views of eminent mathematicians
(such as those in the National Board for Higher Mathematics) have been
entirely ignored.

Decline in the mathematical skills of the common people will be the
*only* consequence of the introduction of Vedic Mathematics.


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