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From flunker to whiz-kid - How Ryan Blake conquered Math

Published:Sunday | January 9, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Ryan Blake at his family-operated service station in St Andrew.

Six years ago, Ryan Blake dreaded mathematics. All those numbers, angles, theories. The thought alone would make him shudder. "I hated it. I was more into the arts," he said. "I loved English and reading, but math was a real problem."

Blake was a fourth-form student at Calabar High School in St Andrew then, and was doing well in most of his subjects. His consistently low grades in math though, were a constant source of distress.

"That only made me hate it more. I don't like failing. I don't like the feeling at all."

While managing to pull off scores in the 80s and 90s in English language and literature, Blake's math grades were less than impressive.

"I was getting, on a consistent basis, in the range of 20 or 30 per cent for every math test or exam I would sit," said Blake.

His problem, for the most part, was that he was unable to see how learning math would help him later on in life.

"I had my mind set on becoming a lawyer. I always wanted to do that. Math to me, was a waste of time."

But the problem was not going away. Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams were getting close and Blake also knew he would need to conquer math if he was to move on to university.


"Somehow, I would have to get over this problem," he said. "When I realised that no matter how I hated it, I needed to find a way to do better in math, I decided to make some changes," said Blake.

He talked it over with his parents and decided he would sign on for weekend classes with a math tutor located near his home. Blake would attend classes every Saturday for three hours each time.

"I made a personal decision to just immerse myself in math. I was forcing myself to become comfortable with the subject."

Blake credits his tutor, Keith Irons, with helping him gain an appreciation for the value of math.

"He showed me how math relates to everyday life," said Blake. "He pointed to examples of how math is used in GPS systems and in space missions. This helped to change my view of the subject completely."

Blake spent hours every day working on his math skills. By the time CSEC exams came around, he was ready.

"I got a distinction," said Blake with a broad smile.

"Because of all the work that I had put in, I wasn't entirely surprised but when I looked at where I was coming from, I was very proud of myself." Not only did he earn a distinction, Blake also got a special award for achieving the best overall performance in CSEC Math at the school.

He didn't stop there. Blake had so changed his opinion of math that he decided to pursue the subject in sixth form Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations level. That, he also passed with distinction.

As for his plans for someday becoming a lawyer, those went out the window.

"I decided that I wanted to study actuarial science," Blake laughed. "I guess it shows how much I've changed."

He went on to study at the University of the West Indies where last year, he graduated with a first class honours degree in actuarial science, with a grade point average of 4.13.

Blake now works part time at a service station in St Andrew that his parents own, while he pursues distance studies with an actuarial science body in the United Kingdom. His aim is to attain the highest level of international certification in the field.

He credits the hard work he put in at high school with changing his life.

"Math has improved my analytical skills. This completely changed my life. Now, any chance I get, I try to encourage students who tell me that they hate math," he said. "I try to show them that they have the power to take charge of the subject. If they are willing to work, then they can achieve even what they might think is impossible."