April 16, 2024

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International Day of Mathematics 2024: A Global Initiative to Enhance Mathematical Awareness and Education

Greater global awareness of Mathematics is essential to address challenges in areas such as artificial intelligence, climate change, energy and sustainable development, and to improve the quality of life in the developed world and beyond. In most countries, 14 March (3/14) is celebrated as Pi Day because π, one of the world’s best-known mathematical constants, can be rounded to 3.14. In November 2019, the 40th UNESCO General Conference therefore declared 14 March of each year as the International Day of Mathematics. The International Day of Mathematics (IDM) is a worldwide celebration. It is a project run by the International Mathematical Union with the support of various international and regional organisations. Every year on 14 March, all countries are invited to participate in activities for students and the public in schools, museums, libraries and other locations. Each year, a theme is chosen for the celebrations to reinforce the spirit of International Mathematics Day, stimulate creativity and highlight the relationship between Mathematics and different fields, concepts and ideas. This year’s theme for the International Day of Mathematics is “Playing with Math”.

“Playing with Math” refers to activities or experiences that involve exploring, experimenting and interacting with mathematical concepts in creative and fun ways. It usually involves hands-on activities, problem-solving tasks, puzzles, games or even informal exploration of mathematical ideas. This approach encourages individuals to gain a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts through active engagement and discovery, as opposed to traditional methods such as lectures or worksheets. “Playing with Math” stimulates curiosity, critical thinking and a positive attitude towards maths, making it more accessible and enjoyable for students of all ages. Playing with maths is a learning process that does not focus on the product. Mistakes that students make while playing are not to be judged, but serve as important information for their improvement. They play with maths in order not to be intimidated by maths and thus counteract the impression that maths is a difficult and intimidating subject.

In the local context, many traditional Malaysian games involve Mathematics. The most famous among them is Congkak. Congkak is a traditional Malay game played with a wooden board and rubber seeds. This game requires strategic thinking, counting and basic arithmetic as players calculate the number of seeds in each hole. Batu Seremban is about throwing small objects, usually rubber seeds, and performing various sequences of catches and throws. Players assign numerical values to the sequences they perform and the game involves addition, subtraction, and sometimes multiplication as players calculate their scores. Gasing is a traditional game in which players spin spinning tops and compete to keep them spinning for the longest time. This game is about physical principles such as momentum and balance, which can be understood through mathematical concepts. Sepak takraw is a traditional sport known in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia. Sepak takraw involves the calculation of angles, force and precise trajectories as players kick a rattan ball over a net using various acrobatic movements.

Learning through play is based on many theories, especially in maths. Piaget’s theory of cognitive development theory asserts that children acquire knowledge through social interaction with their environment. In the context of learning through play, this knowledge is acquired through activities to explore the physical world. Piaget himself emphasised that playful activities contribute to children’s cognitive and social development as they involve active engagement and constant social interaction with the environment. Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory describes in detail how children build knowledge through social interaction with others, through playing together with peers and with the support of adults. Children who play in groups or pairs not only acquire knowledge, but also develop communication skills, their personality and their core values. This is because play is an active process in which each participant in the play activity is mentally, emotionally and physically involved, leading to the development of strategies and a sense of responsibility in all actions. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences underpins playful learning for maths. It makes the learning experience more inclusive, engaging and comprehensible by recognising the different strengths of students in a class. These intelligences include linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic intelligences. This makes the learning experience more inclusive, engaging, and understandable by recognising the different strengths of the students in a classroom.

To summarise, the International Day of Mathematics aims to highlight the fundamental role of mathematics in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) introduced by the United Nations, such as the quality of education and the reduction of inequality. ‘Learning with Math” not only enhances individuals’ cognitive abilities, but also develops their psychomotor and affective skills. In the context of education, playing with maths is in line with the National Education Philosophy (FPK), which aims to produce holistic individuals in terms of physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and character aspects.

Happy International Day of Mathematics!


Dr. Abdul Halim Abdullah, an Associate Professor in the School of Education, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities UTM, is dedicated to transforming mathematics education through technology integration. Specializing in technology-aided teaching and learning, he advocates for innovative tools to enhance the mathematical learning experience. Driven by a focus on problem-solving, he cultivates critical and creative thinking skills in students. With an emphasis on mathematical and geometrical thinking, Dr. Abdullah employs strategic learning methods to deepen conceptual understanding. Vigilant about current issues, he ensures his teaching methods align with contemporary challenges in mathematics education, positioning him as a leading advocate for innovative approaches in preparing students for a dynamic technological landscape.

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