Opinion
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

Mathematics Education in India: Does It All Add Up?

By Duriya Aziz — July 15, 2015 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

How many times have you heard that the U.S. needs students who are good at math in order to produce more engineers and compete with those in India? Yet, as Duriya Aziz, Senior Vice President, International Education, Scholastic Inc., argues below, math is for more than just engineering. She outlines why and proposes ways to improve the overall quality of math education in India—suggestions that have applications in the United States as well.

Mathematics is not taught in India as a subject itself—it is taught to be a tool for engineering and an eventual engineering career. The focus is on getting good grades to get into revered institutes of learning. However, the reality is that math is a critically important skill for a person to feel competent and capable of interacting with and participating in society. The OECD’s new Survey of Adult Skills shows that poor mathematics skills severely limit people’s access to better-paying and more-rewarding jobs. Beyond that, it shows that people with strong skills in mathematics are also more likely to volunteer; see themselves as actors in, rather than as objects of, political processes; and are even more likely to trust others. Fairness, integrity and inclusiveness in public policy thus also hinge on the skills of citizens. In India, changes in the quality and quantity of mathematics education are critical to level the playing field and bring a move towards equality in social and ecomic opportunities available to all.

Quality versus Quantity
Defenders of the quality of education in India point to the large number of globally competitive Indians, while school leaders point to the large number of their students that make it to US colleges and universities. Yet, a 2008 Policy Research Paper points out that “for every ten top performers in the United States there are four in India” and “for every ten low performers in the United States there are two hundred in India.” The combination of India’s size and large variance in achievement give the perception that India is shining even as it is drowning.

What are some key areas that can be addressed urgently and immediately? The points made below are based on my observations and interactions with stakeholders in math education in India over the past five years or so.

Research in mathematics education

In order for mathematics education to be dynamic and responsive, robust research in mathematics education is urgently needed to look at global trends as well as local innovations and their systemic and systematic application and implementation.

Update textbooks
The textbook can serve as a manual for classroom instruction —indeed, when Singapore set off on its journey to reform mathematics education in the early 1980s, this was the path that it took. In an environment where pedagogical content knowledge of teachers is not something to be assumed, curriculum materials can play an important role in bringing a basic level of quality in instruction for the classroom and home.

Currently, Indian textbooks tend to be simply about showing an example, followed by a list of practice items. The emphasis thus is on procedure rather than concept. In order for students to become employable adults in a knoweldge-based economy, the objective of learning mathematics has to change from merely learning computation or solving template based problems to building conceptual understanding and procedural fluency so that learners approach problems with confidence and persevere in solving them. They must also be able to communicate and justify their solutions. These objectives can be achieved by creating stringent standards and guidelines for materials development.

Good mathematics teachers in the required numbers
Good mathematics teachers do exist in India. In fact, as I have conducted workshops on global best practices in mathematics in major cities in India, the one thing I have consistently noted is that mathematics teachers in India know their mathematics. Strangely enough, this is not an assumption we can make elsewhere in the world. However, these teachers usually teach at the top private schools and are too few in number. And, while they may have the required understanding of mathematics, they are lacking in pedagogical content knowledge. In resource-poor national schools, there is neither the required number of teachers, nor the knowledge base. Thus, new modes of teacher professional development are required. One solution is to deploy newly created course materials (as recommended above), first to re-train teachers in an approach that is grounded in developing deep conceptual understanding and makes problem solving the central objective of learning mathematics. Then afterward the materials can be introduced into classrooms.

Multiple stakeholders
The diversity and openness of the Indian education scene makes it possible for parties other that the national government to play a role in influencing and driving change. Non-profits and teacher institutes, as well as private teacher training colleges and universities, can play a leading role. In addition, the private education sector can drive change by leading the charge to embrace new ideas and ideologies in mathematics education.

The purpose of learning mathematics has to change from ensuring entry into engineering courses to developing the child’s intellectual capabilities to become better thinkers and effective problem solvers. This holds true not only for India, but also for students around the world.

Follow Scholastic India, Scholastic, Heather, and Asia Society on Twitter.

Photo of Indian students courtesy of Bruce Fuchs.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Reframing Behavior: Neuroscience-Based Practices for Positive Support
Reframing Behavior helps teachers see the “why” of behavior through a neuroscience lens and provides practices that fit into a school day.
Content provided by Crisis Prevention Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Math for All: Strategies for Inclusive Instruction and Student Success
Looking for ways to make math matter for all your students? Gain strategies that help them make the connection as well as the grade.
Content provided by NMSI

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness This East Coast District Brought a Hollywood-Quality Experience to Its Students
A unique collaboration between a Virginia school district and two television actors allows students to gain real-life filmmaking experience.
6 min read
Bethel High School films a production of Fear the Fog at Fort Monroe on June 21, 2023.
Students from Bethel High School in Hampton, Va., film "Fear the Fog"<i> </i>at Virginia's Fort Monroe on June 21, 2023. Students wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the film through a partnership between their district, Hampton City Schools, and two television actors that's designed to give them applied, entertainment industry experience.
Courtesy of Hampton City Schools
College & Workforce Readiness A FAFSA Calculation Error Could Delay College Aid Applications—Again
It's the latest blunder to upend the "Better FAFSA," as it was branded by the Education Department.
2 min read
Jesus Noyola, a sophomore attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, poses for a portrait in the Folsom Library on Feb. 13, 2024, in Troy, N.Y. A later-than-expected rollout of a revised Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FASFA, that schools use to compute financial aid, is resulting in students and their parents putting off college decisions. Noyola said he hasn’t been able to submit his FAFSA because of an error in the parent portion of the application. “It’s disappointing and so stressful since all these issues are taking forever to be resolved,” said Noyola, who receives grants and work-study to fund his education.
Jesus Noyola, a sophomore at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, stands in the university's library on Feb. 13, 2024, in Troy, N.Y. He's one of thousands of existing and incoming college students affected by a problem-plagued rollout of the revised Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FASFA, that schools use to compute financial aid. A series of delays and errors is resulting in students and their parents putting off college decisions.
Hans Pennink/AP
College & Workforce Readiness How Well Are Schools Preparing Students? Advanced Academics and World Languages, in 4 Charts
New federal data show big gaps in students' access to the challenging coursework and foreign languages they need for college.
2 min read
Conceptual illustration of people and voice bubbles.
Getty
College & Workforce Readiness Learning Loss May Cost Students Billions in Future Earnings. How Districts Are Responding
The board that annually administers NAEP warns that recent research paints a "dire" picture of the future for America's children.
6 min read
Illustration concept of hands holding binoculars and looking through to see a graph and arrow with money in background.
Liz Yap/Education Week and iStock/Getty