A remark on memory power, concentration and good math

I have come across several maths teachers (and principals and of course, parents) in Mumbai and Bangalore, who  claim that students don’t need to learn by heart, by practising writing daily multiplication tables from 1 to 30 at a tender age. Whereas this is the way I had learnt these multiplication tables. The argument forwarded is that there is now the influence of Western culture (meaning USA and UK) where students don’t learn any multiplication tables because this is the age of electronics/IT/calculators.

I have seen that this leads to severe dependence on calculators from a young age even for simple numerical problems; and in math syllabii/exams of schools of India, school kids make “silly” mistakes, which is a euphemism of numerical mistakes. In my opinion, a high numerical ability is a sign of a good IQ. Of course, we have all heard of Shakuntala Devi’s feats. So, also the feats of John von Neumann.

I think that it works “both” ways: learning multiplication tables by practice at a tender age develops a child concentration powers, and if a kid has enough concentration from a tender age, he can mug up/practise multiplication tables. This might also lead to “average” concentration span in kids, and if I may venture further, it will not give rise to ADHD.. ..I know this might sound simplistic solution….

I refer the reader to the child hood of Paul Halmos, famous Hungarian born, American mathematician, and one of the finest expositors of math. In his autobiography, “I want to be a mathematician”, Paul Halmos had written: “When my cousin and I were 8  and 9, our grandfather used to race us against one another in the multiplication of three-digit numbers in our heads, of course — no paper and pencil. I neither loved nor hated the game. I liked to win, and I liked getting the coin that was awarded to the winner. (Is that when I turned pro?). We were both equally good.”

My own dad had told me that he had learnt the fractional tables also, meaning, the tables of one by four, one by two, three by four, etc. and he told me that as a CA he knew all the volumes of Income Tax Law by Nani Palkhivala and Kanga!!

🙂 🙂 🙂

Nalin Pithwa.

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