Generate interest in mathematics to develop Africa

A teacher at a primary school
Copyright: Mikkel Ostergaard / Panos

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  • Experts have urged African educators to make mathematics education practical
  • Doing so could aid the use of mathematics to tackle the continent’s challenges
  • Creating partnerships with institutions could generate interest among students

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[HEIDELBERG, GERMANY] Africa needs to improve ways of teaching mathematics, especially to create more interest in the subject and use it as a tool for addressing developmental challenges facing the continent, say experts.
The experts made this known during the he 4th Heidelberg Laureate Forum at Heidelberg, Germany last month (19-23 September).

Collins Amburo Agyingi, a Cameroonian mathematics researcher at the University of South Africa, told SciDev.Net: “Mathematics is global and we need to improve on students’ performance and motivation for liking the subject.”

“For students to see the benefits of mathematics at lower levels, they need to see what people do with mathematics outside academic institutions.”

Collins Amburo Agyingi, University of South Africa


The Heidelberg Laureate Forum at Heidelberg, Germany, is an annual event that brings together top mathematics and computer scientists to network and share experiences with the future generation.
“For students to see the benefits of mathematics at lower levels, they need to see what people do with mathematics outside academic institutions,” Agyingi explains, noting that African governments and educators should help bring the industry sector closer to education for mutual benefits.
In advanced countries, explains Agyingi, people see how mathematics is used in areas such as engineering and medicine but in Africa it remains in the classroom.
“If people can begin to see how mathematics is used in the banking and oil industries, for instance, then they will begin to appreciate why they want to study mathematics,” says Agyingi. “But most of the times, even before students get to the university, they don’t see much value in the subject.”
According to Agyingi, Africa could benefit greatly from mathematics if it has experts using it in various developmental sectors such as in economics and health modelling to address the various disease challenges.
Manalebish Debalike Asfaw, a mathematics doctoral student at the University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, who also spoke to SciDev.Net at the forum, says that women should not look at mathematics as male-dominated discipline as it is “a logical and sequential way of doing things and with practice women can excel in it just as much as men.”
Asfaw argues that for Africa to develop its mathematics and create interest in it to address the continent’s needs, it should create interest in the subject at lower levels of learning.  “If we make it simpler, easier and enjoyable early enough, many will like mathematics,” she tells SciDev.Net.
Mathematics could be used in various fields of development including finance, health and agriculture. .
For instance, Asfaw who is an alumnus of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Senegal, is currently using ecological modelling in Ethiopia to study the relationships between herbivorous animals and plants, exploring the effect of rainfall and temperature changes on feeding characteristics of animals.

Tolulope Rhoda Fadina, a Nigerian postdoctoral student at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, adds that mathematics is applicable in every sphere of life such as modelling for disease surveillance, climate change related impacts and interventions and creating computer software.”
“We need collaborations between the academia and different developmental sectors such as health to create interest and motivate desire among people in loving mathematics so that those doing it can get opportunity to apply what they learn in real life situations to reduce the gaps between application and theoretical parts of mathematics,” Fadina says.
 This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.