Jaden Corker has a bit of a complicated past. An honest kid with a drive to succeed, he promised himself that he would never to get sucked into the cycle of violence and crime that so characterised his reality. With 8 distinctions behind his name and a place on the Western Cape’s list of top 40 students, the future mathematician is certainly making good on that promise.
Jaden grew up in what could be described as a fairly stable home with both his mom and dad pushing him to do his best. It did bother him that his dad was abusive towards his mom, but he was just a kid and was not sure what to do. However, he remembers the day he decided that he would not follow in the footsteps of his father. This was the day that police burst into his home, grabbed and handcuffed his father. The confused 10 year old asked his mom what was happening, and she just told him not to worry. He found out later that day that his father was arrested for selling drugs.
He says watching his father get dragged away in handcuffs completely destroyed his view of what a ‘perfect household’ looked like. His mom, having had enough of the abuse and wanting to get her son away from this toxic environment, eventually filed for divorce, which became official two years later. He says that growing up in this “situation could’ve easily caused yet another statistic”, but he told himself “that to change my situation I had to be different”. This difference would only come about if he “excelled academically” so that he could earn an income.
For the next few years, he was raised in a single parent household. He attended Heathfield Primary and then, due to his hard work, received a scholarship to attend South Peninsula High School. Things did not always run smoothly for him. He started off high school being very good at Mathematics, getting 88% in his first term. However things took a turn for the worst when he ended the year with a maths pass mark of 40%. At that stage, he was ready to accept that he might not be as good at maths as he thought. He was wrong though, and it took a really good teacher to show him how wrong he was.
In grade 9, he got a new maths teacher, whom he describes as a role model and the reason for his excellent math scores. Mr Ederies, as he calls him, changed the way he saw maths and reignited his love for the subject. Mr Ederies would go on to become his maths teacher for the rest of his time at high school and the primary reason for why he chose his career path.
Initially, Jaden wanted to become a medical doctor until he was asked to help someone with maths homework. As he was “explaining this quadratic equation” he realised that this was what he wanted to do. He loved the idea of empowering kids in his community through maths. He did not however want to study for a degree in education and felt that studying for a pure maths degree was the only way to be an effective mathematics teacher. He wanted to be a quality maths teacher like Mr Ederies.
Jaden went on to become a top achiever in high school, culminating in 8 distinctions for matric. He achieved 80% in English, 85% in Afrikaans, 82% in Life Orientation, 88% in Dramatic Arts, 95% in Tourism, 84% in Life Sciences, 84% in Physical Sciences and 93% in Mathematics. The Western Cape government also recognised him as one of the province’s 40 top performing learners at a recent awards ceremony. He is now getting ready to attend his first year at UCT, studying for a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics.
When asked what advice he would give to kids that are still in school, his answer is, ‘ask questions’. He says that a lot of students fail because they did not ask the questions from the beginning, and only started asking questions when it is too late to help. His motto is, “Irritate the teachers with questions because you need to pass, not them”. He says that being a top achiever does not mean you have to be stereotypical shy person who is quiet and attentive 100% of the time. He jokes that his teachers would definitely not describe as the quiet kid but he emphasises that he was never disrespectful. He feels that learning can be fun but having fun does not mean that you have to disrespectful towards your teachers and peers.
Jaden has a complicated past. Although he still loves his father, he decided that he would not repeat his mistakes. He would instead go on to become a high academic achiever, secure a future making an honest living, and give back to the community. Kids often have complicated pasts, especially if you are from the Cape Flats, but due to people like Jaden, things can only get better and a little less complicated.
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