As per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in January, only 25.3 per cent Class III student can attempt a two-digit subtraction while the percentage of Class II students who cannot recognise numbers up to nine has increased from 11.3 per cent in 2009 to 19.5 per cent in 2014. When Ashok Kamath, chairman of Bangalore-based, Akshara Foundation, came across these facts this January, he was shocked. Soon after he started a national campaign to draw attention to this “much-feared subject”. The result: a ‘make in India’ initiative by his foundation, called #MathinIndia.
A pan-India social awareness and advocacy project, #MathinIndia is a conversation-starter initiated to sensitise a larger audience on the issue of low mathematics learning levels among children in the country. For the project, Akshara has come up with a set of educational memes featuring popular Bollywood actors, whose most iconic dialogues have been tweaked to endear mathematics to students. One of them has Amitabh Bachchan boasting: “I can talk maths, I can walk maths, I can laugh maths, because maths is a very phunny subject”. The other shows Alok ‘Babuji’ Nath preaching: “Beta, maths se bhaagna sanskari nahi hai”. Similarly, Shah Rukh Khan announces that “Don’t underestimate the power of maths” while Shashi Kapoor claims that “Mere paas maths hai”.
Since Bollywood stars enjoy a mass appeal, says Kamath, he thought of using their iconic dialogues, social behaviour and cultural references to send across the message. The memes apart, Grammy-winner Ricky Kej has composed a math song in English and Kannada to popularise the subject. Akshara also runs a mathematics programme called Akshara Ganitha to aid the learning of the subject among government school students through various activities.
“Sports is fun, science is nerdy, mathematics is perceived to be tough,” observes Kamath, worried that the all India (rural) figures for basic arithmetic has not shown any improvement over the last few years. “Students can’t fathom what a dot below and a dot above a little horizontal line means even though they can neatly divide their entire class to form two competing cricket teams,” he notes referring to the fact that the ability to do division among Standard VIII students has been dropping since 2010.
Apart from capacity building and working on community-school relationship, Kamath hints at more innovative ways. “University of Illinois hosts a MoSAIC Math + Arts Festival (MoSAIC stands for Mathematics of Science, Art, Industry, and Culture). Berkeley and Columbia have held festivals to creatively activate centers of a child’s brain he/she wouldn’t usually associate with mathematics.” Kamath plans to connect with organisations working in the field of education and Teacher Training Institutes. Along with children book publisher Pratham Books, Akshara has come up with ‘Happy Math’ series that can be downloaded, shared and donated.