Afsheen is on a math mission in Pakistan
When I provoke 8-year-old Sara with my statement: “they say girls just aren’t interested in mathematics!”, she looks around in the room, gets visibly annoyed and responds: “that’s just not true!”
She has every right to be annoyed!
The beautiful math lab she attends every day after school has been founded and designed by a woman. All her teachers here are women who have done their masters and researches in the field of mathematics. The manipulatives she uses in this lab that give sensory impressions to abstract math concept have been designed by a woman. And 75% of the fellows at this lab are also girls of different ages.
I’m not sure whether I should depress Sara with my statistics of Pakistan girls and women in mathematics. However, in a survey by the British Council, only 26% of women are enrolled in STEM courses by the time they enter university.
The female mathematician Afsheen Agha who is behind this charming lab that Sara attends called Concrete 2 Abstract is convinced she has the key to change this dynamic. Kept in boxes and baskets all around the lab are magnets, beads, patterns, dominoes which has all the kids in her lab intrigued.
The material, which is often called manipulatives, has been scientifically proven to drastically improve math fluency. And not just at the Montessori or kindergarten level but even at the primary and secondary level of education. Not only do manipulatives help students test and confirm their reasoning abilities but they make tough concepts in their textbooks come to life in a graphic way.
For someone who has had a rather difficult relationship with mathematics (math always beat me), I’m so jealous I never got to learn it the same way as these kids.
While math labs and the usage of manipulatives is common in the Western world, this concept is slowly but surely picking up. Afsheen is on a mission to set up similar labs with manipulatives in schools across Pakistan. But that can’t happen unless she also trains math teachers in schools to make good usage of the manipulatives that she designs herself.
Creating this math lab has been a dream for Afsheen. She searched for the space for the lab online, registered her own business, pitched the concept at the Google & Samsung funded incubator The Nest i/o (where she was accepted), hired a team who kick butt in mathematics and is now ready to multiply her math labs with potential investment.
Married at 18, and a mother by 22, Afsheen has fought hard to get to where she is today. She enrolled herself in her Bachelors & Master’s program after she already had two kids. She went on to do her 9-month AMI Montessori training course while both her kids were still growing up. Today, she’s set up Montessoris and has been the principal of one.
I can sense that Afsheen is a woman finally coming into her own. From attending math conferences around the world, to surveying math setups in the UAE, Afsheen’s mission to make math interesting and inclusive in Pakistan is becoming stronger and stronger every day. And all the women who missed out on math are behind her, including me.