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CONTESTANTS grapple with maths conundrums at the competition on Wednesday.—White Star
CONTESTANTS grapple with maths conundrums at the competition on Wednesday.—White Star

KARACHI: What is the difference between the smallest three-digit even number and the largest four-digit odd number? Alina baked 35 batches of cookies and each batch had 20 cookies. She takes half to school and leaves half for a party at home. If 70 people came to the party, how many cookies did each eat? What is 111111 + 11111 - 1111 +111 - 11 + 1?

There was nervous nail-biting as sweat gathered on little foreheads as a few hands were raised every now and then. No, not to answer the questions, that the student teams could do on the tablets provided to them, the hands were raised to ask permission to go to the bathroom actually.

This was the general atmosphere at the Math Challenge-2014, a nationwide inter-school competition that highlights the analytical and problem-solving skills of primary, middle and secondary school students, organised by EDeQUAL where mathematics nerds from all over the country met here on Wednesday for the thid and final round to decide the champions.

Of course some children like Ayesha Khan, a class nine student from Bahria Foundation College, said the competition was tough but she was prepared for it. “Bring it on,” she announced hoping that the other contestants in her age category heard her loud and clear.

“They are no competition for us. We will crush all competitors,” declared Mohammad Orhan Ghazi Khan, a class seven student from Karachi Grammar School (KGS).

“Yes, it is a tough competition with the difficulty level on the high side but look at the students here. They thrive on such challenges,” said Rizwana Yousuf, head of the mathematics department at the KGS.

The maths challenge questions focused on analytical and problem-solving skills, aimed at testing students’ logical reasoning and concept knowledge in mathematics. “These analytical skills will differentiate the high achievers from the rest,” said Ameen Jan, CEO of EDeQUAL.

“If students and schools are to achieve excellence in mathematics at international standards, they must recognise that analytical skills, rather than calculation skills, need to be strengthened. A calculator will always surpass humans in speed and accuracy of calculation; but only humans have the ability to think and reason, and this should form the core of how maths is taught. Those students who have strong analytical ability invariably excel not just in mathematics but also in other subjects,” he added.

The EDeQUAL Math Challenge was conducted in three rounds. Round one, held in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad in September, launched the first annual EDeQUAL Math Challenge where 40 schools and 7,000 students participated using EDeQUAL’s high quality technology platform from their own locations. At the end of the first round, which was a set of online quizzes, each participating school selected its team from their highest scorers.

In round two, inter-school teams in each city competed in a game show format in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. The top three teams from each city then went to compete in the final round, where the winning team became the national mathematics champion.

The final round of the contest, too, was conducted in a game show format. Fifteen questions were concurrently posed to each competing school team in three cities. Correct responses earned points. The first team to get the correct answer earned bonus points and incorrect answers resulted in points being taken off a team’s total score.

The game show format, use of EDeQUAL’s technology interface accessed through tablets, and the engaging nature of the questions created a high level of excitement in the competition.

Finally, three schools emerged as the EDeQUAL national maths champions of 2014. In the primary school category (classes three, four, five and six), Beaconhouse Jubilee Campus (Karachi) was named the nationwide winner. In the middle secondary school category (classes seven, eight and nine), the KGS (Karachi) were declared the champion. And Beaconhouse Jubilee Campus (Karachi) again were the top team in the higher secondary school category (classes 10 and 11).

EDeQUAL is a Silicon Valley-funded education-technology company located in Karachi. It provides high quality instruction in mathematics to students from primary to O levels, which can be accessed via EDeQUAL’s proprietary online learning platform. EDeQUAL provides schools and students with teacher support to implement online learning in a structured and supervised setting. This system is being used by students and schools in Pakistan and the UAE.

“Our individualised learning method and focus on strengthening mathematics concepts has resulted in rapid improvement in the maths performance of students who have used EDeQUAL for just three months,” said EDeQUAL’s CEO. “Longer term use of EDeQUAL will make students great at maths, and will reduce their need for tuitions,” he said.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2014