Confidence the factor to enjoy maths

Harry Mavrolefteros speaks to Neos Kosmos about his maths tutoring business and the key to sucessful problem solving.

Harry Mavrolefteros has just started his own maths tutoring business, and one of the things he teaches his young students is how to multiply large sums without a calculator.

It’s not like a lightening, like a genius speed, but it’s more that if you have this, it warms their minds up, so that they have that confidence to do other things.

“Some of my older students can do, like, 24 by 17, in their head,” he says.
Go on, then, I challenge.

Less than ten seconds later, he comes up with the answer.
“It’s not like a lightening, like a genius speed, but it’s more that if you have this, it warms their minds up, so that they have that confidence to do other things,” he says.
He says confidence is crucial to solving mathematical equations.

And, if you’re still wondering, the answer is 408.

The Greek Australian was a maths tutor while he was at uni, where he studied accounting and financial planning.
But only three months ago did he do the sums and realize he could make a profitable business, founding First Education.

“I realised recently it’s my passion, I really enjoy it and if you work at it you can make money,” he says.
Harry says his Greek family taught him to be both entrepreneurial, and to make a difference to the lives of others. “I think more than anything it’s that feeling that you’ve contributed to somebody,” he says.

“Somebody’s learned something that they wouldn’t have otherwise learnt, and you’ve inspired that.”

His classroom, and office, is the second floor of his parents’ optometry clinic in Sydney’s eastern suburb of Maroubra.
The eldest of four children, Harry says he’s joined in his business by his brother, who’s an English tutor, and hopes to expand his business to involve his sister as well as other tutors.

It’s early days for First Education, but like a student working out how to multiply without a calculator, he says, in business, you have to be confident.
“And it’s a very rewarding thing, to help students see that maths isn’t something they have to fear and not like,” he says. “Really, it should be something that people love.”

Maths is clearly something that Harry loves. He not only tutors all levels of high school maths, in true generation-Y style, he has littered his facebook page with riddles, games and mind benders.

He’s recently started posting a daily puzzle on his page, where blindfolded ninjas must answer riddles in order to avoid death by samurai. He announces the winners, again, on his facebook page, as well as in his monthly newsletter.

It’s excellent for business, but Harry says it’s all part of his scheme to help people approach maths in a fun way.

“It’s important for people to see the fun sort of maths,” he says.
“Maths is about a lot more than simply numbers and doing equations, it’s about solving problems, it’s about identifying puzzles and thinking in the right sort of way to quickly and accurately find the solutions, and there’s no better way to do that than puzzles.”

But come on, maths isn’t that fun. Surely he must get reluctant customers, kids who would rather eat chalk than do sums, kids who think maths something forced on them by their parents, something that’s about as fun as reading the phone book?

Harry says, while everyone encounters their own difficulties, he hasn’t had any real problem students.

“You make it fun along the way, but at the same time you make it clear that they have to do their homework,” he says.
One student, he says, came to him as her final year 12 exams approached, worried about gaps in her knowledge. In practice exams, he says, she was scoring around 60 percent.

“We met up once, sometimes twice a week and she very quickly realized she could do it, we just needed to brush up on things here and there, and she got very confident.”

The student did her final maths exams last month, and as soon as she finished, she was on the phone to her tutor.
“She called me afterwards and was very excited,” he says.
“The results haven’t come back yet, but this girl was doing practice papers, and in her papers she was getting between 85 and 90- percent.”

Harry says more than half of his students are Greek, because of the word-of-mouth circulating through the Greek community.
Hellenism is important to Harry, who is a former president of the National Union of Greek Australian Students.
Heading up NUGAS has more in common with the business of teaching maths than one might realise.

“Actually, it’s not that dissimilar to education, in that you inspire people to, in this case, realise something about themselves that they didn’t know,” he says.
“They realise, ‘ok, I’m Greek and that’s fantastic’.”
For more information see