Meet Yakub Koyyur, a Karnataka Government School Teacher whose Maths lab is powering the dreams of rural students 

Visual models can make the difference between mugging up the answer to a problem and understanding how it actually works. Yakub Koyyur, who has set up a revolutionary Maths Lab in a government school
Yakub Koyyur at his school campus
Yakub Koyyur at his school campus

Mathematics can be easy. It's true. As long as you teach and learn it with a dollop of fun, says Yakub S Koyyur, a man who is now famous across Karnataka for his Maths World and Maths lab which started innovative Math teaching to high school students. But this isn't some highly paid private enterprise. Yakub's Maths Lab has been set up in the Government High School, Nada in Belathangdy which is in Dakshina Kannada. Hang on, we have all heard of science labs, but what is a Maths Lab? Do children get to learn addition and subtraction through experiments here? Or do they get to learn the Pythagoras theorem using 3D models? All these questions stuck in our minds as we connected with this dynamic teacher. 

Yakub, who is a big believer in smart teaching methods over rote learning methods, says, "Children are good learners but it is up to the teachers to choose how we teach them. That's why I feel teachers must adopt different methods to teach them so that they grasp it easily. For instance, many children and even teachers don't know why Pi is the result of 22/7. But in my class, students will tell you with an example why Pi is 22/7. That's how I teach them Maths. It's so much more than just a formula."

This unique project, for which Yakub has won several state-level awards, was not built in a span of one or two months. It took him more than a year to put everything in place. Being a government school teacher, Yakub could have just taken his classes and lived happily with his family, irrespective of learning outcomes. But instead, he spent time preparing some really innovative models that he thought up. He recalls, "I was hurt watching the politics that was happening at the school and they went as far as to suspend me for their vested interests. I returned home and cried a lot. My wife and children consoled and told me that I must not take it to heart. That night when I slept, I had a beautiful dream. I could see all kinds of Maths models, sums, calculations written on the walls and board in a particular room. When I woke up the next morning, I thought that this dream is not to be let go of." And so he chased it.

Like most of us, Yakub shared the dream with his colleagues and they all liked his concept and encouraged him to go ahead. Later, when he worked out the budget, it came up to Rs 4 lakh. Neither Yakub nor his colleagues had that kind of money. Therefore, he formed groups both on WhatsApp and Facebook where he went on adding the alumni (his old students) who studied in this school. He says, "I think the lab that exists today is because of my old students and some funds that local politicians allocated for our school. When I explained this concept, students encouraged me but when I spoke about the funds, none of them came forward."

Then it struck him. A breakdown approach would work better. "I realised that there is something wrong with the way I was asking for funds. That's when I planned the budget and listed the number of items we need and how much each item costs. They were super happy to contribute to the initiative. You will be surprised to know that the students contributed Rs 3,50,000 in just one day. Later, some MLA funds also flowed in for the development."

While all this money was in place, Yakub wanted someone from the alumni to be part of his initiative so that there would be transparency. Therefore, he invited his former student Harish Karinja to be part of this initiative and overlook the spending of funds. "We planned to visit some CBSE schools to see how they were teaching Math. In the meantime, we met several experienced professors from different universities to understand what we must teach or the kind of models that we can include. We also visited several shops that showed us these models. When I heard the prices of the models, I rejected them outright and came back to my school. Each model would cost us Rs 1,000-1,500. I intended to spend these funds carefully rather than wasting it. I told Harish that the money can be used to build a room and buy other equipment for the lab rather than spending it on the models. He agreed and we came back home," he recalls.

Yakub credits his wife Jameela and children for helping him build these models. He says, "My wife did not think twice and agreed to what I had asked. In 15 days, my children and I built more than 100 models related to theorems, circles, trigonometry, fractions, quadrilateral equations, polygons and many other concepts." Once they were in place, the lab really took off.

Set up in the humble government school, the results were fast and very, very good. Students not only fell back in love with the subject, they also began to do extremely well in their exams. "If you look at the results, the pass percentage of Math will be low in most schools. But the number of students scoring the highest marks in Math, as well as the overall pass percentage in our school, have been high every year. This is the difference that I have been trying to make over the past few years."

And then they got a shot in the arm from the government. "The Education Department also allocated money to develop the infrastructure of our school. The government high school in Nada turned into a posh government school with high-quality paint on the walls, tiles, television to watch YouTube videos and a touchscreen board which children can use in the Maths Lab to solve problems. The picture of the school changed to an extent that most of the private school students came back to our school to make use of all these facilities," he says happily.

If you are one of those who think that government school teachers lack skills or interest to learn and adapt to technology, then Yakub can single-handedly prove you wrong. He also created a website where anybody can access all the lessons and models related to classes 8, 9 and 10. When we asked him why he started this website when he already has a Maths Lab, he says, “My life doesn’t revolve just around the Maths Lab, it revolves around the subject. If you look at my website, you will get to see Math notes, important questions, videos of classes, etc. A few years ago, I typed out all these notes and important questions and saved it on my computer. Unfortunately, when the motherboard got destroyed, I lost everything that I had prepared so far. That day, I thought that this knowledge must be shared among other teachers and students so that many people know it even in my absence. That’s why I created which is available on the internet and anybody can access it."

Though his notes were all in Kannada, he has now expanded that base even further, "Earlier, I used to upload notes only for Kannada medium students. When the teachers of English medium schools started approaching me, I started preparing notes for English medium students also. Even they are available on my website. Not just notes, any update related to the syllabus will be easily available to view on my website," he explains.

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