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Ahmed Saya: the epitome of dedication

Ahmed Saya is not only humble and kind but is one of the most dedicated teachers in the world. He has recently won the World’s Dedicated Teacher Award 2019 from Cambridge University. Saya is a teacher of mathematics and accounts for O-levels and A-levels. He has always motivated and inspired his students academically as well as morally to become a better person. He is a source of change and inspiration for future generations.

TNT: You have won such a huge award, what does this award mean to you?

Ahmed Saya: The best part about this award was that I got to represent Pakistan internationally. When I went there and portrayed Pakistan there, the people told me that we had a very different image of Pakistan. If you are the representation of Pakistan and if this is actually what Pakistan is, we are completely baffled. Unfortunately, Pakistan ranks almost 180 out of 220 countries in literacy and there are almost 25 million children out of school that are in school-going age. Pakistan has the 4th worst passport in the world and is considered to be one of the most unclean countries. Despite that, having a nomination of world most dedicated teacher and then winning was completely prestige. It is beyond words. The best feeling is that I got to raise the flag of Pakistan in Cambridge. Taking the image of Pakistan to the next level was like a dream come true.

TNT: What was your first reaction when you found out you won and how exactly did you find out?

Ahmed Saya: I got to know through my students. I was taking a class and the students were very excited that the results would be announced on that particular day. I was taking the class when the students started clapping and I was like, “Kia Hua?” (What happened?) and then they told me that I won. It was a very proud and exciting moment. All the teachers work with dedication and hard work and we work without a reward or award for our commitment. All we aim for is that our students understand the topic, achieves a good grade, become better human beings, a better citizen and we want to ensure that the future of the country is on the right track. However, getting something out of the blue is an inexpressible feeling.

TNT: What kind of student were you?

Ahmed Saya: I have always been a good student and I got good grades. I had 8As in my O-Levels and I got 4 A’s in my A-Levels and studied on scholarships. I completed my ACCA in the first attempt and also B.Sc. honours in Applied Accounting from Oxford Brookes University and I also did my MBA with an outstanding GPA.

TNT: Did any particular teacher inspire you or was your idea?

Ahmed Saya: To be very honest, if I have been awarded the Worlds Most Dedicated Teacher, then my teachers are the epitome of dedication. I firmly believe the saying that ‘a student is as good as his teacher but never better’. I give all my credits to all teachers that they worked so hard on me that i reached this level. So, I can’t single out any particular teacher as there were multiple teachers and each teacher contributed in some way.

TNT: You completed your ACCA and did your MBA, what influenced you to go towards teaching and why did you not pursue finance?

Ahmed Saya: I started teaching when I was in grade 9 and I did so initially to finance my studies. However, I realized soon that teaching was not a job but a responsibility. I realized that if I go towards finance or business, I will not be satisfied because I wanted to be a change agent for our country. We are always criticizing that Pakistan is a third world country but we don’t realize that Pakistan is the land of opportunities as well.

TNT: How important do you think is the student-teacher relationship?

Ahmed Saya: I believe that it is extremely important. A student can only excel if he is comfortable with his particular teacher and if he can address his problems with his teacher. If a student-teacher relationship is not strong, then the student will always shy away from his teacher and this will not wield any fruitful results. If a teacher wants to create an impact, he needs to have a good relationship with his teacher.

TNT: Your students are now appealing to the Pakistani government to give you a civil award, what do you say to that?

Ahmed Saya: As I mentioned, I did not become a teacher to get awards but to bring a change. I am extremely grateful to God that I got to represent Pakistan internationally and I got to create an impact in the lives of the majority of students that I taught. My students highly regard me and that’s an achievement. I am not in further search of any award and the love I get from my students is a reward for me.

TNT: You have been a teacher for 18 years now. How has this journey been so far?

Ahmed Saya: It’s been amazing and every time I enter the class, I feel like it’s my first class and my last class. I have to give that level of commitment that I have to impress everyone and I want to satisfy everyone. It is always a combination of these feelings and I am standing in front of a group of people, hoping that it will be a life-changing experience for them. Every day is a new challenge, and every day is a new journey. Each child is different and no one size fits all.

TNT: After winning this award, do you think that you have achieved everything you sought out for? Or is this just the first step?

Ahmed Saya: After winning this award, I think more responsibility is now on my shoulders. As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility”. People have lots of expectations and people are genuinely happy that Pakistan was represented internationally. Now, everyone believes that I will do some sort of a ‘magic’ and yes, there are lots of responsibilities. I can now work towards my achieving my vision that is eradicating illiteracy in Pakistan.

Around 7-8 years back, along with some like-minded people, we started a Bridge school and named it such to bridge the gap between the underprivileged kids and the privileged kids, keeping in mind those almost 25 million children out of school. Currently, 220 students are studying in the Bridge School. However, the vision is that if these 220 students grow up, work hard and open such 220 Bridge Schools and each school has 220 students, then there will be a multiplier effect and then one day we can make a big impact in the eradication of literacy in Pakistan.

Moreover, I am also trying to embed technology, making the use of AI and to get hold of cellular companies to make sure that every person with a smartphone can have easy access to virtual classrooms. Anyone having a smartphone can have access to quality education even if they cannot go to a school. This way, we can eradicate child labour, illiteracy, and create more jobs.

TNT: What’s your most pressing insight about teaching and learning in Pakistan right now, in your opinion? Where are the gaps? Where are the strengths? 

Ahmed Saya: Unfortunately there are 25 million children out of school in Pakistan who are in school-going age. Pakistan is Ranked 180th in literacy rate among 220 countries of the world. Pakistani passport is the 4th weakest passport in the world and only Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan come below. New York Times published a report on unimaginably filthy conditions of Karachi city. Although Karachi, the largest city of the country and the financial hub was rated 137th out of 140 most livable cities in the world.

There are a few major issues behind education in Pakistan; the government, teachers, parents and students. And all of them are equally responsible. Government is responsible because education is on the least priority list. Government schools usually do not exist in reality, they only exist on paper. Basic education for every Pakistani is not on their agenda.

The biggest challenge of education reformation in Pakistan is the implementation. Teachers are responsible because most teachers have become teachers not out of choice but by chance. Unfortunately, most teachers are least bothered about the responsibility of their job. It’s a noble profession where a teacher is not just supposed to fulfil his task or complete the syllabus, the teacher is supposed to be a role model; a mentor. Furthermore, parents are playing a vital role in the downfall of the education system by providing children with undue luxuries.

Home is the first school of the child but upbringing of the children is not being done there. Parents do not have time for their children and to compensate that they fulfill their material demands thus spoiling them.

TNT: What message would you give students across the world, and not just Pakistan?

Ahmed Saya: My advice would be to

  • Always work hard. There is no alternative to hard work
  • Whatever you do, always listen to your heart. Your inner voice is your guardian-angel.
  • Always remember that you are responsible for people around you. Don’t be selfish but be selfless. Do a genuine good deed without expecting a reward from anyone but God
  • Always respect your parents and your elders. Your parents are the most important people in your life. Others might have some hidden motives concerning you but your parents never will. It will solely be for your benefit.
  • Instead of searching for resources, be resourceful yourself. Try to find resources from within.
  • Do everything with 100% efforts. Give your best shot and then leave the outcome to God.
  • Try to learn from your mistakes and learn experiences from your mistakes. To mistake is not a sin but to not learn from them, is one.

Ever since this award, I feel that the famous poem of Allama Iqbal is written for me only.

Lab pe ati hai Dua banke tamanna meri.

(My heart’s desire comes to my lips as a prayer)

 Zindagi Shamma ki surat ho khudaya meri.

(God, make my life as one of a candle, a guiding light)

From the day I received the award, this poem is hitting me again and again as if it was written for me in 1902 that I will be a source of guidance for everyone around me. This poem has started giving me Goosebumps now and I feel like it was written for me only. So my final advice would be to work hard and always improve and become better. There is always a margin of improvement and you have to keep striving towards the next stage.