Indian Mathematics

MY EXPERIENCES IN SELF RELIANCE IN THE PURSUIT
OF POPULARISATION OF MATHEMATICS

-J.N. Kapur

In early fifties, some of the mathematics teachers of Delhi University Colleges felt that our curricula needed modernisation and they decided to form a self-study group to learn some of the modern topics in mathematics through their own efforts. They met in different colleges on Sundays and within two or three years made significant progress in this effort. They then felt the need of sharing their knowledge with teachers of other universities so that curricula of other universities could also be modernised. They requested the university authorities and the UGC to organise a summer school, but while these authorities were sympathetic, they were not prepared to take the initiative. As such, four of the teachers formed a group called the Mathematics Seminar and I, on behalf of this group, wrote to mathematics teachers in various colleges and universities inviting them to the summer school in mathematics which we were organising in a college of Delhi Univesity. They were told that we would be providing free lodgings in a college hostel and free lectures, but the participating teachers will have to meet their own boarding and travel expenses. However, 40 teachers responded to our invitation and we had a very successful summer school based on the dedicated efforts of the teachers themselves. The participating teachers were highly motivated to learn and the faculty members drawn from various colleges and research organisations in Delhi taught very enthusiastically. They did not charge any honorarium for this work and they met their own travel expenses. A perfect academic climate prevailed during the summer school.

When we went to request Dr. V.K.R.V. Rao, the then Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University to inaugurate the school, he asked us about the source of our funds. We told him that we did not need any funds, since the participating teachers were spending their own money and the faculty members were not charging anything for their lectures. We needed only 1600 rupees for postage and for making cooling arrangements for the lecture hall and this money we had ourselves contributed for the summer school. He however, on his own, sent a letter to the UGC for reimbursing us this amount which however we spent on cyclostyling lecture notes for the participants. We organised 6 summer schools form 1958 to 1963 at a total expense of rupees 10,000 for the UGC for all the 6 schools. However, the schools were successful in creating enthusiasm for mathematical research and modernisation of curricula in 200 teachers from all over the country, most of whom later became professors of mathematics in India and abroad and spread the message of modernisation all over the country.

The USA had also organised its first summer school in 1958 and, in early 1960's, it offered to the UGC to organise similar summer schools in physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics, at both school and college levels. UGC and NCERT agreed in order to utilise the large P.L. 480 funds in India. In each of these summer schools, the participating teachers were paid generous traveling and daily allowances, free boarding and lodging and a number of books. The Indian expense was about rupees 50,000. In addition rupees two lakhs for each summer school were spent on two American consultants. Thus the expenses were about 250,000 rupees as against 1600 rupees each for our summer schools and the benefits were much less because here teachers became more interested in the quality of food rather than in the quality of education. After some time, these were discontinued because it was found that they were not as useful as these were expected to be.

More recently the UGC has been organising similar orientation and refresher courses through the Academic Staff Colleges. These have become quite popular, not because of knowledge benefits to the teachers, but because of the requirement of attending two refresher courses by the teachers concerned for promotion to the next grade. In these courses, no attempt is made to find out how much the teachers are learning. The faculty members give lectures on the subjects of their research, which are not always directly relevant to the needs of teachers who are mostly teaching undergraduate classes. There is great motivation for teachers for attending these courses, but there is very little motivation for learning in depth.

I have also taught in similar refresher courses for teachers in USA, but there for each course, a regular text-book is prescribed and participants have to appear in weekly tests and are given grades which are sent to their colleges and the promotion of teachers depends on the grades they obtain. In USA which is a rich country, every cent is fully utilized while in India 80% of the money spent is not properly utilized because of the lack of motivation for the teachers to really understand what is taught to them.
My second experience relates to my membership of the National Board for Higher Mathematics where I proposed that about 1000 school libraries should be given books worth about 500 rupees each to create interest in mathematics among the students. The Board sanctioned the amount, but when we went to the market, we found no good or inspiring Indian books, though there were plenty of help-books available. The foreign (except Russian) books were very expensive. So we gave Russian books to the school libraries. But it looked very distressing that a country of our size and traditions had not produced exciting books for its own students. I therefore approached the NCERT to get such books written for mathematics. It agreed in principle, but it said that to get 100 such books written, it would require more than one crore of rupees and more than 10 years of time and most of this money would be spent on air travel of the authors and the members of the editorial boards. As such the scheme was formulated and shelved.

I decided therefore not to depend on the government. I formed a society called the Mathematical Sciences Trust Society (MSTS) to publish some books. The MSTS has so far published some 70 books of this type and has given awards to some 5000 bright students amounting to rupees 10 lakhs _ out of the sales proceeds of these books. This has become possible due to the dedicated efforts of the authors and not because of any grants received from the government.

Many non-government organisations are doing excellent work in propagating and poularising science and mathematics, but most of them depend on government support and subsidies. However not much can be achieved by government funds alone. In the absence of dedication, a large part of the government funds also go waste. However if government funds and dedication of scientists go together, we can perform miracles in creating a scientific climate in the country.

J.N. Kapur