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Significance of Mathematics

Feb 25, 2009

Reading this article is certainly not the best way to start the day. I couldn’t even believe that this statement came from Chiz Escudero, someone well-respected in the UP community. And I quote:

Escudero also suggested a revision of public schools’ curriculum that would reduce the number of regular subjects taught to students – from the current eight to 11, to six – as one way to reduce the classroom shortage.

Essential subjects, he said, would include Languages, including English and Filipino, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies or History, Computer and Good Manners and Right Conduct.

Subjects like trigonometry, calculus, geometry, and algebra, should be taught only in college or as high school electives since these are not relevant to the everyday life of Filipinos, he said.

“If by any chance they are able to reduce the curriculum by half, we would effectively double the number of classrooms in a day and overnight, because we can now use the classroom twice over instead of simply being used once, given the overburden curriculum that our children have,” he said.

Sure, you get the advantage of solving the problem of classroom shortage if you reduce the number of subjects. But you also sacrifice the quality of education, whatever’s left of that quality anyway.

Honestly, don’t blame the subject if you didn’t learn anything. How dare you to suggest that trigonometry, algebra, geometry and calculus are not relevant in the everyday life of the Filipinos! The applications are everywhere, and more fields are now relying on mathematical models to describe certain phenomena in physics, chemistry, engineering, geology, biology, economics, finance, even linguistics. (I remembered Alex wanting to study computational linguistics for his MA.) The architects and engineers of the buildings in Makati need to know their mathematics to make sure that the buildings will not collapse. There’s a mathematical explanation to why CAP (College Assurance Plan) went bankrupt, and my colleagues have studied it in detail. Ever wondered how the Google search engine works? The algorithms behind it rely heavily on mathematics. The computer games that most students waste most of their time and money on? You also need mathematics to program the moves of the characters and the objects in the game properly. You can even model the traffic in EDSA, given the proper tools. And maybe if someone actually did a model on the flow of traffic in EDSA, we can figure out a way to solve the problem. The list of applications are endless. Anything that can be quantified can be described mathematically, and understanding the model would help explain certain phenomena. As soon as mathematical modelers figure out a way to quantify human behavior with precision, maybe we could see more mathematics being applied to the social sciences as well.

At present, the fields I mentioned above are using complicated mathematics in their work. But in order to understand these concepts, you should have a solid background of the basics. And yes, that would include geometry, algebra, trigonometry, calculus and statistics. If you remove these subjects in the high school level, then you risk reducing the quality of science and technology in our country. Very few people would venture in the sciences in the first place, and removing these subjects would discourage people further, because they will be overwhelmed with the amount of knowledge required to advance in the field.

I’ve heard the argument of Chiz before, and I am actually quite alarmed that a lot of people don’t see the significance of mathematics. The way I see it, the problem lies in the way the subject is being taught. Why, some teachers are being forced to teach subjects they know nothing about! How do you expect an expert in History to teach Algebra properly? No wonder the teachers and the students have no idea how significant mathematics is! But why are we forcing teachers to teach a subject outside of their domain? Simple: we lack good teachers. Why? Because teachers are not well compensated in our country. Hah, you should hear my father’s arguments in trying to force me out of the academe.

Mathematics in the Philippines: The Real Deal

I was involved in a committee that reviewed the curriculum for the Math courses that we are offering to the Engineering students. We had a hard time trying to fit all the necessary topics in four courses. One of my colleagues wanted to remove algebra so that we could discuss more topics in calculus. He argued that they should have learned it in high school anyway. I protested, because not all students who enter the university have a solid background in algebra. The passing rate of students in Algebra and Trigonometry proves it. So we had no choice but to discuss the topics in passing, and we barely have time in class to allow the students to practice. I hate doing this, because mathematics is not something you learn by reading your notes alone. It is very important to solve sample exercises in order to grasp the concept.

Do you have any idea how seriously behind our country is compared with the rest of the world, in terms of mathematics? Let me cite certain experiences I have so far.

  1. I attended a conference in Malaysia once, and unfortunately I have to bring some Math 54 (Elementary Calculus 2) exams to grade at that time. A Cambodian participant noticed what I was doing, and he asked if I was teaching high school students. Yes, HIGH SCHOOL. What we teach the Engineering majors in their second year are taught in high schools in Cambodia.
  2. Professors from Paris visited the Philippines to conduct some lectures. Their courses were offered to graduate students of mathematics in UP. According to them, these courses are being offered in the undergraduate level in France.
  3. I have roommates here in the laboratory who are in their first year of PhD. And yet, they know mathematics that I know nothing about, and to think that I’ve been doing my PhD for almost two years now. They have in-depth knowledge of the subject they are studying. And then, they learn the other fields of mathematics as well through collaboration with their colleagues. On the other hand, I only know a bit of everything. A jack of all trades, master of none.
  4. I met a Filipino here in Paris. He’s from the NIP, and is currently in his first year of masters. Before coming here, he had this idea that UP is in league with the Ivy League schools in the US. When he came here to study mathematical finance, he realized that this is very far from the truth. Here in Paris, he was introduced to an advanced topic in mathematics, something that only a good PhD Mathematics student could understand and appreciate.
  5. I learned that the schools in the US would only admit students in the PhD level of Economics if they have a good mathematical background. Learning calculus is not enough. These people are dealing with martingales, filtration, and so on, concepts that I have encountered only by taking graduate courses in Mathematics.

In the end, I will pose this challenge to our leaders. We have to look at what we want to happen to our country in the future. Do we want to stay forever like this, our graduates forced to work as call center agents and not on their chosen fields? Do we want to continue to send our science majors to study abroad and risk losing them forever? Or do we want to raise the level of science and technology in our country? You decide.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. whirlingstorm06 permalink
    Nov 12, 2009 9:38 pm

    i knew you previously commented on the issue pero ngayon ko lang nahanap though.

    one more reason not to vote for the bastard. hell, even in medicine we need calculus (for pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics – understanding how the drug affects the body and how the body affects the drug can be modeled mathematically at gets ko ang derivation kahit na 2 years ako nawalan ng math). although hindi siya ginagamit ng iyong average clinician, ginagamit siya ng hard-core pharmacologists to study which drugs are more potent (i.e. sana less of the drug needed to get the maximum benefit but less of the toxicity)

    basic physicians use math even though they don’t calculate talaga to find variables. kailangan alam naman ang pag-compute ng anion gap in our heads (and since we can’t do that, estimation na lang ito) to determine kung kulang ba sa electrolytes ang patient. and more mathematical stuff in med.

    mahirap ang math. but that doesn’t necessarily mean na dahil mahirap siya at kaunti lang ang pumapasa ay tatanggalin siya sa curriculum. kung hindi tayo exposed sa subject matter na yan in the first place, walang magkakaroon ng interest dito. kung walang trigo, geom, calculus at lalo na ang algebra sa high school, walang mag-dadare pumasok ng engineering, com sci, math etc. sa college.

    at hindi dahil nabagsak mo yan, ibig sabihin ay may karapatan kang tanggalin ito kung nasa katungkulan ka. ang tawag diyan, BITTER!


  1. Chiz, Chiz… Oh No You Didn’t! « Reflections of a Math Teacher
  2. A Filipino Scholar’s Plight « Reflections of a Math Teacher

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