For some, it is a piece of cake. For most, it is the stuff of nightmares.

Maths anxiety is now a recognised psychological phenomenon, and students suffering from it have help at hand.

“Maths anxiety is often confused with dyscalculia, or maths disability,” says Trupti Talekar, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. “Emotional disturbance that negatively affects the child’s maths performance is what constitutes maths anxiety. (On the other hand) dyscalculia is an academic disability: a skill deficit that has a neurological basis. Both can occur separately or together.”

Maths anxiety is defined as a fear/stress that arises in some students when asked to solve a problem. It is different from plain disinterest in the subject, though the line separating the two is rather thin.

So it is important to study and understand the behavioural pattern before classifying the issue. Students suffering from maths anxiety display symptoms such as restlessness and a tendency to shy away in the maths class. They typically avoid contact with the maths teacher, and do not spend much time preparing for tests.

Pet fear

According to a survey conducted by ed-tech start-up IMAX, anxiety is more common in maths than in any other subject.

“We have seen that there is a sort of avoidance behaviour when it comes to homework,” says Naveen Mandava, co-founder and CEO of IMAX, describing the symptoms. “Students get goosebumps when asked to solve problems on the blackboard. Even during exams, they postpone preparation for the subject till the last minute.”

“Children can be classified into three categories: Proactive, indifferent and anxious,” Mandava further says. “The proactive ones are those who spend more time on the subject than what is required. The indifferent ones do the bare minimum needed — they may just about complete their homework. Lastly, there are those who suffer from anxiety.”

Though the anxiety may arise from various causes, it is often in response to certain events or situations. For instance, if a teacher scolds a student in class when he/she is unable to solve a maths problem, it may lead to anxiety, say experts.

“My child started developing the symptoms of anxiety in class 4,” recalls the mother of an 11-year-old. “He can confidently handle a problem at his desk, but gets anxious if asked to tackle it in front of the entire classroom.”

“I have started counselling him at home,” she says. “I tell him it is alright even if he gets it wrong. Now he is in class 6, and his hesitation has gradually decreased.”

Solutions at hand

“There are therapies and treatments to deal with this,” says Rajesh Sagar, a child psychiatrist at AIIMS. “With proper treatment — such as taking anti-anxiety drugs and practising relaxation techniques like breathing exercises — students can overcome maths anxiety.”

In April, the Union HRD Ministry formed a committee to come up with ways to reduce the fear of maths among students. The committee, headed by Gujarat Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, will make suggestions to make maths ‘easy’.