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The Nigerian government must invest in mathematics education if the country is to become scientifically literate, according to one of Nigeria's top mathematicians.

Sam Ale, director of the National Mathematical Centre in Abuja, Nigeria, said the country needs to spend four billion Naira (US$31 million) over 13 years if it is to achieve its goal of being in the top 20 world economies by year 2020.

Ale's plan, announced last month (September) during the 5th meeting of Nigeria's International Mathematics and Sciences Olympiads Committee, focuses on demystifying mathematics for both teachers and students.

Nigeria currently ranks as one of the least mathematically literate nations, according to the International Mathematical Union (IMU).

Reuben Ayeni, president of the Mathematical Society of Nigeria, told SciDev.Net that the investment could be used to fund scholarships for students to study mathematics at a tertiary level. He also suggested it could fund teacher- and student-driven research into effective methods of teaching mathematics. The National Mathematical Centre, in conjunction with Nigeria's federal and state education ministries, is also looking into this area.

Chris Ikporiko, vice chancellor of the country's Niger Delta University in the southern state of Bayelsa, identified the "bad foundation" in science and mathematics at secondary school level as the reason why art-based courses dominated the nation's universities, according to a report last week (11 October) in the Financial Standard.

Other suggestions discussed at the meeting include creating a joint degree programme run by the National Mathematical Centre in conjunction with the National Open University of Nigeria, and teacher workshops funded by Nigeria's Petroleum Technology Development Fund.

Further afield, the African Millennium Mathematics Science Initiative is tackling the problem by offering fellowships for research and postgraduate mathematics teaching at any university in sub-Saharan Africa.