Prof. Stephen Onah is the Chief Executive of National Mathematical Centre (NMC). He spoke to CHIKA MEFOR on the poor performance of students in Mathematics and what the Center is doing about it.
What is responsible for the poor performance of students in Mathematics?
When the Center was established, it went into a research on what was responsible for the poor performance of students in the subject. One of them is the teaching method and teaching aids. The second is the attitude of students to the subject, then the third is the low motivation for teachers and the inadequate qualified teachers for the subject.
Having identified all of these issues that were responsible for the poor performance in the subject, the NMC sets up a mechanism for addressing them. The Center went into writing of textbooks that are more or less, teach yourself approach in the most simplify form with a lot of illustrations. The textbooks were made available, free of charge to schools, teaching modules, workbooks, and so on were developed in addition to other means of making the learning of mathematics, interesting. There are lots of games that have been developed towards the learning of the subject.
The center has been partnering with a number of partners, one of such partnerships resulted to what we call the Digital Mathematics Network project or the DIMANET project. The project is aimed at transforming the learning of Mathematics from the familiar traditional way of doing it in the class to an electronic form and even beyond. The project is able to transform the teaching and learning of Mathematics using animated videos. The project is available in three platforms; you have the hard copy form available in CDs and DVDs. You also have the DIMANET web portal, there is also the mobile app which a student can access by downloading the DIMANET app from Google playstore. The videos cover all the topics in the current Nigerian mathematics curriculum from JSS1 to SS3.
The project targets secondary schools because the current challenge in the sector is majorly at the secondary level. If the learning of Mathematics is not grounded at that level, there is a problem. What the center decided to do is to migrate from the traditional approach of teaching to where students are interested in learning from.
That is why we said if we produce this thing in the platforms where they are interested in, they will go there and learn. There are so many advantages. Once you have it from the DIMANET web portal, mobile app or from the DVD, you can access it as many times as you wish. So if a topic is taught to you, you can learn it again from any of the DIMANET platforms. If you are not clear you can go through it all over again, unlike in the classroom where a teacher can get angry with you for asking a question two or three times. An impatient teacher might tell you if you don’t understand, go home and read.
We have not launched the project officially. But it has been completed and it is fully ready for use by any interested person. It also provides opportunity for interaction as test questions are there for you to access yourself on the level of improvement you are having on any topic in mathematics from JSS1 to SS3. There is an interactive platform where you can access the staff of the center to ask questions on any mathematics issue you may encounter. To us, it is like a break through, using new technologies for learning Mathematics.
They Centre also established the Mathematics Improvement project. The project is aimed at improving the learning of Mathematics through workshops. It is supposed to be a project that is collaborative. Interested stakeholders, state governments and proprietors of schools are expected to collaborate with the Center in the funding.
The states that keyed into it, saw that it was productive. The project normally span a period of two year and those schools were able to score in WAEC up to 60, 70 and above. That is from the performance of less than 20 per cent they came with. Unfortunately, the down turn of the economy affected it and the states and proprietors of schools were not forth coming again.
You mention the down turn of the economy as one of the challenges the
Center is facing. What other challenges have prevented the Center
from carrying out its mandate?
We are battling with inadequate budget proposal and provision for the Center. If we were well funded, some of this collaboration we are talking about, we would have taken it upon itself to handle the projects. Unfortunately, it is not possible for now.
How important in Mathematics in our everyday life?
Mathematics is an everyday life subject. There is nothing you can do from morning till evening that Mathematics is not involved. Our daily lives, we count, even right from the kitchen to the sitting room, we are doing one sort of Mathematics or the other. Mathematics is a subject that develop logical thinking. It is important for technological advancement. In all of the technology we see today, Mathematics, is the foundation. Everybody uses handset, we watch television, high level technology, all of that, the foundation to their production is Mathematics. When you look at it from our educational advancement, the government of our country, and almost all the countries I know of, specify that for you to advance, from secondary level to higher education level, you must have a credit pass in the subject. If you don’t pass it, you don’t advance.
Mathematic is a challenge to many students to the extent that some say that they don’t like it. Some say that they hate it, and that it is only those who are gifted that can do it. Now, this things that we hear in our country is the same thing we hear everywhere. It is the surprising thing in the issue of Mathematic. Anywhere you go, both in the advance and developing countries, you hear the same statement that Mathematics is very hard so much that it has now become a recognised
challenge. The United Na tions Educational Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) deemed it fit to set aside a day for Mathematics. That is how important it is.
It is aimed at publicizing Mathematics to the grassroots. To use the day to ruminate over issues that border on the learning of Mathematics. March 14 of every year is now set aside as the International Day of Mathematics. To that extent, it means that on a yearly basis, there is a day that every human being on this planet is to think Mathematics.
What is the NMC doing beyond the secondary level of education?
The Center has as its mandate the improvement of Mathematics in the area of research, teaching and learning. We are involve in high level research of Mathematics and Mathematical sciences. What we mean by Mathematical sciences from the point of view of the Center is the discipline of statistics, compute science, theoretical physics, and Mathematical science education.
This are the areas that the Center covers. We have a number of research groups in various disciplines and the Center has collaborative research with other organisations, both within and outside the country. We retrain lecturers in the colleges of education, polytechnic and universities in the act of teaching Mathematics at that level. Regular workshops are organised for this type of people. The center also organises foundation post graduates schools or courses. We target lecturers at the universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education, those who are preparing for their PHD certificate. The Center prepares and organises courses for them to enhance their research capability. Sometimes, research lectures are organised where experts come to talk about the current stage of research in the area. The center is an inter university center, not a paraltatals. We collaborate with different universities in certain areas. We have a collaboration with a university to help in some post graduate programmes. The center has the resources and the university does not have that so they are mounting the courses the center is helping to execute. Where we don’t have the expertise, the center is permitted to seek expertise from anywhere in the world. We are not limited in terms of seeking experts to carry out any of our action.