Santanu Bhowmik -St. Dominic’s International School Lisbon, Portugal

Posted December 11, 2018 11:27 am by

Santanu Bhowmik is the Head of Mathematics department at St. Dominic’s International School, Lisbon, Portugal since the last two years. Prior to this, he worked at Pathways World School for 11 years as the Cambridge IGCSE program coordinator and the IB Diploma program coordinator and as a Mathematics teacher.

St. Dominic’s International School is one of the 9 schools in Portugal which offers the internationally recognised International Baccalaureate programs for students aged between 3 and 19 years.

Difference between the education system in Portugal and India

The basic difference between the National curriculum (Indian and Portugal) and the International Baccalaureate is that it does not focus only on the content (the so called syllabus), rather a huge emphasis is given on the 21st century skills like creativity-innovation, adaptability-flexibility, communication-collaboration, social & cross-cultural etc.

Sharing the experience of first job as a teacher….

I was a young university graduate from Tezpur University and got into the most reputed International school of North-eastern India, The Assam valley school. Since it was a residential school, a teacher’s roles and responsibilities were not limited to only the regular and mundane teaching and learning inside a class room. The teachers in that school were expected to exhibit highest standards of personal character and charm and involve in shaping the young minds of the students who were staying away from their parents. This is where I realised the importance of “emotional quotient”, “social quotient” as opposed to the widely know “Intelligent quotient”.

I realised that establishing a healthy relationship based on mutual respect with the students was quintessential for any meaningful learning to happen. It did not matter of how well I know mathematics or how best I could explain to my students, rather how well I know my students and how best I can explain to his or her specific “needs” and “learning styles”. These realisations were crucial in my early days as teachers and helped me grow professionally.

The family connection

I was fortunate to be born in a family which has a history of more than 100 years in education. My parents, grandparents and great grandparents were dedicated teachers. Hence my childhood years were surrounded by many colleagues of my parents and grandparents. There was however my teacher Sir, Ranjit and my grandfather Pranesh Das who I am indebted for their wisdom and inspiration. While Sir Ranjit inspired me to be creative, responsible and be a lifelong learner, my grandfather on the other hand imparted with Vedic knowledge and taught me the art of living. Both these teachers were much ahead of their times and very passionate about education and wellbeing of the students and the society at large. I learnt to be a dedicated and a student-centred teacher from my father Nirmal Bhowmik, who was known for his friendly teaching approaches and one of the very few teachers who recognised “learning needs” of students.

Encouraging the practical applications of mathematical thinking in everyday life

In my humble opinion, a huge change in our educational system is overdue and it is time that the educational fraternity takes serious note and start discussing about our education system. At the moment the prime objective of any teacher is to cover the syllabus as early as possible and then revise and push the students to achieve as much as they can, even 99.99% is not good enough anymore as many students achieves 100% in their examination. The education system needs to move away from “covering the syllabus approach” to “un-covering the syllabus approach”. As long as our education system remains a play ground for race to achieve 100% in examination, the teachers can do very little to encourage and motivate students to see the application of mathematics in the real-life situation.

I am fortunate to be a part of the International Baccalaureate program where in the MYP program, connecting mathematics in the real-life context is give 25% weighting as part of the assessment criteria. This of course make my job challenging but at the same time very rewarding as I quite often get to involve with my students on many projects where we learn to apply mathematics.

Facing the fear of Maths

The fear of Mathematics is due to the current educational system as explained in the answer of the previous question. For several years, this fear and the dislike for mathematics have been passed on from one generation to the other. Parents, uncles, aunties, neighbours and even teachers openly tell talk about how much they disliked or feared mathematics during their school life and still do. So a student in my class is sitting with these in his mind and ready to dislike and fear mathematics.

The situation is like when you see a coconut for the first time in your childhood and you see the shell so hard and your wonder how difficult it must be to eat. Then you see someone break the coconut and discover that inside the hard shell there is such soft and sweet Kernel. Mathematics is quite like the coconut, we need an supportive education system which will help the teachers to break it’s hard shell and show the soft kernel inside.

Boosting a student’s self-confidence if they were struggling with basic math skills

I help my students understand that it is alright to struggle. There are many different approaches, techniques, and methods which can be introduced to a student struggling in basic arithmetic, like Vedic way of multiplication, Japanese multiplication technique which does not rely on multiplication tables. There are many student friendly websites which helps students understand by exposing them several other techniques.

Using calculators in classroom is justified

I don’t think Mathematics is about how fast one can do arithmetic without using a calculator. For many years and still, this is the perception that for one to be a good mathematic student one needs to do mental arithmetic, which is far from the truth.

For many years educators have been hesitant to use technology in the class room and it still continues, which is almost like refusing to take bus or a taxi to go from one point to another and chose to walk rather. If one decides to never use any modern transport system then there are several benefits, like walking is good for health, will not spend on tickets, petro, will have less pollution etc., but is it practical in today’s world? Similarly, but not using a calculator will have benefits like more exercise for the brain etc. but is it practical?

In the International Baccalaureate Program, students uses Graphic display calculator, capable of graphing any functions and many other advance mathematical operations and a formula booklet is also provided during the examination. This curriculum does not rely on a students’ memory power, which is just one out of the eight ways of learning. The other seven ways of learning are Language, Sense perception, Emotion, Reason/Logic, Imagination, Faith and Intuition. Having advocated for the use of calculator and technology, I must also warn that complete reliance on the technology is very dangerous and a right balance will do wonders.

On under-representation of girls in Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects

I personally do not like the ‘girls Vs boys’ approach in education. I am not worried about girl students not opting for STEM, in fact I feel that they made a smart choice by not opting for these subjects and end up becoming an engineer.

According to a recent report, more than 500 engineering colleges are being shut down in the last five years and out of 8 lakh engineers passing out every day, around 60% remains jobless. Out of these 60%, some go on doing MBA and many of them ends up in banking. A girl or a boy should be allowed to determine what he or she wants to do in life. If they like economics they should pursue their passion for economics and if they like mathematics then let them choose mathematics.

Advice to students

If you are in middle or high school now, remember by the time you complete your higher education and ready for a job, 70% of the current jobs will vanish and new kinds of jobs will emerge. A student who scores more than 90% in all his subject but has no or very little 21st century skills is less likely to get a job as compared to a student who scores 50% and shows high attributes 21st century skills. One should not depend on the school and the school teachers for their all round development and the future waits for those who can know “how to learn” and self-train themselves.