Rural Math Talent Search (RMTS) Project, it’s time has come:

 – Sandip K. Dasverma

Institute of Mathematics and Applications, Bhubaneswar, Orissa needs professionals with a solid math background to help elevate the state’s economy by becoming involved in projects such as:

·        Weather model for prediction and tracking of cyclones

·        Model for prediction of floods in the monsoon season

·        Modeling of ChilikaLake water flow, salinity and silting

But while at it, it’s 1st Director, Dr. Swadhinananda Pattanayak authored a revolutionary idea.  He routinely conducted the annual Orissa Mathematics Olympiad and screened candidates to represent Orissa, & to spot future talent in Math.  They made to a pool from among whom those representing India in International Math Olympiad are selected.  Dr. Pattanayak observed - though 90 % of Orissans live in villages, not a single kid among the 30 being selected each year for the Olympiad, are from rural area.  This made him restless.

Concomitantly, Indian Atomic Energy commission(AEC) and the movers and shakers of Science and Technology education establishment of India were observing- another phenomena.  That Basic research in Science and Mathmatics has become a barren area today where stalwarts like Prof. Meghnad Saha, P. C. Mohalanobis, Satyen Bose, Birbal Sahani et el once bloomed. There is not only no basic research but all talent that is being thrown up by the schools, are being sponged out by the IITs and the technology sector.  This leaves very little talent behind for basic science and Math research. AEC needs to urgently expand the talent pool to remedy this problem and did not know HOW. In walked Dr. Pattanayak, of IMA, with a solution. He theorized that up to class six rural talents keep up with their urban competition. Thereafter due various environmental and resource deficiencies the rural kids slowly loose out and wither away. Thus they are not in the Math Olympiad teams. And the pool size (AEC’s concern) can be expanded, if we eye rural sector at class six level and catch talents before they wither away.

He proposed that he conduct a competition for only rural kids, defined as not living in Notified Area Council(NAC),  in the same line as Math Olympiad but at class six level. Then select the best and brightest minds in Mathematics and then train and nurture them.  He asked to be funded to hold two annual camps/ year for 3 years(six camps) of the selected kids to accentuate their inborn mathematical ability.  In these camps, conducted by IMA, the best mathematical brains of Orissa, will nurture the talents unearthed. The AEC agreed and RMTS program, a pioneering effort and first in India, was born.  This is the 3rd year the tests have been conducted (on September 25th, 2005). 

The result of holding the tests and the camps, has been significant.  For the 1st time this year (i.e. after just 2 years), three(3) of the rural students competed and got into the 30 students pool of State Math Olympiad finalists.

To encourage these students Dr. Pattanayak a long time friend, requested me to fund 30 scholarships @1500/year for the best among them. The scholarships are to continue for 5 years till these students graduate from high schools. Thus started Kamala Pada Das memorial Rural Math scholarships, in 2003.  (For the spelling Bee/ Vocab program I volunteer with NSF)

Subsequently, the interest in RMTS, has increased enormously. From the 2nd year onwards Sustainable Educational and Economic Development Society (SEEDS), which the author is now a member/volunteer, has come in to support it. With SEEDS help the number of scholarships have increased to 100 last year and 150 this year. So far confined to only Orissa, we have found no dearth of funds for the scholarships. Info on SEEDS and its story can be found in it’s web site at www.seeds.org. In India Vikas Charitable Trust is helping to deliver the scholarships to the students.

 

How RMTS test is conducted:

  1. A central agency(in our case IMA, BBSR) plans out the program schedule(date of test), prepares the question papers, application forms and then writes to the Orissa State Govt. Mass Education department.
  2. The mass education dept sends out a circular to the 314 Blocks development officers who send it to the Sub Inspectors of Schools(SI) attached to the blocks.
  3. The SIs send it to the Middle school Head Masters and the middle school teachers take the initiative to organize it.
  4. The students pay a nominal Rs. 10 entry fee. 
  5. After the 1st two years we noted the word is not going out and participation decreased. So we started to have a civil society promoter, normally some one’s father or brother(and a retired person) to help us out and to give a push to the schools. This approach tried from this year is bearing fruit.
  6. The participation went up 3 fold from 1500 to 4800 this year, with about 1000 plus students attributed to efforts of Non Resident Oriyas.
  7. From 14 out of 30, participation has gone up to 29 out of 30 districts. Only one district Kandhamal one of the most interior is still unrepresented.
  8. There is a regional distribution of scholarships as also other affirmative actions, like equal distribution of scholarships between West, South and Coastal Orissa. 40% reservation for Adivasi / Harijon students, which is the proportion of their proportion in the state population.

Lessons learned:

  1. We are observing changes happening and will soon show up on the surface.
  2. Civil society’s participation has been successful. Thus it is important and creation of a network of education lovers is both proving both, beneficial and necessary.
  3. The nominal scholarships have made a difference in their lives. We have found kids who did not have shirts to come to the camp and so they had borrowed them. They worked as wash boy in tea shops.
  4. A fear existed that average students ( class performance) are not good for RMTS. This has been proved wrong and facts proved otherwise.  The RMTS tests the logical mathematical mind of the student and not ability to remember tricks to solve problems. They are tested for the process & approach to unknown problem.  Results are sometime startling. Kids who were not at all expected to be good in math being successfully unearthed and subsequent performance has proved the correctness of test results.
  5. Girls have done equally well as the boys. Both 2003 and 2004 Girls topped.
  6. Affirmative action is used to select 40% of tribal and Harijon students – once in the camps they have proved to be not wanting in any way.

Prologue: The idea is not patented and any one, anywhere can replicate it - for public education purposes.  However, please acknowledge and give due credit the originators. Contacted in the address given below, IMA will help you organize in your state. In no case they should be used for “For profit” purposes.

End Note:

Orissa native and venerable NSF volunteer Sandip K. Dasverma had stepped forward to award monetary scholarships to the 1st batch of these students(2003) for the next five years.  If you’re interested in contributing to this effort, or starting such a project in your own state  - please contact Dr. Pattanayak or Sandip Dasverma.

Prof Swadheen Pattanayak  ( or swadhyn@yahoo.com)

Institute of Mathematics and Applications

5RF- ¼, Anandabazar, Unit-IX

Po-Bhoinagar, Bhubaneswar 751022

Ph: (0674) 2542164, 2540604

 

 

 

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