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Singapore Math

Friday, March 19, 2010

Mathematics Year in Singapore

Mathematics Year in Singapore

In February 2009, I e-mailed the following text, to be considered for publication in the Forum Pages of The Straits Times

The year 2008 has been declared “Mathematics Year” in Germany. In fact, since 2000, Germany has dedicated each year to one particular science. Riding on the good standing and ranking of Singapore’s performance in mathematics globally, such as its triple firsts in “Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study” (TIMSS), its decent gold tally at mathematics competitions in recent years, and the State of California’s official endorsement of Singapore textbooks, I hope the Ministry of Education and its partners would seriously consider emulating its German counterparts, by celebrating Singapore’s “Mathematics Year” in 2010 to coincide with the 2010 Youth Olympic Games.

Besides providing ample opportunity for both locals and foreign guests to witness the beauty, power and utility of the often-disliked subject in school, celebrating Mathematics Year 2010 would also enhance Singapore’s image as being more than just a haven of assessment maths titles and a paradise for maths tutors.  

Like hosting the Youth Olympics, the experiences gained in planning and organising this first Asian “Mathematics Year” would not only strengthen Singapore’s position on the Mathematical World Map, but also prepare her
to help others in future as they too celebrate their year-long events.

So, let’s make it a national effort to humanise the multi-faceted aspects of mathematics (mathematics as an art, a language, a science, and so on) and to promote the “Speaking Mathematics” campaign – that speaking the language of science and of technology holds the key to maintaining Singapore’s competitive edge in the region.

Just as most of us have the capacity to enjoy music and the arts, everyone has some capacity for mathematics appreciation. Mathematics as a way of thinking (and of life) is not reserved for a blessed few, but is accessible to
all those who are curious in exploring the common human potential.

Think of the Internet, iPod, digital camera, black hole, MRI, and GPS, just to cite a few by-products from harnessing the power of mathematics. And declaring the Year of Mathematics 2010 in Singapore is a first step to enhancing our quantitative literacy. So, let’s count on mathematics for Mathematics Counts!
Yan Kow Cheong
353 words

I received a pre-formulated reply from a Malay lady that since they receive over a hundred readers' e-mails every day, they suggested that I channeled mine to the appropriate ministries for consideration instead. 

I'd have probabilistically received a few more of those standard replies had I decided to contact the relevant ministries. Next, I decided to e-mail it to the morning free paper, Today. This time round, the disappointment was greater for I didn't even receive an acknowledgement that they ever received, much less read, my e-mail.

Without losing hope for a future Mathematics Year, let's look at five lessons we could have learned had we celebrated the Year of Mathematics 2010 in Singapore.        
1. Mathematics is many-sided.
Math is more than “learning to calculate” or "solving challenging word problems." Math is an art, a science, a language, a tree, a religion, a way of thinking, or a way of life.

2. Math is hard and difficult.
Math is only easy for math teachers and for those who know little math. It's not hard, it's damn hard! If it weren't so, it wouldn’t appeal much to the nerds. 

3. Don’t oversell or overvalue it.
There’s no guarantee that people will know more math at the end of the term or year. If people can appreciate or value its power as a language of science and of technology, it's a bonus for math educators.

4. People matter more than proofs.
Although the subject is abstract, the gist of a powerful or beautiful mathematical result can be shared to an educated or numerate public if there are more mathematically inclined media people to share the good mathematical news: they can write about new mathematics by talking to those in the ivory towers.  

5. Make it an island-wide effort.
Invite people from all walks of life to share how they use math in their daily life — how math plays an important part in the success of their careers and lives, or how the advancement of technology (web, e-learning, wireless communications, space travel, etc.) is dependent on the mastery of advanced mathematics. 

Inarguably, the benefits to celebrating the Year of Mathematics 2010 would have been manifold to tens of thousands of citizens and residents, to the community, and to the country. What a missed opportunity to coincide "Singapore's first Mathematics Year" with the first Youth Olympics 2010!

© Yan Kow Cheong, March 18, 2010