By the Way: A mathematical betrayal

  • Aarish Chhabra, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Mar 22, 2015 08:46 IST

God bless democracy, they say. What’s the point? I ask. My faith is badly shaken in this whole people’s-rule thing, and I might not even press the NOTA button the next time. Don’t question my nationalism and all that. Blame Ravneet Singh Bittu and his ilk. A third-generation politician, Bittu is the Ludhiana MP and belongs to the Congress. No, the party is not his fault. What’s making me miserable, in general, and angry at him, in particular, is the way he has fallen short of my expectations after raising them to the sky.

No, it is not about politics. Mathematics is at the heart of my feelings. Let me explain.

By now, almost anyone with any interest in news or the internet would know that the CBSE Class-12 exam for mathematics was rather difficult this time. Initially, there were some dissenters who said it was probably lengthy but doable overall. But as the days progressed and the toughness multiplied in decibels, there is now a unanimous view that the math paper was an unknown terror unleashed on the students by a heartless CBSE.

A creative headline in HT read, “Too HOTS to handle.” ‘HOTS’ actually expands to the CBSE’s concept of Higher-Order Thinking Skills, a part of the syllabus that tests the situational application of knowledge. HOTS-based questions are usually 10% to 20% of the paper, but were around 50% this time, explained the news report.

Predictably the peeve, like all other peeves these days, has gone viral, and online petitions are demanding a re-exam. Since the Class-12 score would also affect the students’ IIT-JEE and other such prospects, the cry is louder. Amid this, one comment stood out on Facebook: “CBSE decided to create such tough papers that students will think twice and shudder before dreaming about getting above 90%.” Please, read that again: ‘Shudder before dreaming about getting above 90%’!

I and other lesser mortals, in fact, shudder at the thought of how we would’ve reacted if we had got above 90%. Perhaps we would’ve questioned the CBSE’s wisdom too, for different reasons. But we are too old to have any sense of competition.
Politicians, across ages, know better. Bittu’s colleague, veteran parliamentarian KV Thomas, therefore spoke on the math-paper-too-tough issue in the Lok Sabha. Though the issue was raised in what is called the Zero Hour, I believe he meant well. But Bittu only submitted his bit on it, and did not actually speak. Even that would’ve been fine, but he made it worse. The entire exercise only asked the government to be “lenient” and get “more experienced teachers to set the paper” in future.

That’s plain betrayal.

Bittu, buddy, if you are going to break promises like that, I am afraid I’d have to stop believing that the youth of the country can change our politics. I know you never promised anything more than raising the issue in Parliament. But if you are going to raise something as traumatic as math in the House of the People, the only logical thing to demand is for the subject to be scrapped altogether, or, at least, be made optional from Class 5 onwards, or, as a matter of moderation, be assigned to only those who get picked in what could be termed an unlucky draw.

Come to think of, what could a math exam be but tough? Yes, the degree of toughness can vary. But so can the degree of stupidity or smarts of a student. What crime had I committed that I had to study trigonometry? To be honest, despite being a journalist who is supposed to know his language of vocation, I had to take the help of auto-correct to spell the word. Don’t even mention algebra.

And if math has been raised in Parliament, what stopped the leaders from talking about the Class-9 chemistry experiments that burnt holes in my school uniform, or the Class-10 physical education exam that gave me cramps so severe that I walked like a duck for days, or even the dreaded moral science in Class 8 that made me feel I was the most worthless son that anyone could ever have? Why talk only about these plus-two people who had a choice to leave math two years before the latest horror struck them?

We must note that running the Indian Parliament costs Rs 2.5 lakh per minute. That’s significant math. How about we spend that on better things than shallow, pretentious concern? Like actually discussing how our education system remains a stinking rat race, no matter how hard we pretend that it’s the focus of all our attention.

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