It is not an easy task to be at the forefront. But you can deal with it if you have the correct mathematical calculation. Associate Professor of the Department of Mathematics and Information Science of the Faculty of the Russian Language and General Studies Lidiya Sokolova speaks about mathematics and life in her interview.
During the war all girls wanted to be nurses, doctors to help the wounded. And I didn’t make an exception at the time. But it was until I went to school. I remember the moment of our distribution into classes as if it were now: one teacher came out, read out a list of children, then the second, the third... and suddenly ours 1 «D». When I looked at her I said: «That’s it, I’ll be a teacher, only a teacher!» Her name was Lyubov Petrovna. Looking at her, I got addicted to this profession! It was love at first sight.
Back in my school years I realized that there were few people who loved mathematics. Mostly, they respected it. But why? Lomonosov gave an excellent answer to this question: «Mathematics is already good because it brings your mind in order.» When you study elementary mathematics at school, you start to understand how the interrelation and sequence of the material studied are important in this science. And if you have missed one thing, didn’t understand it, and it worked in the next topic — you’ll fail. Some kind of fear appears after this. You think about the upcoming test, fail-pass exam with this fear. What kind of love to the subject can we speak about?
When my students were taking their exams, I am not sure who felt more anxious. As for me, I really felt bad. I have never had low scorers, or academically deficient students. I have always told my students during classes that they can ask any question, even if they think it is stupid. Many students nod their heads — everything is clear, everything is OK, but some students feel a knot in their stomach and think: «Oh, dear! How can it be clear to them? How can it be?»
I have learned and worked all my life. My teaching experience is over 60 years. After I started to work at university I went to upgrade my skills at the Moscow State University Advanced Training Faculty almost immediately. It helped me a lot to understand my work: there I finally realized the importance of teaching methodics of any subject. Thus, one professor delivered lectures in mathematical logic. He did it in a very artistic way, he was pacing around the room and lecturing. It was interesting to listen to him but it was completely incomprehensible. I thought: «What is the matter? How can this be?» And everybody nodded their head. There was a girl from Siberia sitting next to me. I asked her: «Excuse me, can you tell me what you have understood from what he read?» She said: «Nothing». Well, it meant that I was not alone. It made me think once again that it is not enough to know the subject. It is vital to understand how to explain, that is to see the students’ eyes. They may have understood nothing.
I always felt unhappy when I put a satisfactory mark to a student at the exam. I understood that he didn’t know the material for a better mark. But it bothered me, it seemed to me that I was to blame, that it was me who hadn’t taught them.
I used to think that I was not a fatalist. But now from the high hill of my age and work experience I start to think that everything happens for a reason in this life. One thing results from another one.
It was 1957. Moscow hosted 6th World Festival of Youth and Students. I remembered this bright event for life! It was the first time when foreigners were allowed to come to our country. The whole Moscow was preparing for the event. Komsomol was entrusted with conducting this festival. We were absorbed in this business! There was a lot of work to do, and I hadn’t slept for almost 2 weeks — I had been working as a journalist. The opening and closing ceremonies of the festival were like a fairytale. «Children of different nations, we are living the dream of peace» — one could hear these songs from the open windows every day. Moreover, paper white doves of peace were posted on the windows — ordinary Muscovites did that.
Three years later it was reported in media that international Peoples’ Friendship University was to open in Moscow.
I had my heart set on it and I felt the urge to find it. I gathered the documents and went to the Human Resource Department in Ordzhonikidze street. A very serious and pleasant man met me there. It was Grigoriy Ivanovich Gerasimov who asked me a lot of questions and confirmed that the university had only started to work and there was some need in human resources. Teaching staff were recruited from other universities and schools. I left my documents for consideration. When I received a positive answer I had to pass an interview with the dean of the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics.
The first Dean of the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics was Abdelhak Safiullovich Galiullin. He was a man of high culture and orientally wise person. It struck me when I saw that he got up when I came into his office. It was on his advice and proposal that I was hired in the Department of Computational Mathematics and Probability Theory.
The main question for me has always been how to teach mathematics to foreigners. They were so different.
Well, for example, three and two thirds is a mixed number. If I want to make a fraction of this mixed number it is clear that will be incorrect, as the numerator will be larger than the denominator. And foreigners are used to the following: if A stands near B and there is no sign between them, it means that A should be multiplied by B. That is why three and two thirds means that three times two thirds, and moreover, we will shorten it and there will remain «Ha ha». It had to be explained somehow. And if you say the wrong fraction ... Oh, what happened! "This is the right fraction. What do you think is not a fraction? This is a fraction! "(laughs). I had to say that was the name of this fraction. When you say that it’s the name, they agree, so be it. All this was very interesting!
I was given a group of students in economics. They were of my age, and some of them were even older than me. The students absorbed all the material. It is worth noting that they wanted to study so much that all of them started to speak Russian already in a term. The subjects but, of course, only basics were taught in Russian. During your class you had to teach them Russian as well, because if you wrote something on the blackboard and «let’s solve» it meant that the lesson was no use. That is why we had to create special methods. It was very interesting. For example, that was the case with mixed numbers. Once a student shouted: «Eureka! It is called salad in the canteen!», another student compared it with porridge. We worked with images, associations as well.
There was a subject called Application of Electronic Computing Machines in Engineering Calculations. A computational centre was created in the building in Ordzhonikidze street. It was equipped with the MINSK-22 computing machine. It occupied the whole floor. Practical classes were on small keyboard machines in the class.
Then algorithmic languages appeared — Algol, Fortran, BASIC. At first we made up a program using commands, typed on punched tape, then put the tape into the MINSK-22 machine, and it already started to work.
I had to read a lecture course in this subject. I almost didn’t sleep — it took me so much time to prepare for the lectures. I called the first lecture Cybernetics and Society. I felt anxious and I was afraid. I came into the classroom, my knees were trembling, it was as if I were going through the ranks: there were desks on the right and on the left, there were students sitting at their desks. I had difficulty managing to struggle with anxiety. The following lecture was calmer because I didn’t feel any anxiety and jitter. However, some other things started. When I came to the second lecture there was an envelope with tickets to the Almaz cinema on my table and a sheet of paper with a heart pierced with an arrow drawn on it and the text which said: «Say: yes or no». I pulled myself together and said: «There is no signature on the paper. Who shall I answer?». There was silence and nobody ever confessed. There were interesting moments and we were just very young.
The atmosphere of friendship and warmness reigned in groups. Everything was interesting for students: both what happened in the world and in our country.
It was the first time in the world when the space exploration began. The students were crazy about it. Cosmonauts were regular guests of Peoples’ Friendship University. For example, there was a knock on the door during the class: everyone was invited to the hall to meet Valeriy Bykovskiy. At the end of the meeting, an Arab student came out and said in good Russian: «I’d like to make a present for you — to sing a song.» And he started to sing: «Field, Russian field ...». Or, you were walking along the corridor in the building in Ordzhonikidze street, and Valentina Tereshkova or Georgiy Beregovoi were going towards you.
Life always teaches you. And my life is really linked with university. My colleagues from the teaching staff wrote to me these words from a song: «Enchanted, bewitched with RUDN University, forever married ...». It's true. I have been at university for more than 50 years: including more than 15 years as a deputy dean of the faculty. The greatest joy for a teacher is when his students have achieved greater success than the teacher himself. I will never forget how students of one group asked me to stay for a while after the last lesson. One young man pulled out a violin, and started to play Bach’s music. My students are here. We teach each other: we learn from them, they learn from us.
I would like to wish everyone to remain human despite all the life changes. I hope that the young generation of our students, teaching staff, researchers will make our country happy.