Mathematics is often and rightly described as the science that is used to understand and apply all other sciences for the advancement of human knowledge of the physical world as well as improving of human living through technology.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Mathematics, the science of structure, order, and relation that has evolved from elemental practices of counting, measuring, and describing the shapes of objects. It deals with logical reasoning and quantitative calculation.
The importance of this subject to national development, therefore to national development cannot be overemphasized and the lack of a significant presence of Nigeria on the development map of the world cannot be divorced from the neglect of this all important subject in our formal educational curriculum. That Nigeria cannot claim proprietorship of any major solution to the significant challenges confronting humanity today and the attendant benefits therefrom, is clearly traceable to the yearly poor performance of our students in mathematics.
In a 2015 ranking of 76nations in maths and science performance of their students, the top half was dominated by countries in Asia, with Singapore being the first, it is no wonder that this region has been dominant in high-level manufacturing in the last 2 or 3 decades. In the last international Mathematics Olympiad, 3 of the top 5 countries, in terms of medals were also from Asia with South Korea coming out tops, this certainly cannot be divorced from their position in the world economic ladder and is a reliable predictor of where they will be in the nearest future – the very top.
The Nigerian government, realizing the importance of this subject, created a Mathematical Center for Excellence, the National Mathematical Center (NMC), to promote research into the subject for national and international use, as well as promoting the study of the subject among our school age children who have come to dread mathematics mostly due to the abstract nature of instruction.
Nigeria gave the world one of the finest mathematicians and computer scientists of the 20th century in Phillip Emeagwali, whose work played a significant role in the modern day internet and in recovery of more oil from declining oil fields, and certainly has many of his ilk who have not been nurtured and developed in their numbers, to fulfil their potentials and put us on the world map in terms of scientific achievement.
The National Mathematical Center has in the past, due to neglect, policy failure, poor leadership and poor funding, failed to make the anticipated impact that informed its founding in the first place. Like most of our public institutions, the NMC has gradually fallen into systemic disrepair and decline while our students progressed from performing poorly to totally losing interest in the study of mathematics, hence our decline as a nation in key development indices.
The coming of Prof. Stephen Ejugwu Onah, in 2016 as the Director General of the Center has since changed the fortunes of the NMC and set it on an upward trajectory.
The NMC has become a more vibrant institution and has begun putting its primary mandate on the front burner once again towards building a critical mass of mathematics researchers and educators as well as reviving interest and cultivate talents in mathematics among the younger generation.
The center instituted several competitions while the DG has been on an enlightenment and advocacy drive for the preservation of the dying field of mathematics and the mathematical sciences.
The verve with which the current leadership of the center has taken on the challenge, has been hindered by a number of challenges that hold the center back. The center has been badly bitten, maybe even more than other sister MDAs, by the current bug of poor funding.
Even though The current leadership of the center has also embarked on massive physical infrastructural development, this has not been commensurate with what is needed to get the NMC to international standards where it can begin to contribute meaningfully to the body of knowledge of mathematical sciences in the global scene as well as the ripple effect on local manpower and industrial development.
All hands therefore must be on deck to support the center under the purposeful leadership of Prof. Onah and his management team towards ensuring that the right amount of investment is made in strengthening the center for Nigeria to reap dividends like the Asian economies that have been on the rise in the last couple of decades.
The Nigerian government, if it is indeed sincere about its quest to diversify the economy, must declare a state of emergency on the study and advancement of mathematical sciences.
There is a need to significantly improve the funding profile of the NMC to make it at par with institutions of coordinate function across the globe. Being of the status of a tertiary institution, government must commence the process of bringing the NMC under the purview of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), to rapidly improve its physical infrastructure and equipment.
The likes of the Central Bank of Nigeria and other government agencies that are involved in CSR activities must put conscious effort towards giving priority to the NMC as a key enabler in the production of technical manpower.
International donor agencies and development partners should also seriously explore the possibilities of providing technical and financial aid for the NMC to deliver on its mandate for Nigeria.
State governments should also partner with the center to improve on mathematics instruction at the primary and secondary levels of education. Private companies should also engage the center for research purposes and CSR investment for a more sustainable market.
By: Amb. Adefila Kamal,
President, Civil Society Network, For Good Governance.