NEW DELHI: A 20-year-old mathematics graduate of the University of Delhi and world champion in mental calculation says he seeks to “eradicate math phobia,” as a recent international award gave him the fame needed to pursue the cause.
Neelkantha Bhanu Prakash, India’s Hyderabad-born mathematical phenomenon, defeated 30 candidates from various parts of the world and won the Mental Calculation World Championship during the Mind Sports Olympiad in the third week of August.
He calls himself a “mental sprinter” and compares his computing capabilities with sports skills.
“My life mission is to eradicate math phobia. I want to use the fame and the award I got to give back,” Prakash said. “People might not be interested in math, but there should not be any fear of it.”
The Mind Sports Olympiad is an annual multidisciplinary competition with numerous mind sports. Started in London in 1997, the event was held online this year due to travel restrictions in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“The gold in the Mind Sports Olympiad brought me to the limelight, though I have been breaking the record for the last three years,” Prakash said.
He does not consider himself a genius or gifted. Instead, he affirms that practicing for a long time is what renders the whole process of calculation “natural.”
Prakash’s interest in calculation began when he was 5 years old, when an accident injured his brain.
While recovering, he started doing mental calculation, which proved a life-changing experience.
“The accident put me in a direction that I would not have explored otherwise,” he told Arab News, adding that he has been lucky to have his middle-class family support his “unusual interest” and invest in his efforts.
Training the mind is important, he says, and he likens the exercise to physical activity. This activity, however, develops cognitive ability instead of muscles.
His life is not all about calculation, though. He loves watching TV, reading history books and traveling to explore new places.
Prakash is not happy with the way mathematics is taught in school and has set up Exploring Infinities, a venture that works with students and educators to, as he says, “redefine the objective of mathematical learning.”
He wants to make Exploring Infinities the biggest math start-up in the world, and he has already been invited to initiate conversations on mathematical education in several countries, including the UAE.
“My plan is to eradicate math phobia globally,” Prakash said. “That can only happen when we realize that the way math education is defined in school is problematic. Math has to be learned the way we learn a language. We learn language very creatively through stories and poetry, and then we proceed to grammar. But in math, we go to grammar first, and this creates a phobia.”