Nepal | July 04, 2020

New high school curricula: They don’t add up

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It is about time the powers that be stop and consider the future of education of this country and refrain from making half-baked decisions that have grave implications on future generations of the country

As the much touted adage goes, the child is father of the man. How we nurture our children today will have implications on the entire society in the future. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to ensure that our cadres are prepared for the challenges of the future as their success and failure will reflect on our foresightedness. Modern means of transport and communications have turned the global village into a highly competitive and rapidly evolving market. In this scenario, the importance of a robust educational foundation becomes incredibly important.

Mathematics remains an inalienable part of modern day sciences, with its applications expanding to fields ranging from economics to epidemiology. Mathematics has been instrumental in uncovering the nature of physical reality, allowing quantitative empirical measurement of the physical quantities and to formulate relationships between them and accordingly make precise predictions. Mathematics has been described as the ‘queen of sciences’ by noted German physicist and mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and as the ‘language with which God has written the universe’ by Italian physicist and mathematician Galileo Galilee. Without a sound knowledge in mathematics a student will struggle to excel in physical and chemical sciences.

A good grasp of mathematics is, therefore, indispensible in understanding and studying the sciences that drive today’s innovations. Frankly speaking, mathematics as a science challenges, nourishes and elevates our intellect. And as the famous scientist Albert Einstein noted, ‘Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think’.

It is, therefore, with great sadness that we note that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and the Curriculum Development Centre have proposed a curriculum for grades 11 and 12 with the intention of overburdening the students with six subjects, of which three are compulsory.

Moreover, mathematics has been excluded as one of the subjects available in grade 11. This undermines the relationships that the physical or chemical sciences bear with mathematics.

The designers of the curriculum (so-called experts) would benefit from going through Einstein’s essay “On the method of theoretical physics”, where he has emphasised that science must begin and end with the experience of the world but that ‘the creative principles reside in mathematics’ and try to understand why the famous Swiss scientist Paul Dirac called ‘God a mathematician’.

So, expecting a student to be good in physics and chemistry (particularly physical chemistry) without mathematics is similar to expecting one to be a writer without good vocabulary and grammar or expecting a computer to work without a CPU. Such is the far reaching effect of mathematics that events ranging from budget allocation to interpretation of clinical pathology results are all dictated by statistical analyses. The high school years are a major milestone in any student’s life.

A SEE graduate should be accorded choices to pursue a wide range of career options with adequate support and counseling and should be able to select any stream based on their merit. We are at risk of curtailing the potential and creativity of individuals by narrowing the options they can pursue.

There is concern that these new changes will make the high school curriculum very cumbersome to navigate through and will ultimately see our students desert the HSEB for foreign boards such as the A levels and CBSE.

And this exodus would be entirely understandable. The flight of capital as a result of this notwithstanding, it will only accelerate the brain drain that our country has been plagued with for years.

It is about time the powers that be stop and consider the future of education of this country and refrain from making half-baked decisions that have grave implications on future generations of the country. Mathematics simply has no alternative. If we want our students to be able to compete with their peers in this global technocracy that we live in, the least we can do is provide them with a strong scientific and mathematical education.

As things stand today the educational curricula and delivery of school level mathematics in Nepal leave a lot to be desired. Both the numeracy skills and the grades of our students speak volumes of the current state of affairs.

This should prompt us to work towards improving the mathematics education in the country and not bury our heads in the sands and do away with the subject itself because facts do not cease to exist because we have chosen to ignore them.

The present curricula have proposed an additional subject aimed to acquaint the students with social knowledge and life skills. Mathematics follows a strict discipline and as aforementioned is practical in various fields.

Stated otherwise, mathematics fulfills the proposed objectives of the subject. On this basis, it is, therefore, reasonable to keep mathematics as an additional option to the subjects available to all the students. We implore our fellow academics and everyone else who is alarmed by these decisions of the ministry to air their misgivings and work with us in preventing this colossal mistake from being implemented.

Sharma is president, Nepal Mathematical Society

A version of this article appears in print on March 16, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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