An ode to a math-e-magician

From working for over one and a half year without salary, in a quest to explore and understand teaching as a profession, to selflessly devoting hours teaching the underprivileged and passing on her mathematics art to more and more teachers and parents; educator Uma Rale’s journey of igniting minds and transforming lives has been as inspiring and heart-warming as it gets.

Slum children at the Ramvadi Balbhavan

It is rightly said that a teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. Throughout her life, educator Uma Rale has devoted her energies passing on her mathematics skill teaching at schools, preparing children towards excellence apart from brightening the lives of children from underprivileged backgrounds by educating them. Uma started on this path in 1977, and since then, there has been no looking back. She reminisces working without salary for one and a half years in her quest to understand teaching as a profession. “Back then, it was quite tough to make a livelihood, as a teacher given the meager salaries. So I gave it a shot. After my interest towards it was ignited, I decided to take it on full-time, as I discovered that it was my calling,” she shares.

Uma online with teachers - planning a revision strategy

The joy of educating

Uma’s first job was with the Don Bosco School, followed by a stint at St Joseph’s School, thereby leading to the Indian High School, which she served with love for two and a half decades. “As a teacher, I always had a batch of students from broken homes, and watching them, teaching them led me to this path. However, I realized that even if one wanted to do community work, getting a starting point was not easy,” she says.

Uma’s turning point was when she saw a gathering of over 100 children at Bandstand from the slums with their books and decided to undertake the task of educating them.

“I found a way to join the group and give my time teaching mathematics to them. I would hang my board on the tree, calling it math-e-magic. Those children were very receptive because they wanted to get out of their current situation. I really enjoyed teaching them,” Uma recollects.

Kids and teachers share a computer at the Malala balbhavan in the slums, learning math online with Uma

Igniting the spark

She reveals Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech inspired her to give in more time towards educating those from the economically-backward backgrounds. “I was very inspired by Modiji who suggested that education should be available to masses by educated people who are willing to volunteer their time,” she asserts.

In 1985, Uma moved to Dubai with her husband, who works in IT service. While she decided to take a brief break in her career, she remembers children and teachers reaching out to her to pass on her mathematics skill and not let them die. “While teaching in school, I brought in Vedic maths methods and thereby brought it down to the level of school children calling it as the Maths ++ program. It was a super hit. We found that children became brighter post the lessons, with their performance in the subject improving drastically. For the first time, children would enjoy maths and come out laughing, shouting, and sparkling, and hence many reached out to me urging me to spread that skill,” shares Uma. The encouragement from fellow-teachers and students gave her the push to publish her guidebook on mathematics. “And when I published my book called Be a Mathematician, I was told to try and translate it into various languages of India… easier said than done,” she remarks.

Furthermore, she emphasizes that what she teaches is not a part of the school syllabus but is complementary to it. She has been teaching the same not just to children but also their parents and other teachers so that the skill keeps passing on and doesn’t die down. “Teach a person to fish instead of providing him with a fish is what they say,” Uma exclaims.

Uma answering questions parallelly across 3 centres- Malala, Kalam and Halbe Balbhavan located in Ahmednagar slums

Uplifting moments 

Currently, Uma has been working in tandem with The Lighthouse Cohort. This Dubai-based social enterprise creates and enables cohorts for international development and humanitarian aid. Uma is volunteering as part of a project cohort and teaches more than 230 children online. These children attend bi-weekly classes at Snehalay’s slum centers and at the school for kids affected by HIV/AIDS, those rescued from human trafficking, and orphans.

“When you look at student’s faces, and you see that smile and shine in their eyes of accomplishment, you get goosebumps. Fellow teachers say that I have started a movement to create a love for maths as children now come running for the 2 pm maths class. Lighthouse Cohort has helped me reach children from the interior of Maharashtra sitting from Dubai, and it is such a big gift for me. To share all that I know to make Math simple, fun, and easy is my goal. 200+ kids are learning now,” says a beaming Uma.

Aishwarya Joshi, Founder, The Lighthouse Cohort speaks of Uma’s noteworthy contribution to the cohort with huge respect, raving about it.“Madam Uma’s presence in our cohort for re-imagining education during Covid-19 has paved a sustainable path of least resistance not just for learning but also for teaching mathematics against all odds. Her creative, tireless, and one-pointed effort has transformed the stereotype world of grassroots education and created mascots to carry her knowledge forward for the benefit of many in rural India and beyond,” Aishwarya remarks. And with that, Uma wishes that more and more NGOs contact her so that she can reach out to more children and illuminate more lives by spreading the gift of education.

Zip-zap rules of multiplication

The learning never stops 

Uma reveals that her father played a significant role in inspiring her to do what she is currently pursuing. “My dad came from a low-economical background as his father died when he was only eight. He studied under arduous circumstances and would still get an impressive 99 out of 100. He would always say, never stop learning,” she exclaims.

And rightly, she reveals that at 70, she continues widening her horizon each day and is now taking classes in graphology. “It is beautiful that your handwriting lets you know what’s troubling you. I wish I knew this earlier, so I could have helped children even more,” she remarks. Laud her contribution and a humble Uma asserts with an air of finality, “And there are thousands more who are doing bigger things and many who have no idea where to begin.”

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