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April 15, 2021 Thursday 12:13:19 AM IST

X or Y? Learning is Beyond Getting the Equations Right!

Mathematics turns out to be a nightmare for many of us. Therefore, it is natural that we don't go beyond understanding the rudiments of the subject or learnt some theorems and its problems just to pass the examinations. Mathematics is about abstract thinking or raising hypothetical questions and answers. 

In the Trumphet of the Swan a delightful story for children by E B White, Sam Beaver, a 11 year old boy who goes on to explore the life of swans on his own, is asked by his teacher in 5th grade, a question in maths. "Sam, if a man can walk three miles in one hour, how many miles can he walk in four hours?"

"It would depend on how tired he got after the first hour," replied Sam much to the amusement of the class. The teacher Miss Annie Snug also thought Sam had a point. What if the man gets sick after the first hour of walk? 

Then the teacher turned to the girls and asked this question. "You are feeding a baby milk in a bottle and eight ounces is consumed in one feeding. How many ounces will the baby consume in two feedings?" Instead of 16, a girl Linda Staples said 15. Why? "We have to take into account the spilling through the sides of the cap!" 

Tuitions Market

If Mathematics is abstract so are many concepts in physics and chemistry which makes it tougher for many students to score good marks. Even experts in mathematics opine that it isn't easy for every one. Hence, the mushrooming of tuition centres. One news video being shared on whatsapp and other social media is about Byju's App lapping up Akash Educational Services that provides engineering and medical entrance coaching for $ 1 bn. Many people who concur with the idea that tuitions market in India is worth several billion dollars are sharing it aggressively to show that there is something wrong with our educational system.

That made me randomly check a video that Byju's App has created and stumbled upon a mathematics lesson for Class VIII titled Properties of Equality. All my life I had never mastered mathematics beyond the basics and narrowly passed the examinations in 10th standard and struggled with my statistics lessons in degree and post-graduation. Here was a Byju's video that taught the concept of equations with a simple balance. The two sides of a balance will be in equilibrium only when equal weights are there on both sides. If one unit is taken from left, the same has to be taken from right side too. Then the teacher goes on to explain with the example of an equation 2x + 5 = 10. What is the value of X? So here we have take away five from the left hand side and same from right hand side. This causes the equation to change to 2x= 5. Take away 2 from both sides by division and we get the answer X = 2.5. 

Playing the Game
This is one simple example of how through some innovative teaching methodolgies, Byju's App is getting such high valuation and investments from venture capital firms across the world. In a class of 30 or 40 a teacher, however, qualified may find it difficult to teach in an innovative manner either because the system never made them think out of the box and parents were willing to send students scoring less in maths or sciences for tuitions and those doing better to do even better and get full A+s. Even after ranks and marks were abolished, the schools, teachers, parents are all vying for their children to get A+s for all subjects. Marks continue to be an important criteria for admission to higher education courses in India and abroad. In the present system, every stakeholder wants to play the game 'intelligently' or according to the rules set by educational system or board and not according to a 'hypothetical ideal' as advocated by those who spread the Whatsapps messages on Bjju's acquisition of Akash Educational Services for a huge sum. And when it comes to the market place, when Akash is bought for $ 1 bn, it doesn't mean it  is worth that amount now but is based on their future growth, earnings and brand value. Sometimes such calculations can go wrong also. 

Despite the $50 bn valuation of Bjyu's App or any other educational app, it will not replace the teacher or the school. Such apps are only supplementary to education. Just as tuition centres never replaced schools. A school provides not only academic training but physical education, opportunities to hone talents in art, music, social activities, how to build relationships, problem solving and so on. Now the arrival of innovative apps, online learning resources may accelerate innovation in schools. That is the positive aspect of it. More importantly, we may have to teach children any topic with relevance to every day life.  As I understood the concept of equations from the Bjyu's App video four decades after completing school, I could as well find applications of balancing an equation in real life. A husband-wife are like two sides of a balance. If the relationship is imbalanced, it can only be corrected by removing some negative element in one and equally removing some other negative element from the other. Some times, it can be ego or suspicion, bad habit or discriminatory behaviour. Either side will have to take it away in equal measure to maintain the relationship in balance. A relationship gets strained when either party refuses to part with the negative traits It applies to friendships as well. 

Sreekumar Raghavan

Sreekumar Raghavan is an award-winning business journalist with over two and a half decades of experience in print, magazine and online journalism. A Google-certified Digital Marketing Professional, he specialises in content development for web, digital marketing and training, media relations and related areas. He is the recipient of MP Narayana Pillai Award for Journalism in 2001 and holds a bachelors degree in Economics and Masters Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Kerala University.





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