In December 2013, with the board exams approaching, a mathematics teacher from a government high school in Benara village of Punjab’s Sangrur district had a brainwave: organise a test for students of Class 9 and Class 10 of his school to spark interest in the subject.
The teacher, Devi Dyal, discussed the idea with counterparts from other schools and took the lead in organising a multiple choice test for students on December 22, the birth anniversary of the legendary mathematician S Ramanujan.
With help from the government, the first test in 2013-14 drew 1,002 students from 100 schools in the district. In 2017-18, the Ramanujan test drew 6,805 students from 405 government schools in Sangrur and Patiala. That test was held in 24 centres in the two districts, and was monitored by 500 teachers.
“In 2012, I started a monthly general knowledge test called Udaan, which was taken over by the government in 2013. Then I began to think of ways to make mathematics interesting. That’s when I decided to start a maths test on similar lines. It helped that I was already in touch with most schools for Udaan. This is how the journey to the Ramanujan test began,” Dyal, 45, said.
“The idea worked well, and in 2014, we included students from the middle classes as well. In 2015-16, we involved students from Classes 4 and 5, too. In 2018-19, we could not organise the exam as many teachers were involved in an agitation over changes in the regularisation of their employment. But we are all set to continue the test… this year, it will be held in November,” Dyal said.
According to local officials and teachers, the test has gone a long way in changing perceptions about maths being a “boring and difficult” subject.
“Dyal’s individual efforts have been very helpful in generating interest in mathematics among children, apart from making them competitive,” Devinder Singh Boha, project coordinator of Padho Punjab from the State Council of Education and Research Training (SCERT), said.
The participation fee in the test for each student is Rs 20. The top three in Classes 9 and 10 get Rs 5,100, Rs 3,100 and Rs 2,100 respectively in prize money; in the middle section, the prizes are Rs 3,100, Rs 2,100 and Rs 1,100; and in primary, Rs 2,100, Rs 1,100 and Rs 800. The top 21 get medals, too.
Harish Kumar, a maths teacher from the senior secondary school in Bhawanigarh who is part of this initiative, said the test is conducted in three slots — for classes 9 and 10, classes 6 to 8, and classes 4 and 5.
“The 90-minute test on OMR sheets involves 100 multiple choice questions each for the high school and middle sections, and 60 for the primary level. Each correct answer fetches 3 marks, but each wrong answer results in the loss of 1 mark. The questions are in Punjabi as most students of government schools are more comfortable in the language,” Prince Singla, Dyal’s colleague, said.
According to Dyal, the last test cost around Rs 3 lakh to conduct. “We collected around Rs 1.35 lakh in fees, and the balance was arranged through donations from teachers, industrialists, and donors in Sangrur and nearby areas. The Education Department helped us a lot by providing classrooms and other infrastructure,” he said.
The results, Dyal said, are heartening.
“In 2014-15, Sunny Kumar, a Class 10 student of a government school in Bhindra, topped a group scoring 228 out of 300. Sunny is the son of a migrant factory worker. Once the results came out, a coaching institute in Chandigarh provided him free coaching for Classes 11 and 12,” he said.
Kumar told The Sunday Express that the “maths test changed my life”.
“We hail from Bihar and my father still works in a factory. When I was in Class 10, I had no idea about my future. I was fond of mathematics and when I topped that test, the coaching institute took me to Chandigarh. Now, I am a third-year student pursuing B.Tech in Computer Science in Punjabi University, Patiala,” the 20-year-old said.
Amarjeet Singh, another topper, is the son of a farm labourer, and now in his final year in college.
Jaspreet Singh, who topped the last test, is a Class 11 student at a government school in Sangrur. “Our school hasn’t had a maths teacher since the previous teacher was transferred. I study with the help of the Internet, and approach retired teachers from our school for help. Maths has become such an interesting subject for me,” he said.
It’s not just the test, Dyal said. “We send practice sheets to schools and syllabus for competitive exams. We sourced the school syllabus to prepare a separate syllabus for the test. I am sure this has enhanced learning levels. Last month, I released a book in Punjabi with questions from previous tests, and additional questions. We are thinking of translating it into English,” Dyal said.
The initiative appears to have had an impact on teachers, too. This year, when the state government felicitated school teachers who ensured 100 per cent results in their subjects, there were 221 from Sangrur on the list — and 170 were maths teachers.