Ahmed Saya is a well-known name among students of Karachi as a teacher par excellence of mathematics and accounts for O and A levels.
In fact, his dedication as a teacher who inspires and nurtures his students to master these difficult subjects has earned him the prestigious Cambridge University Press’s ‘2019 Dedicated Teacher Award’. To be voted as the top teacher out of 4,000 nominations from around the world speaks volumes about the impact he has on his students.
Saya shares with Young World some tips that can help students to become better in maths and some valuable advice that can make them good human beings.
Q: Why, in your observation, do students dislike/fear maths?
A: I think there are two reasons for students not liking maths or fearing maths.
First, is the preconceived notion that maths is difficult. Most students hear their seniors or parents complaining that maths is difficult and so they give up even without trying. There is this fear of failure that stops them from bringing out their true potential even before trying.
Second, I believe that we teachers are also responsible as we fail to make maths as interesting as it should be made. We need to give them hands-on experience and
real-life examples of the usage of maths, and make the class lively and interactive to help them develop interest in the subject. We need to motivate children to believe that yes, they can do it.
In reality students don’t hate maths — they hate being confused, intimidated and embarrassed by maths. With understanding comes passion and with passion comes growth. So actually the passion for maths is missing in students, which is a hindrance to their growth.
Q: What are the main mistakes that students make in their approach to studying maths?
A: Lack of practice is the major mistake they make. Maths comes naturally with practice and the more a student practices, the more confidence he develops in the command over the subject.
Secondly, students try and learn maths — and that’s the wrong approach. Students need to understand maths. They need to comprehend the question before racing to answer it.
Furthermore, in maths there is interconnectivity between different topics and, if a student fails to understand one topic or has missed a single class, their concepts in future topics are also at risk.
Another problem that I have observed is lack of linguistic skill, this makes them unable to comprehend a question. So, in some cases, their maths is not as weak as their English is.
Q: It is said that maths is all about practice, how true is it?
A: This statement is quite true. But before practicing, the concept of certain topic that is being practiced must be crystal clear. Practice without right concept is a waste of time. Once students’ concepts are completely clear, all that is required in maths is practice. But at the same time, analytical skills and comprehension skills are also needed.
Q: What is the secret to success in maths?
A: Persistence, hard work, never give-up attitude and practice within the limited time allotted. Dedicated efforts and careful step-by-step workings can help student gain confidence and simultaneously improve maths.
Q: How do you suggest children, especially those studying for O/A Level maths, should study to do well in Cambridge exams?
A: The secret sauce of doing well in maths in Cambridge exams and, for that matter in any examination board, is firstly to cover the entire syllabus, all nitty-gritties needs to be understood.
Secondly, exam-style questions need to be practised by either solving past papers or using the right resources.
Another important aspect is to allocate appropriate time when practicing. Lots of students take their own sweet time when practicing, but when they sit for the exam they panic as they have a race against time that they need to manage.
If from beginning, a student allocates the right time for each question and follows it, then he/she is bound to be able to answer the questions within the time given during the exam and hence perform well.
Q: A lot of students fear additional maths, what will you say to such students?
A: My question to such students is “Have you even tried studying additional mathematics or you are afraid it is difficult because you have heard people so?”
Many students fear additional mathematics even without trying it. I would request them to please keep their preconceived notions aside and try it with an open mind. It is not that difficult.
The advantages of studying additional maths outweigh its difficulty level, so it is recommended. Plus if a student plans to take A level maths, add maths acts as a blessing as A Level maths have many topics similar to additional maths.
Q: What do you see most lacking in teachers of maths today?
A: Professional commitment
Q: Any other advice you would like to give students?
A: Life is the best teacher. It always keeps you on your toes and teaches you something or the other. When you fail, it teaches you importance of hard work, persistence and focus.
When you succeed, it teaches you humility, thankfulness and be a source of benefit to others. Life sometimes takes away things to teach you and sometime gives you bundles of joys to teach you again.
A few things I learnt from life and would offer them as advice to students:
• There is no alternate to hard work. The harder you work, the luckier you become. Two things change luck — prayers and hard work.
• Always question if you have doubts. He who doesn’t ask, is afraid of learning.
• You are not in competition with anyone but yourself! If you are better than what you were yesterday, you have achieved success. Success is a continuous process of improvement. If you don’t move ahead, you automatically fall behind. There are no royal routes to success, but once you are successful, all routes become royal.
• Whatever you do, always listen to your inner voice. Your inner voice is you guardian angel, it will always direct you to the right path.
• Never cheat. Always be honest. No legacy is as rich as honesty. Be true to your own self and you will be honest to others.
• Respect and obey your parents. They are most selfless people on earth. Their advice is worth more than all the money in the world.
• There is a very thin line between confidence and overconfidence. Never cross that line to be successful.
• Be a source of benefit for everyone around you, whether you know them or not. Work for everyone around you selflessly, do not expect anything in return. If you do a good deeds in order to have something better in return, then that good deed is no good because it is a trade.
• Be humble, down-to-earth, Kind, caring, respectful and helpful.
• You have the right to use resources but you have no right to waste resources.
• Every time you fail to achieve your desired goal, learn from your failures. You either win or you learn. There is no third option. Every time you fall down, you have two options: give up or get up. Everything happens for a good reason if you have given your best. Try, try and never surrender, but things might not turn out the way you have planned them because “We plan and plot but He is the Best of the planners.”
• Lastly, but most importantly, remember Allah in your prosperity and He will never forget you in your adversity.
Published in Dawn, Young World, September 21st, 2019