A breath of fresh air from India
Eyes closed, hands held forward, with forefingers and thumbs held together in yogic pose, a room full of six and seven-year-olds chant, in mantra fashion: "one 12 is 12, two 12s are 24, three 12s are 36, four 12s areI" They get to 12 12s and their eyes open, with smiles on their faces.
They are limbering up their minds to enjoy Vedic maths, a system taught using methods dating back thousands of years to the ancient Indian books of knowledge known as the "Vedas" - the Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Atharva Veda and the Yajur Veda.
The books, more commonly associated with the emergence of Hinduism, were the tools with which ideas and knowledge - scientific, mathematical, ethical and philosophical - were passed from generation to generation. Now, thousands of years later and thousands of miles from the subcontinent, the system has found an audience. Satish Sharma runs one of England's few Vedic-based maths classes, after-school sessions he calls "Magic maths", from a house in Slough in Berkshire.
In the Vedic books, sutras or aphorisms - which are actually word-formulae - set down ways of solving mathematical problems. For example, multiplication sums can be solved using the sutra (the Sanskrit word for "thread") - "vertically and crosswise". Using this sutra, the children make light work of the sum:
They multiply the vertical numbers first: 2 x 2 (4) and 1 x 2 (2). Then they adopt the "crosswise" rule by multiplying 2 x 2 and 2 x 1, and add the two results together to give six.
Teachers of vedic maths say it differs from conventional methods as it provides a more enjoyable and holistic approach, which they believe is missing from mainstream academia and results in children and adults never truly becoming comfortable with numbers.
Satish, who has a full-time job as an IT consultant, believes the way to teach algebra, arithmetic, trigonometry, fractions is to explain to children why they are being taught maths.
He says: "Maths is something that was conceived by people wanting to understand the world around them and how it works so it's very relevant to everything. But the way it's taught as a subject here, its relevance to the world is not taught enough. If you teach children maths in a natural process, it's really simple.
"In school, they are teaching to order, to pass exams. What they are not doing, however, is producing children who are natural mathematicians. Every child can be."
The road to being comfortable with numbers can be littered with obstacles, looming larger as children grow up. It is fear of maths - and mainstream education's reluctance to accept Vedic maths - that Satish hoped to overcome when he began Magic maths two years ago to help his sons Vivek, 14, Varun, 12 and Viraj, six.
Satish, who taught himself the principles of maths based on the Vedas, believes the way to open up the subject as an enjoyable activity is to make children realise maths and numbers are as crucial to understanding the world around us as words are. He says: "When you learn a language, you become fluent in it, you think in it. Without that knowledge, you really don't have an understanding of the world around you."
Children aged from 6 to 15 attend Satish's sessions and the lessons seem to be having an impact. "I find maths easier now that I come here," says Bobby, a Magic maths newcomer. "It took me about one week to learn up to the 12 times table, it was hard at first but then easier."
Daljit Gill, 36, from Slough, sends her daughter Tarinder, 11, and son Amandeep, nine, to learn Vedic maths - not because it is based on ancient Indian philosophy - but because she feels her children enjoy it and their numeracy is improving. She says: "Not many people know about Vedic maths. I had never heard of it. I think it's good for the children. They both like it here and they get on very well."
Her views are shared by Kenneth Williams, teacher, author and spokesman for the Maharishi School in Skelmersdale, Lancashire - a private school for five to 16-year-olds which uses Vedic principles to teach young people the maths curriculum.
"The main feature of the Vedic system is that it's so much more unified and consistent than the maths that's normally taught," Kenneth Williams says.
He has been studying Vedic maths for 30 years, and believes that, with the school's new Cosmic Calculator course which teaches Vedic maths to 11 to 14-years-olds in accordance with the national curriculum, mainstream British academia will realise that the system has many advantages over conventional maths.
James Glover, co-founder of the Vedic Mathematics Society and head of maths at St James' Independent School, which has three sites in London, has been teaching Vedic maths for 22 years. It is taught at the school up to and beyond the parameters of the national curriculum. He believes it produces results.
"We go a lot further than the curriculum in our use of Vedic maths. At GCSE, we would normally expect about half of each year to be able to get grade A or A* a year early in maths and that's from a non-examination entry. I know it's difficult to substantiate, but it's because of Vedic Maths," says James Glover.
He is convinced if Vedic maths has the opportunity to be in the spotlight, it will earn a place as a legitimate instrument of learning rather than an educational fad. "It's not going to be put into the national curriculum by the QCA,unless it's practised in a lot of schools, and schools don't know about it so it's in a catch-22 situation."
Rasamandala Das, an educational consultant and author of books on Hinduism, says: "I think there's not enough emphasis on mental arithmetic in mainstream maths. We tend to rely too much on calculators and computers - that's bad because there are certain faculties in performing mental arithmetic where if you don't use them you lose them.
"Vedic maths is not better than mainstream maths but it's a way to supplement it. I think it provides another way of looking at maths because it tends to broaden our minds. Any way of looking at a subject from another perspective helps us to think outside the box," he explains.
Vedic Maths Society: www.astrocommunity.netvmaimsoc.phpMagic Maths:www.magic-maths.comJames Glover can be contacted at email@example.com
* All from 9 and the last from 10 is very useful for subtraction. Apply the formula to subtract any number from a base number (eg 1, 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000 and so on). Example: 1,000 - 642 = 358. Take 6 and 4 from 9 and 2 from 10:
* Vertically and Crosswise helps us add fractions without needing to find a common denominator. Example: 2Z3 + 1Z7 = 17Z21.
Multiply crosswise and add to get the numerator: (2 x 7) + (1 x 3) = 17; then multiply the denominators to get the denominator: 3 x 7 = 21.