As it’s rightly said – mathematics is what you make of it. Perhaps, mathematics is more of Arts than Science and the art lies in how skillfully an educator can teach the concepts of the subject to a student. If the teacher is good, students love mathematics; but if the teacher is lackadaisical, the students become scared of the subject.

Today, on December 22, mathematicians and students around the world are remembering the contribution of Srinivasa Ramanujan to the field of mathematics. The legendary Indian mathematician who was born on this date in 1887 and quite correctly, India marks its National Mathematics Day on his birth anniversary. It is a good day to remember his works, teach them to our young generation, and encourage students to make strides in the field of mathematics like the great Ramanujan himself.

To recall his feats, Ramanujan was one of the youngest members of Britain’s Royal Society and the first Indian to be elected a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge University. His contribution to mathematical analysis, infinite series, continued fractions and number theory was immense. Ramanujan is most popular for his contribution in analytical theory of numbers, elliptic functions, continued fractions, and infinite series.

According to government data, Ramanujan also discovered his own theorems and compiled as many as 3,900 results independently. Academicians across the globe agree that his theories transformed 20th century mathematics and continue to shape the subject in the 21st century.

Besides Ramanujan, our great land has produced several gems in the field of mathematics – including Satyendra Nath Bose, CR Rao, PC Mahalanobis, Shakuntala Devi, and the young Manjul Bhargava who is the first person of Indian origin to win a Fields Medal. And while Ramanujan was undoubtedly among the world’s greatest mathematicians in the 20th century, even in the years before him, India was always ahead of the world in mathematical inventions.

India’s tryst with the subject began in the ancient era itself. The discoveries relating to the times of the Indus Valley Civilization (that existed around 3000 BC) have confirmed practical applications of mathematics. For instance, excavations at Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro reveal that people manufactured bricks whose dimensions were in the proportion 4:2:1 and produced accurate weights in regular geometrical shapes.

Another Indian discovery, Vedic mathematics also flourished in India a little ahead of Indus valley Civilization. Vedic maths is hailed by the world for its contribution in solving mathematical arithmetics in an easier and faster way. The 16 sutras (formulae) and 13 sub-sutras (sub-formulae) laid down in Vedic Mathematics are instrumental in solving the problems of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, and conics.

Now cutting to the period between 400 AD and 1200 AD, Indian scholars like Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Bhaskara II, and Varahamihira transformed mathematics with their findings. It is a well-known fact that if it wasn’t for Aryabhata, the world wouldn’t have known the number ‘0’. He also gave the value of pi up to four decimals. Significantly, he was the first to calculate the number of days in a year.

Later on, Brahmagupta invented the Fibonacci identity and also discovered the first general formula for solving quadratic equations. He also tabulated the sine table as well as the Pythagorean Triples. Similarly, mathematician and astronomer Bhaskara (or Bhaskaracharya) was a pioneer in discovering calculus and an expert in arithmetic, algebra, the mathematics of planets and spheres. Not to forget, famous Jain philosopher Hemchandra worked with the cadences of length ‘n’ and described the Fibonacci sequence even before Fibonacci himself.

All young students in India must be aware of these brilliant minds and also keep in mind that their inventions were not just limited to academia but had real life implications as well.We all know the basic daily life uses of mathematics without which transacting any business would be unimaginable, to say the least. The calculation of value of a good (or service) and payments is an exercise that we all – be it literate, semi-literate, or even illiterate – undertake almost regularly without even realizing the significance of mathematical formulas in our life.

Going a step further, our economists, statisticians, and mathematicians make use of the different concepts of mathematics to ascertain growth of companies, shares, bonds, and even countries. Forget the tangible things; we are even able to measure intangible assets like goodwill of a company, happiness index of a country using mathematics.In more recent examples, epidemiologists were able to predict the peak of Covid-19 infection in places using sophisticated mathematical modeling. Similarly, the several successful launches by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in recent years has also been a testament to how mathematics can be put to the right use and change lives of people for better.

Mathematical analysis coupled with rocket science helped ISRO launch satellites that tell us about our surroundings, save us from our enemies, and alert us regarding any forthcoming natural or man-made disaster. Further, the usage of mathematics in areas of defence and business are also magnanimous.

The recently-introduced National Education Policy of 2020 lays special emphasis on mathematics, applied mathematics, and Vedic mathematics. The draft reads, “On the curricular side, there will be an increased focus on counting, arithmetic, and mathematical thinking – throughout the preparatory and middle school curriculum.” The draft further adds, “All efforts will be made in preparing high-quality bilingual textbooks and teaching-learning materials for mathematics.”

The introduction of coding in early years, as suggested in the NEP, will be the beginning of bringing mathematics to real life application during school years.

While these steps give the right nudge at introductory steps, the NEP also talks about encouraging students to take up mathematics at an advanced level. “It is recognized that mathematics and mathematical thinking will be very important for India’s future and India’s leadership role in the numerous upcoming fields and professions that will involve artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science, etc,” says the draft.

Young students often ask me – how will this topic of mathematics help them? And I tell them that each and every topic in mathematics is of great value in all walks of life. It is thus upon our educators to make sure that they teach students in a manner that they fell in love with the subject.

The NEP also acknowledges the role of pedagogy saying, “Capacities of teachers in the teaching of mathematics will be developed”.

At the risk of sounding panglossian, I would say India is poised to become the cradle of next-generation big inventions and mathematics is going to be at the root of these discoveries. Our country lost a few crucial years due to a few governments ignoring reforms in the education sector, but things look back on track with the NEP now. So, to every student, teacher, and guardian – make learning a celebration, not a compulsion; and love mathematics, I promise it will love you back.

– Abhishek Tandon

The writer is President, Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Delhi and PhD in Applied Mathematics. The views expressed are personal. (From IANS)