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29 July 2011

A numbers game

Queena Ngo Lee-Chua, a recipient of the 2010 TWAS Regional Office in East and South East Asia (TWAS-ROESEAP) prize for the popularization of science, speaks about her passion for maths teaching in the current issue of the TWAS Newsletter.

A numbers game'Help, I have a teenage daughter who is flunking maths!' 'Help, I'm a high school student who hates trigonometry!' 'Help, I'm a teacher in the hinterlands who doesn't have sufficient resources.'

That's the way most of the letters begin that Queena Ngo Lee-Chua receives from readers of her weekly science and education column 'Eureka!' in The Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The calls for help would even be louder, were it not for Lee-Chua, the maths-cum-psychology major who has become the Philippines' science communications queen.

"I've been writing this column for 20 years, and readers still ask the same questions!" she exclaims.

In her columns she has written about how to prepare for examinations, what parents should look for when hiring a tutor and tips for teachers wanting to spice up their lessons. Still, her readers clamour more information and advice.

To say she is 'prolific' would be an understatement. In addition to her column for the Inquirer she also writes a monthly column on homework for Working Mom magazine. She once hosted a television show, Fun with Math, and has published more than 20 books on topics ranging from science and maths to parenting and financial matters.

Add to that a full-time job teaching and conducting research in mathematics and psychology at the country's Ateneo de Manila university, and Lee-Chua's curriculum vitae reads like it belongs to someone much older than her 40-odd years.

She has received an avalanche of awards for her teaching, research and journalism. In 2005, Marie Claire magazine chose her as one of the 25 "most incredible" women in the Philippines. In 2008, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in the Philippines honoured her as one of the country's great scientists. And this year, she won the TWAS Regional Office in East and South East (TWAS-ROESEAP) prize for the popularization of science.

Does Lee-Chua see herself as a role model? "I hope I am," she says. Yet, she maintains that she gets her energy from her students. "I genuinely care for them, even if they can sometimes be a handful and a nuisance." She is convinced all students are hungry for knowledge.

"They've been given a bad rap and have often been scolded for not listening. But they do. When they come to my class they are noisy, but once you attract their interest, they don't want to leave. They might despise maths when they first come through the door, but I am convinced that they despise it less when they leave for the next grade."

For Lee-Chua, the Philippine's maths queen, it all adds up to a better life for both her and her growing list of admirers – one that she plans to continue to pursue with same purpose and dedication that she has for the past two decades.

Find the full TWAS Newsletter article below.

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