"Another sum, please sir, big numbers," asks Vrushank, eyes dancing with excitement. "Okay, 34+36+43," says Puvalur Krishnamurthi, the teacher. Moving the beads like a blaze, Vrushank calls out: "113". "Correct again!" exults the teacher. Delighted that his bead-play can help him compute sums with mind-zapping speed, faster than pencil-pushing kids twice his age, Master Calculus breaks into a jig.
Many of India’s learning hotspots are offering young minds new modes of doing maths, showing them how to count like the ancient Chinese, Egyptians and Vedic Indians, and introducing them to funky maths labs and rejigged traditional Indian games. It’s all meant to help children get over their paralysing fear of numbers, of formulas and, in general, of maths, the most abstract subject in the classroom. Here even toddlers get to recognise the fiveness of five, which allows unrelated groups of, say, birds, bells or buses to be clubbed as ‘5’, all for tick marks and smiley faces on worksheets.