Why math should be made a compulsory subject

Published On: October 1, 2020 08:03 AM NPT By: Ramesh Babu Regmi

“Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.”

– Galileo Galilei

Each subject has its own importance in its respective field. Language and social science subjects are given higher priority in high school education. But mathematics is also equally important in human life. Language helps for communication whereas mathematics helps for construction and exploration of new knowledge especially in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics itself.

Mathematics is required in every step of life. This is not limited to engineering, construction, cost estimation and designing. This is also not limited to the classroom and the commercial sectors. Its application is found in the kitchen and in the shop too. Think of cooking.  It includes estimation of amount of rice to cook, pulses, water to cook rice and vegetables, number of potatoes required for the family and so on.   “Everything is number,” said Pythagoras centuries ago.

However, the new curriculum developed by the Ministry of Education has given a limited choice to the students to study math.  Many countries teach mathematics to high school students. Nepal government has decided to keep math under optional category in senior high school. This will do a great damage to the learning of the students.  

A physicist cannot understand the physical reality based on experiments, measurements, reorganization and formulation of laws to frame rules without mathematics. Without deep knowledge and understanding of discrete mathematics, it’s not possible to understand and develop algorithms and data structure. Computer graphics cannot be started without thorough knowledge and understanding of linear algebra. The government should not ignore this fact.

We need to educate our children to become the competent global citizens of the 21st century. For this mathematics needs to be made compulsory in senior high school as well.

This is an era of artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence cannot exist without the concept of calculus and linear algebra—the concepts of math. We cannot think of any scientific development without mathematics. It is the age of science and technology. Modern technology is unthinkable without math. In computers, mathematics is not used only for calculation. It is used to validate findings, show proofs and even in search for proofs. Thus it is wrong to think of math as being limited to calculation. Math helps develop problem solving skills, train our brain, tell about time and help make logical decisions.

We definitely have general and technical streams in junior SEE. But have we ever evaluated how effective the programs are? When we walk in our vicinity, we can meet people from different walks of life such as electricians, mechanics, smiths etc. Truly speaking, they are not technical education graduates. Their effort, dedication and experience have made them dexterous in their job market. What kind of education system do we want and need? Do we want inventors? Do we want creators or followers? Or we want citizens who can invent something new, who can lead any institution efficiently and ethically. If we want creators, inventors and leaders, mathematics is the viable option which needs to be included in senior high school curriculum.

Government is going to implement the new curriculum in grade XI this year. Curriculum change has happened after a long discussion and a great effort and as such it was welcomed by teachers. But the new curriculum has almost ignored mathematics and gives preference to basically language subjects as compulsory subjects.

Four optional subjects to be chosen are also structured in such a way that students cannot choose the subject freely. For example, the students choosing social science from other groups cannot choose mathematics.   If we really want to take a leap scientifically, technologically and explore new knowledge, mathematics must be made compulsory at least up to grade twelve.

Shamelessly, however, the government authorities are telling us that pass rate in SEE (formerly SLC) is too low due to mathematics and so math should not be made compulsory in higher grades. This is an ill logic. Most students failed in math because they lacked proper resources, including competent teachers, to teach them math in a better way. They do not seem to have a basic understanding of how important math is for cognitive development of students.

Yes, it is true that many students cannot get a better score in mathematics. But learning mathematics is not only about getting a score, it is about making students sharp and creative learners.   Many countries have made mathematics compulsory up to grade twelve. An international high school program popularly known as IB has mathematics as a compulsory subject since its inception.

Ministry of Education should review its decision and make math a compulsory subject in both grade XI and XII.

The author is a math teacher.


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