Indian Math for Americans

I recently learned about a new Web site called Indian Math Online that offers students in the United States an Indian-style edge.

Co-founder, Bob Compton, got the idea for the web site after creating the film 2 million minutes, a documentary that contrasts how top high school students in India, China, and the United States spend their time. (Guess which teens lose the most hours on video games and episodes of Grey’s Anatomy?)

The math lessons are based on Indian national standards. We don't have national standards here, but Compton estimated, after assessing his own daughters, that Indian students their age would be a couple years ahead in their math lessons.

This is a place for students to go after school for more math. Lots of it.

“In America, if you get an A you are done,” Compton said. “But in India and China, if you get an A in math, that’s just the beginning.”

The Web site site has more than 20,000 users so far. Compton said most are the sons or daughters of Indian and Chinese professionals working in the United States. The rest are either homeschoolers or the children of college professors in engineering and science.

Add me to the list of users -- at least for the week-long free trial. I'm going to see how my rusty Algebra II skills fit into the Indian curriculum and do some after-school practicing. I'll let you know how it goes!!

By Michael Alison Chandler  |  December 2, 2008; 12:56 PM ET  | Category:  Math Around the World
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This topic indirectly brings up the difficult relationship between immigration, American jobs and outsourcing.

If those 20,000 users are all in the American market then that represents quite a lot of money that could be in the American economy but is instead going overseas. (Of course, many Indians are terribly poor and I am sure the extra income does much good.)

Although, clearly users are looking for something that is not in the American market so if they didn't pay for this then they might not spend money on tutoring at all.

So, how does one create this in the American market? It reminds me of the question I asked about 'Math for America': why is it only for American citizens when probably about half of American undergraduates in math are not American?

Of course it could be argued that focusing on Americans, we should try to improve the performance of Americans in math which is maybe a circular problem: teachers need to be better to train the students and students need to be better so they can become good teachers. I think people also have to be realistic and admit that changing the nature of American teaching might hurt some existing teachers and put a few people out of work. In some places, I could imagine, it might put a lot of people out of work.

Any thoughts?

Posted by: mathlete | December 3, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Hi mathlete, Good questions. One issue that I'm interested in is how many Asian Americans, who are among the top math performers in schools on average, so rarely become teachers -- citizens or not. I know Fairfax County tries to recruit more Asian American teachers, particulary because so many of their students (nearly one in five) are of Asian descent. But these students are more likely to be swayed by higher paying, higher status jobs. Of course, the same truism holds for any top math student...given that other job options are plentiful.
At the end of the day, any existing crummy math teachers are not likely to leave until there is actually a little competition for these jobs.

Posted by: Michael Alison Chandler | December 3, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Michael, you hit the nail right on the head when you said, "any existing crummy math teachers are not likely to leave until there is actually a little competition for these jobs."

Unfortunately, the way the system is set up (union-dominated context, "highly qualified teacher" rules) ensures that many highly-skilled people will choose other careers.

Posted by: BradJolly | December 6, 2008 6:05 PM | Report abuse

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