Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Banking woes

My wife went to the bank yesterday to make a simple cash deposit of $380, in two $100 bills, and nine $20 bills. A simple and elementary task, or so you would like to believe.

She walks up to the counter, and hands the deposit slip with the cash to the cashier. She (the cashier) takes the bills, and then types furiously into the computer.

”(9*20) + (2*100)”

Apparently, the computer doesn’t spew out an answer. So she furiously types into the computer again. There seems to be a computer glitch, and she’s stumped.

She leans over to the cashier next to her (who’s twiddling his thumbs, doing nothing) and says,

”Hey John, what’s 9*20? There’s some problem with my computer.”

My wife’s standing there, and her jaw drops in shock upon hearing this question.

Meanwhile, John’s breaking into a sweat.

”Uh….I’m not sure….9 times 20 is….”

My wife’s getting impatient. She has work to do in her lab, and doesn’t have all day for this circus. So she leaps in to rescue them.

”One hundred and eighty”, she says.

John looks at her in awe, and says ”I think you’re right! You must be really good with numbers.”

This latest revelation makes my wife reel, and wonder if she’s hallucinating. Time flashes back to when she almost decided to do a BSc. in Mathematics. Then comes the icing on the cake.

”Math really isn’t my thing, I was terrible at it in school.”, says John.

It's more than my wife can bear. She mumbles something polite and leaves, staggering out under the shock of the whole thing.

9*20. No more, no less.

And these are the Cashiers in Banks whom we trust with our money?

Post script: What does one need to know to become a bank cashier? Do they really need to hire math wizards who count with their fingers and toes (and therefore can’t count beyond 20?). I’m in awe of the cashiers in little, obscure banks in India (State Bank of Mysore, anyone?) who count faster than you can key in the numbers into a calculator.


Anonymous said...

Hehe! And I used to curse everyone when I was not let to use the calculator in school. But now...

Anonymous said...

Sunil, I had blogged about this long ago - read it and the link inside the post on 'Johnny can't add'... and tell me what you think - the whole world pounced on me when i wrote this (I lost all the comments when I moved my blog but they were great fun - all indignant responses) - also this - (sorry for semi-spamming your comment box but I couldn't help remembering these!)

Sunil said...

Charu....thanks for both those links..

I had read both those posts on your blog, when they had come out (but had refrained from commenting, mostly seeing what others had written).

I've seen some very uncreative kids come out of some Indian schools.....but frankly, here in the West, sometimes its the extreme other end. I met this undergrad here, who had transferred to the UW after 2 years in community college, and she had been through high school AND two years of college without ANY math classes. That is something incomprehensible to me.

Chemistry majors are unable to do simple molarity-normality calculations. Again, unacceptable.

The amount of trouble I've had teaching Pharmacy students (who go on to dispense drugs, and more seriously, administer drugs to patients in hospitals) simple drug dose and IC50 calculations amazed me. The simplest of calculations were difficult, because they had never been taught to do so.

I don't want to rant much....but there is something necessary in some basic minimum rote learning, and drilled calculation exercises. In the long absolutely helps. I know a lot of people are going to disagree here...but..'re's just simple typing in to a computer....but sometimes if you do encounter a problem, and ask them for help, they have NP clue what to do. And they are completely reliant on that computer in front of them.....the overreliance is unnerving.

Anand said...

Yep, quite shocking to see the dismal numerical skills.

Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sunil
Nice post.
This is why banks are moving more and more transactions to the ATM's(automatic teller machines)... they're more intelligent. :)

Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sunil
Did you notice: this post was featured in Sepia Mutiny:
Sepia Mutiny: Why Johnny can’t multiply.
Good Job!

Anonymous said...

Sunil, I think at the primary-middle school level, we are doing something absolutely right - call it straitjacket method or whatever advocates of newer methods call it, I think the kind of foundation Indian kids get goes a long long way...
numerical skills, language skills - most indian kids learn and know well more than one language - of course, we often get the grammar right but the feel of the language not entirely right! which explains babu english -
(and these posts were aaages ago - I didn't even know you were reading my blog then:) - but I am glad you remember the way people worked themselves up into a lather)

Anonymous said...

Nice post. And I even worked with a "Manager" in one of the big hospitals who thought that Ms Excel was a just a calculator....then he went to ask how it worked!!! Thats when you ask yourself " why do I work for this person?" Why cant I be his boss?..multitude of reasons can be give for that!!!

Sunil said...

Thanks all for the comments.

Pennathur, perfect observation. My boss (a grey haired scientist who's 60 now) is superb with numbers.....does it all just like my father does :-). So, clearly, they had those skills drilled into them.....but present generations haven't!
Charu...I agree completely with your statement..atleast till the middle school level, these basic skills are essential.

Michael....I noticed I was linked from Sepia.....I noticed when my sitemeter shot up, I got over 300 more hits than usual! Don't get 600 page views everyday :-)

Sunil said...

And I had to go up to 20*12 in my chaddi days.....I asked my father why it was important and he said it would help you later on. My daddy's never wrong :-)

Anonymous said...

If you want to really befuddle a cashier, hand them, say, a $5 for a $3.70 purchase, and then say "Oh wait" and hand them two dimes after the machine has already told them what they should give you. They're always like "No, you've already given me enough." "Yes, but I want two quarters back in change." This usually stumps them into silence while they struggle with the math and why an obviously evil customer has screwed with an otherwise simple, machine-aided exchange.

As an aside, I was always called upon to do simple calculations in the newsroom of my college paper. "We don't know math, we're journalists!" my peers would gleefully cry. Yeah dude, I score *heavily* on the verbal side of things as well, and almost failed pre-calculus (the concept of imaginary numbers made my head almost explode) but I can ADD AND MULTIPLY, YOU FREAKS! And then there's the argument of journalists ESPECIALLY needing to understand statistics, at the very least...anyway...

Sunil said...

I can understand people in non-mathematical, non-engineering, non-scientific fields not needing to know Calculus, or Z-transforms or the like, but basic, EVERYDAY math? But i've heard this from some people in the liberal arts (not all, some of them are perfectly comfortable with simple Math :-))

Anonymous said...

Commenting rather late on this post, but, I saw an interesting related post, Yet more Algebra, which you might like to read. I'm with Kevin when he talks about Problems A & B there in that post.

Sunil said...

Anand....thanks for that's excellent!

Mridula said...

Interesting, never happene to me anywhere in India, but I also suspect it does not mean a thing!