Americans look at a place like India and get math envy. After all, the Indian computer scientists and engineers that have made outsourcing such a big business must mean the country’s math education is strong.
Indeed, in tests like the GMAT, which is used by business schools to vet students, India’s scores are in the top 10 on the math sections, while the U.S. is below average. India also was home to Srinivasa Ramanujan, a fabled name amongst mathematicians. And one of the world’s top mathematicians is Srinivasa Varadhan, an Indian who has lived and worked in the U.S. for most of his adult life.
But in a Q&A with The Hindu, P.V. Arunachalam, author of 35 books on mathematics and the vice chancellor of India’s Dravidian University, said that Indian students and their parents were “math phobic.”
Ironically, he blamed the rise of technology-related fields as the problem. He said those fields siphon off the best mathematics students, something he called a global problem for mathematics. He told The Hindu that “I have seen a similar phenomenon in U.S. and U.K. too. Good job opportunities in IT sector have weaned away talented students from basic science.”
He says that in India, it has meant math is now taught by people who are less gifted, creating a “vicious cycle” of math mediocrity.
Arunachalam thinks India should adopt Western innovations like mathematics labs and better use of technology in teaching. Varadhan said earlier this year that India’s education system is not flexible enough.
In the U.S., meanwhile, there is a shortage of math teachers, though at least one study suggests that the problem is that math teachers leave teaching more quickly than is typical.
What’s your thought on India’s math anxiety?