Chennai: Mathematicians can play a bigger role in key environmental, social issues and even in situations like North Korea, according to Dr Nigel Calder, associate professor of mathematics, University of Waikato, New Zealand.
The mathematician who has done extensive research in using modern technologies in maths education came to the city on Monday to deliver a lecture at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
On the sidelines of the event, he spoke to Deccan Chronicle on the range of issues from the role of culture in learning mathematics and how mathematicians can play a bigger role in key issues. Excerpts:-
Q. Can you share your view on numerical literacy for the common man?
I think every citizen should have numerical literacy. Mathematical thinking helps you to think logically. You got to be able to analyze mathematical details in the media and not to be misled. In the more digital world there is lot more graphical data, so, not only students, common people also need to understand it more.
Q. How can mathematicians play role in bigger issues like nuclear energy, genetically modified crops and in wars?
Mathematicians can help solve those problems. They can't solve it by themselves but they can be informative around key issues and help make situations better. For example, mathematicians can be of help in situations like North Korea. Maths is behind in a lot of defense systems and I think a lot of mathematical thinking is tied up in propeller areas. Hopefully, mathematics can be used to make the world a better place.
Q. What is the role of culture in learning maths?
When you learn maths, some of the parts of it are abstract and global and there are other parts are particular to our cultures. For instance, in my country, the Maori people have the lot of learning about space and genealogy which is very important. In Australia, the aboriginal people don't use huge numbers. They use 1, 2, 3 and little more. But, they are brilliant in space and locations in the vast land. India is one of the homes of mathematics and Indo-Arabic number system. You got vast cultural knowledge and students should be learning through cultural knowledge.
Q. Will technology help students to overcome maths phobia?
That's one of the key findings in our research projects. Students, who are reluctant to do mathematics became more engaged because they do things physically and they had fun in doing it. They like games and problem solving and visual and directive part.
Q. In future, how maths learning can change with technology?
I think it will change but not completely. Nobile technologies can help learning mathematics. They can never replace the teacher. They can make a teacher better teacher if they use it properly, but a good technology can never replace poor teaching.