Based on the realisation that building capacity in Mathematics represents a concrete pillar for development, Promasidor Nigeria Limited has for about 20 years taken up the challenge of stimulating students’ interest in the subject through its mathematics competition for secondary schools. Uchechukwu Nnaike highlights the impact of the intervention so far

A story was once told of a certain prominent Lagos editor who elected to study Mass Communication because the course did not require a credit pass in Mathematics. After he secured his dream admission and resumed at the University of Lagos, ‘trouble started.’

To his shock, the Mathematics he thought he had escaped reared its head as the school made it mandatory for all Mass Communication students to pass a six-unit, two-semester science course in order to graduate.

It took “special divine intervention” for the editor to pass the ‘Mathematics-laced’ course. Based on this experience, he has become the Mathematics ambassador in his house, encouraging his children to take the subject seriously in their early years.

Regarded as the foundation of science, Mathematics involves the study of measurement, properties and relationships of quantities, using numbers and symbols. Experts also maintain that Mathematics provides deep reasoning that is unique to human beings. More importantly, they note that solving mathematical problems helps the mind to reason and organise complicated situations into clear, simple and logical steps.

As much it is seen as the soul of science, Mathematics is however dreaded by most students, resulting in an unimpressive performance in the subject at external examinations conducted by the major examining bodies such as the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and National Examinations Council (NECO).

In the 2011 WAEC May/June Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE), only 41.50 per cent of the candidates obtained credit in Mathematics, while only 24.72 per cent passed the subject in the 2010 NECO May/June SSCE. In 2017, only 52 per cent had credit pass in Mathematics and English Language in the WASSCE.

In his paper, ‘Trends in Students’ Performance in Mathematics’, Udonsa Effiok, a Mathematics lecturer at the Federal College of Education, Yola, Adamawa State, identified a number of factors that impeded students’ achievement in the subject in senior secondary school examinations. These he said include: shortage of qualified Mathematics teachers, poor facilities, inadequate equipment and instructional materials.

Others are method of teaching, large class size, Mathematics phobia/fright, low interest by students, parental influence and undue distraction from unproductive use of social media networks.

Similarly, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Mathematical Centre (NMC), Professor Stephen Onah blamed the serial poor performance in Mathematics on unqualified teachers, as well as the international standards maintained by the examination bodies.

Onah said with the low teacher-student ratio, effective teaching becomes a problem. He therefore called for incentives for teachers to boost their interest in critical subjects.

On its part, the Mathematical Association of Nigeria said the poor performance is student-related, teacher-related and government-related. The association’s President, Professor Che Agwagah observed that a number of Mathematics teachers, especially at the secondary school level are weak in knowledge, content and pedagogy.

To tackle the challenge, investment in education across the world has assumed an entirely new frontier and approach such that governments and corporate organisations have come to realise that building capacity in Mathematics represents a concrete pillar for development.

One of the corporate organisations on this path of building human capacity is Promasidor Nigeria Limited. Through its Cowbellpedia initiative, the company has provided a platform to stimulate interest and reward excellence in Mathematics among students in Nigeria’s secondary school in nearly 20 years. The interventions include Cowbellpedia Secondary Schools Mathematics TV Quiz Show, Cowbellpedia Radio (a Mathematics class on radio) and Cowbellpedia Mobile App (Mathematics Q&A mobile application).

Through these platforms, the company has been able to arouse and re-awaken the interest of students in Mathematics at the secondary school level and further reinforced the importance of the subject

NECO has also recognised and commended Promasidor for stimulating the interest of Nigerian students in Mathematics through the TV quiz show, sponsored by Cowbell, the company’s flagship brand. In a chat with journalists at the finals of the 2017 Cowbellpedia Secondary Schools Mathematics Television Quiz Show in Lagos recently, the NECO Registrar, Professor Charles Uwakwe said the competition has considerably reduced the phobia for Mathematics among students across the country.

Uwakwe maintained that the Cowbellpedia initiative has demystified the terror of Mathematics that has been killing the dreams of many students. He cited the figure for last year’s qualifying examinations as proof of the renewed interest of more students in the subject.

Compared to the enrolment figures of 27,000 participants in 2015 and 46,000 in 2016, 52,000 students participated in the 2017 nationwide examinations of the competition, out of which 108 moved to the second stage, which is the television quiz show with five of the students having a perfect score of 100 percent in the qualifying examinations.

The NECO registrar commended Promasidor for the Cowbellpedia initiative and expressed the council’s continued technical support for the project in appreciation of what he described as “Promasidor’s great corporate social responsibility to the Nigerian society.”

In the last two decades, the mathematics initiative has produced champions and heroes. Last year, Munachi Ernest-Eze, a student of Loyola Jesuit College, set a new record by winning in the junior and senior categories of the Cowbellpedia Secondary School Mathematics Television Quiz Show within a period of two years.

Emmanuel Mebude, a student of Ogunlade Memorial Secondary School, Surulere, Lagos also set a new competition record in speed and accuracy. He answered 17 questions in the ’60 Seconds of Fame’ segment in the preliminary rounds of the senior category.

Greater Tomorrow International College, Arigidi-Akoko, Ondo State also got an award for producing finalists back-to-back in the last three years. These are: Evans Owamoyo in 2015 (junior category) and 2017 (senior category), and Dennis Balogun in 2016.

The Ambassadors College, Ota, Ogun State received an award for its contribution to Mathematics education. The school, which boasts of 17 Mathematics teachers, produced eight out of the 12 finalists in 2016, and won the two categories that year, as well as the teachers’ edition. Oluwanifise Onafowokan, last year’s first runner-up in the senior category is also a product of the school.

Meanwhile, in the 2017 finals, Jesse Uche-Nwichi of Graceland International School, Rivers State and Ernest-Eze emerged champions in the junior and senior categories respectively. For their feat, they were rewarded with N1 million each and an all-expense paid education excursion abroad.

Onafowokan and Owamoyo were the first and second runners-up respectively in the senior category, while Oluwafemi Adeyanju of Jesuit Memorial College, Port Harcourt, Rivers State and Ezekiel Ekanem of Advanced Breed Group of Schools, Sagamu, Ogun State finished first and second runners-up in the junior category.

The first and second runners-up for each category won N750,000 and N500,000 respectively.

Each teacher of the 2017 champions received a cash prize of N400,000, while those of the first and second runners-up got N300,000 and N200,000 respectively. Also, the winning schools won Mathematics textbooks, desktop computers and printers

Reassuringly, the Managing Director of Promasidor Nigeria Limited, Anders Einarsson not only reiterated the commitment of the company towards education, but also promised that the company would continue to support the academic development of Nigerian children.

That affirmation is the tonic students, teachers, schools, parents and other stakeholders in the education sector require to boost a Promasidor-inspired revolution in Mathematics education in Nigeria.