Math homework sparks debate in Indonesia: “Is 4 x 6 the same as 6 x 4?”

A simple Mathematics homework of a 2nd grade primary student in Indonesia became the subject of a national debate and the ensuing argument has gone viral on social media.

It all started when mechanical engineering student from Diponegoro University, Muhammad Erfas Maulana posted on Facebook and Twitter a snapshot of his younger sister’s Math homework showing the correction made by her teacher on one of the problems.

The photo showed that 4+4+4+4+4+4 which was answered by the girl as 4×6 =24 was marked wrong by the teacher, and corrected as 6×4=24.

Believing that the 6×4 and 4×6 is both 24 and therefore any of the two answers is correct, Erfas took to social media his bewilderment and criticized the correction made by the teacher.

His post immediately caught the attention of netizens online and sparked an interesting debate and exchanges of opinion and ideas, but most are in agreement with Erfas that the teacher may have been wrong.

Others, however, argued that the result may be the same for the problem in question, it is important to note that the process by which it was arrived at may not be right according to the instructions given by the teacher.

In fact, the debate becomes so popular in social media that two professors have participated, but both have differed from the opinion of each other.

Professor Iwan Pranoto from Institute of Technology Bandung (ITB) explained 4×6 and 6×4 is the same, but could be wrong when viewed from a certain context.

The professor pointed out: “If the teacher’s question is “If 2×3 = 3 + 3, specify 3×4”, then the answer should be 4 + 4 + 4. If the children answer this question 3 + 3 + 3 + 3, then the student is wrong.”

However,  Prof. Iwan continued, if the question is only 3×4, then the student can answer 3+3+3+3 or 4+4+4, which is both correct.

According to Iwan’s opinion, 4+4+4+4+4+4 can be expressed both as 4×6 or 6×4 based on the principle of multiplication operation, therefore, the young girl should not be blamed for her answer.

Iwan said the confusion should be blamed on how the teacher asked the question.

But another professor of physics, Yohannes Surya said it could not be the same if they are meant to represent different units. Giving a simple example, Surya explained 6 baskets of 4 oranges each is different from 4 boxes of 6 oranges each, even though both have a total of 24 oranges.

The debate between Iwan and Surya over the same problem continued that Erfas has to issue an apology to end it.

First, he apologized for creating the fracas on social media. He also apologized to his younger sister’s teacher saying the latter should not be blamed since he is only following instructions from an existing school textbook.

Finally he urged everyone to put an end to the debate as he no longer desires to prolong the disagreement between arguing parties and hope that everyone learned a lesson from what has transpired.

The Math homework that launched a national debate (Photo credit: