Khaled Saadi wasn’t always a fan of social media.
However, these days, he has amassed more than 27,000 followers on his Instagram account, WiseGuysUAE, which he uses to promote the mental well-being of students while encouraging them in Stem subjects, notably maths and science.
One of Saadi’s posts from November has more than 1.6 million views. In the short clip, he plays a child who makes a mistake and apologises profusely, while as an adult he says: “It’s OK.”
“So many people have been taught that making mistakes is bad,” he tells The National. “And a lot of that is from childhood. Imagine being shouted at for a genuine mistake at the young age of four or five. You could spend the rest of your life thinking that doing that is wrong, and you may end up over-apologising for everything even when you're a grown-up.”
Another clip in December also reached a million views. In it, Saadi acts as a child who feels he is “dumb just because he is bad at maths”. However, the adult Saadi responds by asking: “What are you talking about? You can be musical, linguistic, kinaesthetic, interpersonal. Who told you you have to be good at maths to be smart?”
Both viral posts have helped his followers to balloon on the platform, as people resonate with his content, especially when it comes to changing the mindset of how to speak to children in the context of learning.
“I'm definitely a maths person, I get the logic behind it. However, if somebody doesn't, it does not mean they're unintelligent or that they cannot get better,” says Saadi. “The reason I'm connecting with people is because I don't have this view, especially in the Middle East and Asian countries, where maths is king.”
Saadi, 40, grew up in Montreal, Canada. A mechanical engineer by profession, he started a construction business with his father and brother in 2008 when he moved to Abu Dhabi. The company managed to stay afloat when the recession hit in 2009, but eventually went under in 2017 with Saadi terming what happened a “typical construction story”.
While this was disheartening, it helped open new doors, and Saadi got back to tutoring – something he had done for the majority of his life, starting in high school.
“Whether it was professional or as a favour, I was tutoring all the time. I taught some classmates during college, and kept at it after graduation and while I was working. I was even offered a TA’s job at Concordia University.”
In 2018, he launched an Instagram account mostly as a way to advertise his own small business, Wise Guy Tutoring. He made videos with messages he hoped would reach potential clients, which was quicker than writing his time-consuming blog. The short videos also got better engagement and offered a more personal experience.
These days, he helps young students in various subjects as a tutor, especially in maths and physics. Saadi wants to help instil a mindset that is not only free from pressure and stress, but that also comes from a place of curiosity and general interest.
“The common perception is you're not smart if you're not good at maths, no matter if you can write a nice play or create music, which is ridiculous to me,” he says.
“When I am teaching somebody and I remove this pressure or this perception, it makes a world of a difference. When you teach children they don't have to be a maths person to become good at it, they are so much more open.”
Saadi says he uses a “two-pronged approached” with students when it comes to teaching. He firsts helps them understand the topic before switching over to tools to help study for a test.
“The most important technical method is Active Recall / Retrieval Practice. When working with a student, we get in a groove and then solve well together. And once they try it on their own, they get stuck, which is completely normal. I'm not there to prompt them,” he says.
“It's that time that they need to practice recalling the info and methods without looking at notes or listening to my cues. That's what makes the difference.”
He says this is akin to not remembering someone's name.
“If I give you even the first name, you'd remember immediately and feel satisfied. But by next week? You'll be asking me again,” says Saadi. “If you struggle a little bit and remember it on your own, you're gonna be able to retrieve that name for a long, long time.
“When you can figure something out on your own, you'll retain it and recall it more easily. It's an unbelievable difference how easy you can remember something when you understand it.”