A study carried out jointly by the Union Ministry of Education and the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) between March 23-26 last year estimates that 11% of Class 3 kids lack basic maths skills and 37% have only limited skills. The reasons are not far to seek. Some unimaginative teaching and learning.

Our ancient learning stressed on one to one and one to many debates based on sound reasoning, leading to logical conclusions. An essential part of the logic building was an understanding of mathematics, a study of numbers, shapes and patterns.

Unfortunately, today most of our schools, colleges and universities have curriculum that is teacher centric and unimaginative. The assessments do not test competency-based skills but test at most, abilities to reproduce answers to pre-defined questions. The students hence lack reasoning and analytical skills. They are also short on cognitive flexibility essential in today’s fast changing, technology driven environment.

How do we make learning fun again? How do we generate interest for mathematics again? Can Game theory be used? It is a framework where strategies are set. The strategies are social situations in which students compete. They compete and come up with optimal decision-making. This increases* user engagement, happiness and loyalty. In turn they learn much faster.*

Our values are imbibed primarily from our families, from our peers, and from the environment that prevails in our schools and colleges. ‘ekam sat viprah bahudha vadanti’ from the Rigveda, tells us to pursue truth, synonymous with life and living. All worldly work skills flow out of this truth. Morals, ethics, cultural norms and differences are better imbibed through storytelling. We are all aware of ‘Panchtantra’ where Vishnu Sharma weaves several stories around animals as characters and teaches ‘Mitra Bheda’, ‘Mitra Laabha’ ‘Suhrud Bheda’ ‘Vigraha’ and ‘Sandhi’. In the process children learn mathematics and reasoning skills much faster.

Students’ ability to reason, understand underlying concepts, and find solutions to complex math problems can be aided by game-based mathematics learning. Educational games, motivate students to find creative solutions and accelerated learning with fun. Game theory aims to predict outcomes and solutions to problems where students with conflicting, overlapping or mixed interests interact. In ‘theory’, the games allow convergence of everyone to an equilibrium or optimal solution.

What must we do, if we were to resurrect the old wisdom and pedagogies for learning mathematics? Why not look for a few pointers in our Vedas to learn Mathematics? Who knows, we may produce many more Ramanuja’s. It’s not a debate of religion and its practices. It is not whether Atharvaveda had an appendix of mathematical sutras or not. It is not even a debate whether Krishna Tirtha, a gifted orator in Sanskrit and Vedanta philosophy, discovered the sutras or were discovered by someone else. The simple point is that the sutras can be used for learning mathematics without being put off.

The ancient or Vedic mathematics has algorithms for whole number multiplication and division, fraction conversion to repeating decimal numbers, calculations with measures of mixed units, summation of a series, squares and square roots, cubes and cube roots, and divisibility by osculation. Even linear equations, analytic conics, the equation for the asymptotes, and the equation to the conjugate-hyperbola are possible to be solved. Physics, Astronomy and Trigonometry are all possible through numbers and observing the emerging patterns.

Any mathematical entity such as multiplication, division or any other is associated with a series of additions and subtractions based on the 16 sutras. The sutras are even consistent with several numerical methods that are used in writing algorithms and codes for computers. Should we just dismiss them as cheap tricks? Instead, guided research into them is called for. Maybe, there are many more sutras to be discovered. Our institutions and universities can make a start. Our policy makers in Shastri Bhavan can hand hold them.

Let us not follow the notorious ‘Zohnerism’ and the Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) parody, which is a mindful twisting of simple facts to confuse people. DHMO was shown as toxic through scientifically correct evidence and was recommended for a ban, when in truth it is just water. Let’s not make a DHMO out of our ancient Mathematical skills. Instead let us start learning sutra based vedic mathematics in our schools and colleges.