Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Mathematics Challenge

Mathematics is certainly not one of the popular subjects among Nigerian students, and mathematics teachers are not some of the popular teachers in the schools. But it is like a bitter pill that must be taken for well-being and growth.
All over the world, there is growing emphasis on Mathematics and science subjects in general because of the strong correlation between the level of development of a nation and the study of mathematical sciences.
Mathematics, the root of the sciences, is important for the advancement of science and the understanding of the workings of the universe. It is also important for personal development both mentally and in the workplace. The computer, key to growing information technology, is itself a machine built upon the principles of mathematics. Mathematics is used to create the complex programming at the heart of all computing.
The establishment of the National Mathematics Centre is a laudable decision. The National Mathematical Centre was established by Decree 40 of 1989 to develop and deploy appropriate initiatives and resources of international standing to rekindle and sustain interest in the study of Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences in general at all levels as a response to the decline in the production of mathematical scientists in Nigeria.
The mandate of the centre is long. It is to: Train and develop high-level personnel in the mathematical sciences, namely mathematics, mathematical sciences education, statistics, computer science and theoretical physics; create a resource centre to serve national and international communities as a focal point for advanced research and training in the mathematical sciences and its application; identify and encourage young talents in the mathematical sciences; and stimulate enthusiasm for the physical sciences in young Nigerian students and scholars.
The Centre is also to: prepare Nigeria for a leading role in the mathematical sciences; encourage and support activities leading to the improvement of the teaching and learning of the mathematical sciences at all levels; and to attract good mathematical scientists from all over the world into the service of Nigeria.
In the words of former Education Minister Dr. Igwe Aja -Nwachukwu, the Centre has so far done well. He said at the award ceremony of the second Nigerian Universities Computer Programming Contest last September that, “The Centre has surprised the world severally with its almost perfect handling of many groundbreaking achievements in Nigeria’s participation in International Mathematics and Science Olympiads. It is on record that Nigeria has won laurels and medals, including Gold Medal, at some of these Olympiads, through the efforts of the Centre”.
“The Centre,” he continued “has been able to sustain the annual participation of Nigeria in these capital intensive competitions in spite of its meagre resources. And, above all, Nigeria has been adjudged the best organizer of the Pan African Mathematics Olympiad by the organizers, all through the efforts of this Centre”.
Yet we are concerned that Nigeria currently ranks as one of the least mathematically literate nations, according to the International Mathematical Union.
The Centre must increase its efforts in trying to demystify mathematics. Beyond its many national competitions to spike up interest in the subject, it has to work more closely with teachers at various levels to ensure that the subject is taught in a way to ease understanding. This is a lot of work that should start right from the nursery schools. It could also work with authors of mathematics textbooks to make them more attractive to students.
But it is obvious to us that the Centre requires proper funding to achieve its set mandate. It has to be fully equipped to be a benchmark centre for the study of the subject. Government needs to continue to accord mathematics education the urgency with which it established the Centre, by investing in it. If, as Dr. Sam Ale, Director of the National Mathematical Centre, said the country needs to spend US $31 million over 13 years to achieve its goal of being in the top 20 world economies by year 2020, we believe the country should be able to afford it.