Bhutan is even trying to make *learning maths* a form of happiness
"Every country around the world is trying to crack one of the toughest mathematical conundrums on the books", says Marcus Du Sautoy, the Simonyi professor for the public understanding of science and a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford. "Not the Riemann hypothesis or the Navier-Stokes equations", continues the mathematician, "but the challenge of how to get schoolchildren to fall in love with mathematics.
Du Sautoy took a trip to Bhutan recently, to be introduced to a new kind of maths curriculum which aims at increasing the happiness of its pupils. Here's an extract below:
Famous for its decision to measure its wealth not just economically but also via the idea of gross national happiness, Bhutan is trying to find a way to get its children to be happier in mathematics lessons. Having long been inspired by the Indian curriculum, which favours rules and rote learning, the emphasis is shifting to giving students an understanding of why and how these rules work.
...To break the ice, I told stories about my favourite numbers: the primes. After all, 17 is as much an indivisible number in Bhutan as it is in the quads of Oxford.
“Can primes help me to understand the significance of the number 108 in Buddhism?” Kesang, a teacher from the Punakha valley asked me as we broke for a morning snack of momos, a Bhutanese dumpling. Never one to shirk a challenge, I said my first instinct would be to pull the number apart into its prime divisors to see how it is made: 108=2x2x3x3x3.
As it turns out, this does relate to one of the explanations of the significance of 108 in Buddhism. Kesang explained to me that Buddhists believe we have six senses: our five western senses together with the sixth sense of consciousness. These senses can be experienced in three ways: good, bad or indifferent. They can also be internal or external to the body. Finally they can be in the past, present or future. Which gives (2x3)x3x2x3=108 different categories of senses.
Students also are introduced to fractal patterns early in their learning, as examples of the beauty and attractiveness of maths. Du Sautoy concludes:
In a private audience with the king of Bhutan while I was there, he told me that he wanted his subjects to be fluent in three languages. “Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan, so that they will always be connected to their unique culture and heritage. English because this allows them to connect and communicate with the rest of the world. And the language of mathematics because this is the language that will allow them to navigate the universe and to plan for an uncertain future.”