Numbers are one of the most innovative ideas of humankind. They make our everyday life convenient and straightforward. Imagine if numbers are not there, how difficult it would have been to measure, count, access, record and quantify different parameters. The branch of knowledge which deals with the study of numbers, i.e. Mathematics is one of the most distinguished disciplines which has a “continuum” of applications from “zero to infinite”. At times it “differentiates” between the “chaos” and the “stability”, sometimes it “integrates” different disciplines of knowledge. It takes us to the “limits” of truth and encompasses the different “dimensions” of expertise. It makes the “complex” things “real” and fascinates us with the notions of “games” and “probability”.
The discipline is inherently alluring and takes a beautiful mind to master it. Srinivasa Ramanujan is one such genius that India has produced. Today we celebrate the birthday of Srinivasa Ramanujan as the National Mathematics Day; I bow my head to this genius. On observing his genius and reading about his notebooks and life, it appears that Ramanujan came to this world to serve the discipline of Mathematics only. He solved many complex problems independently and made pioneering contributions to number theory.
Bharatvarsh has a rich tradition and several contributions to Mathematics since ancient times.
“Like the crest of a peacock, like a gem on the head of a snake, so is mathematics at the head of all knowledge.”
This verse from Vedanga Jyotisha (500 BC) is testimony to the pedestal on which we keep Mathematics. Mathematics or Ganit is a dominant discipline in India since ancient times, and the legacy has continued over generations by Guru-Shishya parampara, books and works.
Shulba Sutras written in 800-500 BCE contain concepts of geometrical shapes like square, rectangle and right triangle and square roots etc. The Pythagorean triples are also highlights of Shulba Sutras. Acharya Pingala in 300 BCE illustrated the idea of sunyata or zero for the first time. There is also evidence of zero as a placeholder in the Bakhshali manuscript. In the fifth century AD, Aryabhata gave the basis of the decimal system and calculated the value of Pi till four decimal places. Brahmagupta in the seventh century AD clearly defined and used zero and mentioned negative numbers. His treaties Brāhmasphuṭasiddhānta and the Khandakhadyaka have detailed illustrations about series, geometry, arithmetic and algebra, to name a few. Sridharacharya in the ninth century was the pioneer in finding the roots of a quadratic equation. Siddhanta Shiromani has written in four volumes, namely Lilavati, Bijaganita, Grahagaṇita and Goladhyaya by legendary Bhaskaracharya. These four volumes have complex mathematical ideas in the form of verses. Lilavati was reportedly his daughter, and the text is written addressing her. The works of Bhaskaracharya have theorems and concepts of modern-day calculus, arithmetic, trigonometry, algebra and astronomy.
In modern times also mathematicians from India have solved problems of crucial importance. Ramanujan is the epitome of mathematical excellence, apart from him, mathematicians like CR Rao, CS Seshadri, to name a few have done immense service to the discipline. Our IITs have also solved some critical mathematical problems by coming up with AKS (Aggarwal-Kayal-Saxsena) primality test and Karmarkar’s algorithm to illustrate some instances. Prof Manjul Bhargava who won the Fields medal, which is equivalent to the Nobel,brought laurels to India through his number theory.
Our contributions to the discipline are of great significance since the genesis of the field. The new National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) has significant provision and provides a platform to build, nurture, foster, encourage and multiply mathematical thinking. It has introduced the reforms needed to balance the need for 21st century employment and entrepreneurship, which is marked by critical, lateral and mathematical thinking. The NEP appreciated the necessity of Mathematical thinking and its importance for the country to become a vishwaguru. Big data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchains are key technologies of today, and mathematics is the core of all of these technologies. Hence, it is critical to building the computation thinking capabilities of our youngsters. The NEP provides the necessary nourishment by making Mathematics enjoyable and engaging using innovative methods from the foundational step itself. It is also mandated in NEP to introduce a coding curriculum from middle school as it helps in developing the computation capabilities and intuitive reasoning.
Because the applications of Mathematics are extensive and diverse, by introducing the multidisciplinary curriculum and credit-based mechanism, NEP provides flexibility to students to apply their knowledge. These reforms will be of particular importance to the student inclining Mathematics. Also, policy provisions for establishing Mathematics clubs in Higher Education Institutions for better collaboration and interdisciplinary research.
I am sure that the Indian mathematics and education system is bound to “ramp up” under the shade of NEP. All the ideas in the policy are a keystone for a self-reliant India, a vibrant vishwaguru!