Hafsa Khan, Grade 9 student at Zoya Science School, is Pakistan’s Pi champion. Her record is less than four minutes for correctly reciting Pi to 800 digits from memory.

Hafsa Khan, a Grade 9 student at Zoya Science School in Nala Khudadad, is Pakistan’s Pi champion. Her record is less than four minutes for correctly reciting Pi to 800 digits from memory. This is no small accomplishment considering the dual challenges she faces in her basti (slum) in a remote area of southern Punjab. She is proving her competence in the face of adversity and subjugation.

Hafsa Khan’s Pi Day gift of a gifted memory, a nearby Zoya Science school, one of many free Zoya Science schools serving girls in remote areas, and a school programme promoting math and science was made public last year. Critics of rote learning argue that Pi competitions have little to do with education, and that critical thinking is the foundation of education.

Their assertion is entirely false. First off, it fails to take into account that memorization is not the goal of Pi competitions. Its purpose is to get kids interested in math by teaching them Pi, a celebrity among other famous numbers like Phi, I and e.

Second, they fail to take into account our insatiable desire to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones, which, for example, drives us to run the marathon in under two hours and to calculate Pi to 100 trillion digits even though 40 digits are sufficient to calculate the Milky Way’s circumference precisely. However, it took Google 157 days of computer time to achieve this Pi record.

The purpose of argument, aside from debunking critics of rote learning, is to emphasise the virtues that define a Pi champion. referring specifically to Zoya Science schools’ educational efforts. It focuses on math, which is appropriate given that math is a powerful tool for mastering the sciences but is also challenging to teach.

As a result, effective math teaching methods merit attention. Because math is all about abstraction—removing the details that we can understand with our senses and replacing them with abstract numbers—teaching math is challenging. Math involves manipulating these abstract numbers in order to look for patterns and uncover underlying structures.

Consider zero, the highest level of abstraction. Thanks to our ancestors’ familiarity with the concept through their worship of nishkala Shiva or supreme nothing, counting took many millennia to appear for the first time in our region after it began in the ancient world.

Zero could not be conjured by any ancient civilization, including the Babylonians who created place values, the Greeks, Mayans, or the Chinese. The correct way to teach math to kids is to start with the concrete reality from which it originated and work your way up to abstraction.

The posters of Zoya Science schools show how fundamental math ideas such as measuring the Earth’s circumference, Pythagoras Theorem, triangles, circles, and the east flows into the west came about.

The booklet Earth’s Circumference connects these ideas, showing how it was measured by ancient Greeks, Indians, Arabs and Al Beruni near Pind Dadan Khan. Poems and songs in Seraiki make it easier and fun to learn and remember all this. The poster Math and Beauty shows how math captures and numerates beauty and illuminates painting and architecture.

Pi Day is celebrated by schools with posters, videos, and posters that explain how Pi was measured in various civilizations, how Archimedes measured it, and how numbers evolved and spread across the world.

Nawan Sij (New Sun) is a sung-through musical video that uses music from around the world to bring together the schools’ mnemonic achievements.

The musical’s protagonist is a girl who wishes to know how big the earth is, and the songs address social issues such as rural women’s dominance, Aryabhata, Al Beruni, Heliocentrism, Pythagoras, etc. The finale, Mission Accomplished, is a victorious chorus set to the music of Ode to Joy.

So much effort is required to become a Pi champion. The kids’ visceral reaction shows how hungry they are for math. But sadly, only a small number of other schools allow students to study math while listening to Ode to Joy or viewing works by Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Diego Garcia, Sadequain, or Munch.

Few people still engage in dialogue with ancient civilizations or learn that modern numbers were born at the junction of the Silk Road and the great ancient learning center at Taxila 1,500 years ago. Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi and his ilk branded mathematics as useless and turned us into avatars of religious orthodoxy and ignorance.