By Mudassir Raja
She is going to retire in few days but she still feels that she has about 10 more years left in her for teaching. She has been enjoying teaching mathematics to students with diverse backgrounds for the last 26 years in Doha.
Raka Singhal, MSc and MPhil in Mathematics, will retire from Qatar Academy Doha where she has been teaching for last 10 years on June 3. She has earlier taught at Doha College for 14 years from 1993 to 2007. She was with Park House English School for a year from 2007 to 2008. During her stint with Doha College, she taught His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, HE Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and HE Sheikha Hind bint Hamad al-Thani.
Raka never thought that the time to retire would come. The teacher who has loved going to school and teaching mathematics recently sat with Community to share her long journey and experience.
Introducing herself, Raka said: “I am originally from New Delhi, India, but I am a Canadian citizen. My husband Brij Singhal is a chartered accountant. I have two sons, both working in the US.
“I got my MPhil in 1981 from the University of Delhi and MSc in 1979 from Miranda House College. I taught for a year at the college before I married and moved to Canada with my husband. I worked in Canada for two years till I had my first child. I took 10 years off to raise my kids.
“We then moved to Doha. I joined Doha College in 1993. I left the school in 2007 when my husband got a job in Oman. We spent only three months there and returned. I joined Park House School for a year. Then I joined Qatar Academy. In 2017, I was awarded the distinction of Outstanding Teacher of the School and then, Outstanding Teacher of the District.
“Qatar Foundation has 60 years as the age of retirement. I was lucky and got two extensions. I do not feel like retiring. I have 10 more good years in me for teaching. You know age dictates and so be it.”
Mathematics is a subject that always came very easy to Raka as a student. “I think I am a very logical person. Mathematics is very logical. There is no grey area. It is either right or wrong. It always made a lot of sense to me. My elder sister is a mathematics teacher in the US. My younger sister is a statistics professor in Delhi University. Both my brothers were very good at mathematics. Both of my sons and all my nephews and nieces are good at mathematics. The genes come from my father. He was very good at mathematics.”
Raka sees her career as a wonderful journey. “It has been absolutely wonderful experience being able to teach a subject that typically students find very difficult. I always get this compliment that I make it (look) so easy. I always tell the students that it is easy when you understand it. I tell them that once you get it, you won’t forget it.
“When I was taught mathematics in school, we had to learn the proofs of everything. When you do the proofs, you understand mathematics behind it.”
The veteran sees some changes in how mathematics is taught nowadays. “Now, there are electronic devices. There is a lot of dependence on scientific calculators and graphical calculators. I never used a calculator. We had log tables. Even now, I challenge my students all the time. I will tell my students that I will give them 20 numbers to add and use your calculator. I will do it myself. I will do it faster. “Actually, it has been a constant learning experience for me, too. I have also learnt from my students. They have taught me the use of mobile phone, iPad, snap chat, Facebook and WhatsApp. They know much more about technology than we do.
“If given a chance, I would love to teach mathematics again. I see the beauty in it. It gives me pleasure. It makes so much sense. My students often ask me why I am so happy teaching it.”
Raka believes that mathematics is used everywhere in life. “Mathematics is basically the foundation for all sciences. You use it everywhere without even realising it. It is everywhere.
“Unfortunately, we all are dictated by the curriculum that we teach. With the advent of technology and computers as well as information influx, you really do not need to learn it and do it manually. However, I feel that if you first do the mathematics manually, you understand better that what is going on. I think teaching of mathematics is still relevant and important.”
Raka contends that teachers are still a source of knowledge because they have to explain the method.
“No doubt, technology has made things more accessible. (But) I think the interaction is still needed. The teacher is there explaining how and why it is done. I do not think that the method of reverse classroom will work. I think you will always need good mathematics teachers. (It’s just that) new teachers are using new technologies in a better way.”
Sharing her experience of teaching students of over 60 nationalities, Raka said: “You know mathematics does not change in any language. It is a language of its own. The subject does not change. History as a subject can change. It was not different or difficult to teach the students from diverse backgrounds.
“Learning and understanding mathematics depends on individual students. I cannot say that the students from certain countries are good at mathematics. The students can learn it, if they try and put their mind to it. Unfortunately, lots of students give up very easily. They say it is too difficult and they do not want to do it. I am a firm believer that everybody can learn it.”
Raka advises the students that they should never give up. “Keep trying till you get it. Once you get it, you won’t forget it. Students should be more inquisitive. They should take the responsibility of learning too. If someone does not understand it, he or she should ask questions. The sad thing is that some students do not want to try. They should get extra help. Parents need to push children just to do their homework.”
Raka has absolutely loved living and teaching in Qatar. “I got the opportunity to teach the students of so many different nationalities. It is nice to see how they blend together.
“I have been here for 26 years and still counting. Qatar has grown dramatically. It has been an amazing advancement. I have also travelled a lot while being involved with the student councils and the Model United Nations. Doha is home for us. It has the best of both worlds. We have eastern comforts and western facilities here.”
With her life long experience, Raka advises the students to have integrity, persistence, perseverance to be successful.
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