Why is Pakistan not producing any Mariyam Mirzakhani?

Maryam Mirzakhani, the world’s first woman as well as the first Iranian to win the Fields Medal in mathematics, one of the most prestigious prizes for mathematical research, passed away on July 15, 2017, after a four-year battle with breast cancer.

Maryam’s research basically covers some of the specific branches of mathematics and complex geometry, the most exciting queries like the movements of planets, the discovery of other universes, and other complicated problems related to space exploration could be better understand and solve through her groundbreaking research in mathematics.

Today, a year has come to an end since this inspiring lady closed her eyes.Besides discussing her more contributions for her nation, I want to draw attention of the authorities concerned that why Pakistani students still lag behind the students of our neighboring countries in science education specifically in mathematics?

Twenty-four years ago, when Maryam Mirza Khani had achieved the mathematics Olympiad twice, Iranian students did not heed much towards subjects such as  mathematics and physics. Iranian Government emphasized on research to examine the specific mathematics behavior of students having difficulties with mathematics through learning disability service. This step proved instrumental to recognize the basic troubles students used to experience while solving mathematical problems or equations. Gradually, in a short span of time, there has been a marked shift in thinking and future priorities of Iranian new generation and now a growing number of Iranian student’s even women are reaching out their nuclear program.

It is a matter of fact that intelligence and learning skills are gifted to humankind by nature. But mathematics has always been a subject that children usually run away from. This situation is worst in Pakistan due to the several flaws in its  educational system. Most often, fewer marks are scored by the students in mathematics, who perform excellently in other subjects. In 2017 a report titled powering Pakistan for the 21st century, published by Alif Ailan, thoroughly encompasses the state of education in mathematics and science subjects all across Pakistan. According to published statistics, the average math’s score for class four students in the national education assessment system examination was 433 out of one thousand. Furthermore, the report figures out that majority of the students fared very poorly in computations and geometry. At the primary level, 2.30 percent of students could not perform well in numerical operations, while this percentage fell down to 1.1 only for students in matriculation. This situation was quite alarming and unequivocally pointed out the less focus of our educational policy experts and teachers towards children and learning outcomes.

Moreover,in Pakistan, the courses that are being taught to children from primary level are far above their learning skills because without proper practice and sufficient time for solving exercises they are unable to move no next content or chapter but they are forced to. On the contrary, the book contents are high than the available course hours that eventually affects teachers too.

There is a serious need of evaluating math book contents from primary to middle level and syllabus should be maintained in accord of learning hours and number of students in a specific math class. Because in a class where student numbers are fewer, teachers can pay more attention individually to each of the students. It’s condemnable that majority of teacher are clumsy at mathematics in each of four provinces of Pakistan and they are prone to solution manuals and key books in classrooms hours even, while it is clearly mentioned in our educational policies that sufficient knowledge of a concerned subject is necessary for effective teaching. It has been noticed that any time when highly skilled teachers use textbooks to teach math in their classes; student’s grade was higher. Therefore, solution manuals and math key books should be banned by all textbook board authorities and institution/school’s heads and management should strictly be prohibited their use in school hours either by students or teachers themselves. We have a few educational models from other developing countries like Malaysia and South Korea where textbooks are composed of teachers, education specialists, and subject specialists under the special supervision of education ministry. These textbooks and reading materials effects on motivation and a positive tendency among students. In short, evaluating learning methods will turn out in better educational progress.

However, in Pakistan, the real problem lies with inappropriate recruitments of teachers. Majority of teachers are unskilled, not familiar with new ways of teaching, neither have actual awareness about math course goals and its dominance. They are incapable and sticky with the traditional ideas that math is just about numbers, equations or algorithms. Therefore, an inappropriate and monotonous way of teaching makes no motivation for learning math course among students who already sick of.

Our educational policymakers should turn a new leaf and set some math teaching goals, from primary to middle/high levels teachers emphasized more on developing conceptual strength and reasoning and making true thinking. Instead of relying on a serial course of punishments, they try to set in a trend of reasoning and logical thought in students. Remember that one can’t hope to learn math unless someone shows him/her its real beauty as well as its utility. Therefore, the most fundamental duty of math’s teachers is to nurture their students so that they can think of problem confidentially, and can find solutions to exercise questions by themselves.

Once an in interview Maryam Mirza Khani unveiled that when she just enrolled in Harvard University, because of being foreigners she did not interact with English properly, but instead of feeling guilty or embarrassed she used to put down her lecture notes into Persian for quite a sometime. Whereas in Pakistan, our educational system envious of fluency in English rather than excellence in mathematics or other science subjects.

Pakistan has no lack of talent at all, we have noble ladies like Dr. Nargis Mawal wala, Hiba Rehmani, and Dr. Abben Marker Kabrajee originated from Pakistan, also we have most capable ladies like Dr. Tasneem Zehra, first youngest string theorist, Dr. Maryam Sultana, Pakistan’s first Ph.D. in astrophysics and Samar Yusuf, who make nation proud all over the world. The only thing we need is to divert from our decade’s old educational policy and traditional ways of teaching. We will have to introduce our students to those aspects of mathematics related to personality building. In order to cope with future challenges, great attention is needed to mind gamy which engross our children towards math and its conceptual understanding and to raise their problem-solving abilities.

The writer is a freelance science journalist based in Quetta


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