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Why Mathematics is Important Claude M Packer, CD, JP, President, The Mico University College, Kingston, Jamaica

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Mathematics is a key school subject and its neglect could cause problems for generations to come.

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In an increasingly global society, in which we compete for trade throughout the world, it is crucial that our future workforce, at all levels, should be proficient in basic mathematical skills (Kassel Project, University of Plymouth (1997).

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The Caribbean is not producing enough theoretical and applied mathematicians and statisticians.

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We are also not producing enough Mathematical Economists, Mathematical Psychologists, Mathematical Sociologists, Mathematical Biologists, Scientists, Econometricians, etc. - University graduates in fields that require higher mathematics and statistics in their training.

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Countries in the Caribbean must begin to produce more good researchers who can adequately use qualitative and quantitative data to draw inferences and thus predict on pressing issues in different fields that are relevant to our national development, if we are to seriously deal with increasing poverty.

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In Innovation (2005): “Developing countries need to create indigenous capacity by training scientists, technologists and engineers in relevant fields” (p. 36).

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In India, there is a direct intervention at all levels of the education system to create a culture of mathematics and science research for innovation to enhance national development, (Argarkar, 2012)

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EARLY HISTORY OF MATHEMATICS FOR ECONOMIC AND SCIENTIFIC DEVELOPMENT IN DIFFERENT CIVILIZATIONS

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For centuries, man has explored mathematical concepts and ideas, developed theories, theorems and experimented with algorithms to expand mathematical knowledge for the world scientific development. E=mc 2

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Pythagoras, Descartes, Newton, Euclid, and Cantor are some of the outstanding mathematicians who have contributed significantly to mathematical thought and made a difference in world scientific development.

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Mathematics as an organised, independent and reasoned discipline, did not exist before the classical Greeks of the period 600 to 300 B.C. entered the scene.

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There were, however, prior civilisations in which the beginnings or rudiments of mathematics were created. Many of these primitive civilisations did not get beyond distinguishing among one, two and many. They also utilised simple non- standard measurements to facilitate experimentation and economic activity.

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The use of mathematics in Mesopotamia, for example, was confined to simple trading, crude calculations of areas of fields, geometry decorations on pottery, patterns woven in cloth and recording of time.

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Until we reached the mathematics of the Babylonians and the Egyptians of about 3,000 BC, we did not find more advanced steps in the field. Primitive peoples usually settle down in one area.

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They built homes, relied on agriculture and animal husbandry, as far back as 10,000 BC, so mathematics was created for the development of their society, especially scientifically, economically and culturally.

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The Hindus and Arabs extended the Greeks’ work and introduced negative numbers to represent debts and positive numbers for assets, for example. The Arabs created a centre for learning in mathematics in the now destroyed Baghdad and explored geometry and trigonometry extensively during the ascendancy of their civilisation in order to study astronomy.

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Western and Central Europe entered into the development of mathematics when the Arabs/Indian civilisation began to decline and this renaissance period simulated mathematics development in Europe.

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Some of the scientists of the period were theologians who had an interest in God’s creation of the world and so they studied astronomy and trigonometry—Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo, for example.

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Others developed the calculus and coordinate geometry—Sir Isaac Newton and Descartes.

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What is clear from this brief history is that mathematics was created for the development of peoples in their civilisation.

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Let us examine the following mappings (Figures 1(a), 1(b) and 1(c)) to ascertain some of what we need to know about and in mathematics to enhance our economic growth.

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Enough mathematical topics are presented here to facilitate the study of cutting edge scientific work: nanotechnology, for example

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the study of design creation, synthesis, manipulation and appreciation of functional materials, devices and systems through the control of matter at the atomic and molecular levels and the exploitation of novel phenomena and properties of matter (Innovation, 2005, p. 69).

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This has given rise to research at Chiang Mai University in Thailand using this technology to develop a strain of rice that has shorter stems, that is not sensitive to sunlight, thereby reducing vulnerability to wind damage and thus decreasing storage related costs.

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We are a part of a mathematical world

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My experiences have allowed me to define it, thus: science – (the fascination of numbers, patterns, sequences, symmetry, applications to physics, etc., modelling), history, art, music, part of nature, language, logic, problem solving, a way of thinking.

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Its literacy is mandatory for us to exist during our life and times.

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