By Ozioma J. Okey-Kalu
I was always afraid of Mathematics. I used to see it as the devil that wouldn’t just go away. I and ‘my teammates’ always have this common slogan – we are not maths inclined. Then I kept asking so many questions, such as, “Why do we need Maths in the first place? Why don’t we concentrate on Home Economics, Social Studies, CRS and all those subjects that tell stories? Why should they force us to study Maths when we don’t need it?” I have always wondered why we bother with Mathematics because I didn’t see how it relates to human problems. I was miserably struggling with it because I needed it to gain admission into the university. As far as I was concerned, once I can manage to get a ‘P’ I am done with anything related to Maths. But then, reality hit me – we can’t do away with Mathematics because it is in everything we do.
Anyway, that was me many years ago. Today, I regret not finding a way around Maths then. Maybe I wouldn’t have ended up studying English in the university (even though I love reading, writing and public speaking). I learnt to embrace Maths after my NYSC. I managed to leave secondary school with a P8 in Maths in my SSCE and I was jubilating. But as a working class, I found out that I couldn’t go further in my academics, and consequently my career, without that necessary evil – MATHEMATICS. So, I asked for help. A colleague then advised that I look for a ‘Teach Yourself’ book in Maths because I couldn’t combine my job and private tutorials. I went to the school’s library (then I was working with one of the schools established by the Marist Brothers) and borrowed a ‘Teach Yourself’ Mathematics textbook (I’m sorry I was so much engrossed in the book’s contents that I didn’t get the name of the author and publisher, but I don’t think they were Nigerians). This book explained mathematics using non-technical terms that it succeeded in making Maths look so watered down. It was this book that made me realise that Mathematics is not abstract; it is something that we engage in everyday without being aware of it. The book broke the ice between Mathematics and me.
I used this book for just two weeks before returning it to the library. After that I picked up the almighty New General Mathematics and started seeing a lot of sense in the all none-sense I have been seeing before. I was able to tutor myself for three months after which I had enough confidence to register and sit for another SSCE (Nov/Dec exams) and then managed to get a credit pass in Mathematics (Wow! What a great feat to someone like me. Lol).
Now, I’m not writing all these to tell the story of my life nor to sell myself (I wouldn’t mind that anyway, *wink*). My major concern here is that I have children and I am worried that they are going to be afraid of Maths if something isn’t done as soon as possible. Not quite long ago, I wanted to play numeracy games with my children so I asked them to give me the multiples of 5 from 5 to 100 and they were confused on the difference between multiples and factors. I started the game. The younger one in Primary 1 that just received a lesson on multiples of 5 could join in after a while, but the elder one that is in Primary 3 has forgotten the numbers – he kept mixing them up. In fact, he had to pick up his rough book to do the calculations before he could land on the next multiple – and this was after I had explained how the numbers are gotten. That was when it hit me – Mathematics in Nigeria is taught mechanically. The pupils and students learn the rules, memorize them, spill them out during exams and then, forget them. Maths is not yet a part of them. That must be the reason I had challenges with the subject many years ago.
Believing I can get Maths textbooks on ‘Teach Yourself’ series for Primary schools, I visited different bookshops here in Enugu. All I wanted were books that will allow my children play with numbers the same way they play with words and letters, with or without supervision. The looks I get from these bookshop attendants were so discouraging. Those that were polite enough asked me to check ‘big’ supermarkets like Shoprite because that’s the only place such books can be sold, or that I should make do with what I see in the market and then get a private tutor for them. I don’t know if I can even afford a textbook sold in these ‘big’ supermarkets to start with. Even if I can, how many can I afford to buy?
In as much employing tutors for our children in primary and secondary schools are good, shouldn’t we first try to let them see the basics before the tutors teach them the advanced levels? Aren’t we confusing them by jumping into the advanced level when they are yet to lay a strong foundation? I don’t employ tutors so my children can read their story books, so why employ one because they will need to acquire basic mathematical skills. There are a lot of textbooks in Nigeria today that help children to develop their skills in the English language with little or no help, why can’t we have books like that for mathematics? Why can’t we have books that will make children in primary and secondary schools see Mathematics in their daily activities?
Note that I am not against the standard technical Mathematics textbooks in the Nigerian market. But, if my 6-year old son could easily perform the tasks on the pictorial representations of addition, subtraction, division and multiplication in his textbook and find it difficult to perform the same tasks when represented with numbers, then the textbook is surely not enough to help him develop his numerical skills. He needs a textbook that is less ‘complicated’ alongside the technical one. There is need for ‘Teach Yourself’ series for primary school children – in all subjects, not just Mathematics.
Nigeria needs to pay attention to the education of the children at the foundation level. A lot of people have found themselves in the wrong profession because their foundations were mismanaged. If Maths teachers, lecturers, researchers, curriculum developers, Mathematical Association of Nigeria (MAN), business entrepreneurs and all who have something good to offer will come together to find ways of developing and distributing standard teaching and learning materials on Mathematics, trust me the fear of Mathematics and the ‘I am (or he/she is) not Maths inclined’ slogan will disappear from the face of Nigeria.