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Why we want mental arithmetic in primary education – Prof Ale

By Emmanuel Edukugho
Moves are underway to introduce Mental Arithmetic in primary schools across the country in order to enhance learning of science among pupils at an early stage.

Professor Sam Ale, Director-General, National Mathematics Centre, (NMC), Abuja, has asserted that no nation can develop without mathematics which is basic to science and technology.

At an interactive session with the media during a press briefing to officially flag-off the 2010 edition of Cowbell National Secondary Schools Mathematics Competition (NASSMAC) in Lagos by Chief Keith Richards, Managing Director Promasidor Nigeria Limited, Professor Ale, fielded questions from education journalists.
Excerpts:

How can the National Mathematics Centre be taken to the local levels for its impact to be properly felt instead of only at Abuja?

Actually, the National Mathematics Centre is only in Abuja, but now we are trying to establish the centre in the states. About ten states now – from Katsina which Umaru Yar’Adua started and many other states have followed.

At the local levels, we’re starting with senatorial districts and the House of Representatives constituencies. We’ve talked to Senator Iyabo Obasanio and Representative Abike Dabiri to have the centre at the local level.

But we want to get the centre located all over the states before coming to the local level, just as Promasidor started the Cowbell National Secondary Schools Mathematics Competition in Lagos before spreading to all the states. It requires money.

When we tell a governor about the need for the centre, he will say yes, yes, but won’t give out money. We will do something in this direction.

Can you mention the type of reaction to mathematics by young people?

At the African Mathematics Olympiad in Senegal, when the participants were asked who will want to be mathematician, only three said they will read mathematics out of 100. Most of them said that they desire to become engineer, doctor, computer scientist, and so on.

For myself, when I was a student, I read a little because I knew mathematics well which made me to pass in
Geography, Physics, Chemistry. I passed all these subjects very well because of mathematics. But poor in History, English language just had C6.

On how Nigeria has fared in World Mathematics gathering?

Nigeria took part for the first time in International Mathematics Olympiad in Germany in which 104 countries participated. Nigeria sent six representatives and was among six African countries that participated.

This is bad because Africa is behind in science and technology. South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia were there. In the past six years, Nigeria has been participating. Nigeria hosted the Pan African Mathematics Olympiad in 2006 and won gold.

The country held the Informatics Olympiad in Abuja in 2008 in which only five countries took part. It’s about computer science and many countries in Africa don’t have computer science in the curriculum.

We should put Africa in World map in mathematics. There is need to carry out research in mathematics and engage first class students for the work.

On the need to introduce Mental Arithmetic in primary schools

Mental Arithmetic is an ingenious tool to foster science. We have 66 pupils in the centre already for this project to be introduced into the school system. You may want to ask what is Mental Arithmetic?

This is about asking a child after putting a figure to him – plus, minus, add, subtract and he will give you the answer immediately. We are trying to sell Mental Arithmetic to the Universal Education Board for inclusion in the school curriculum.

No nation can do without mathematics, science and technology. There had been massive failure in mathematics in NECO, WAEC. I assure you that there will be great improvement and students will be passing mathematics. Development of science and technology is based on mathematics.

I have four children who are good in mathematics – three of them have become medical doctors because of mathematics. The other one is pharmacist – all of them because of their interest in mathematics.

The education system is said to be in state of decline, is there a way out of this malaise?

The Minister of Education, Dr. Sam Egwu has introduced a Roadmap for Nigerian education. We should follow it.
Strikes by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is an inhibiting factor. My daughter use to ask me how can she be a doctor with strikes by university lecturers. I want to plead with ASUU to stop the strikes.
The system can’t be good with frequent strikes. If the Roadmap is followed, we will come out of the wood.

We want private companies to come into education. The GSM companies can assist in education.
The Federal Government has a Roadmap. All through when I finished at Ahmadu Bello University, there was no strike. I went to the United Kingdom for my Ph.D without doing masters. But it is not so today.

On what has happened to past winners of NASSMAC?

Most of them are doing well, but there is need to track them down to actually know and this can be done by research. I think the organisers of the competition will know better what is happening to the past winners.

Most of them read other courses apart from mathematics. Through research work, we can know about them. This is the first decade of the competition. For 10 years, Promasidor has been holding the competition and awarding prizes.

It has been consistent, performing this great feat for 10 years. We are celebrating a private organisation that is popularising mathematics, giving us good results from mathematics. Promasidor is after my heart for its interest in mathematics over the years.


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