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Improving the Teaching of Mathematics: The National Mathematical Centre Example

The National Mathematical Centre (NMC) is to develop appropriate initiative and resources of international standing for the re-awakening and sustaining interest in the mathematical sciences and their applications to life.
By this objective, the centre is expected to produce specialists in mathematical sciences and at all levels of the nation’s educational system.
The centre is cardinal to regional development so much so that it serves as national and international communities as a focal point for advanced research and training in the mathematical sciences and its applications, among other functions.
Available information about the centre also indicates that it has enhanced collaboration among mathematical scientists, especially among Nigerian scientists and other African nations.
In doing this, it identifies and encourages young talents in the knowledge of mathematical sciences and stimulates enthusiasm for the understanding of physical sciences in young Nigerian students and scholars.
To further improve the teaching and learning of the mathematical sciences at all levels, the centre, recently prepared 73 students across the country who distinguished themselves at the 2017 National Mathematics and Sciences Olympiads Competitions for awards.
Prof. Stephen Onah, the director of the centre, said that more than 23,000 students participated in the competition but 73 students came out the best, comprising 12 females and 61 males.
According to him, the award is aimed at acknowledging and encouraging young talents in mathematics and other science subjects towards their further development in the subjects.
“The awards generally are more of incentives; an encouragement awards and support for excellent performance,’’ he said.
The director noted that in the area of talent-hunt at the secondary level, the centre had been sole organiser of international mathematics and sciences Olympiads on an annual basis.
Onah listed mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and informatics, among other mathematical sciences, as parts of the Olympiads, noting that there was equal participation of boys and girls in all the events.
He also said NMC had proposed the introduction of mental arithmetic as part of curriculum at the junior secondary school level to generate interest in the learning of mathematics.
This proposal, according to NMC director has been adopted by Nigerian Certificate in Education for implementation and it is awaiting review and approval by Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council.
He noted that the centre had a vision of becoming a world class centre of excellence in the study and use of mathematical sciences.
“The centre has subscribed to a database of journals from science direct which is domiciled at the proposed e-section of the library.
“The e-books are also being compiled for subscription and the centre will further subscribe to some research platforms that will, in particular, enable academic staff to have easy access to research.
“However, the centre is in dire need of optic fibre cable or wireless network to enable it accommodate a broad band-width and wide area networking,’’ he observed.
Onah said that the major challenges and constraints hindering the effective performance and discharge of objectives of the centre included the exclusion of the centre from Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETfund) intervention.
He, therefore, appealed to the Federal Government to expedite action towards re-inclusion of the NMC in TETfund intervention.
Similarly, Prof. Saporu Funmilayo, Coordinator, Statistics Programme of the centre, said that the competition was in three stages with the two stages done at state level and the final stage at the centre.
Funmilayo noted that it was after the final stage of the qualifying examination that the best of all the participants were selected for awards.
He also said that the successful students would represent Nigeria at the 2018 International Mathematics and Sciences Olympiads Competition.
“The examination was carried out in the 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory and the best students in the five science subjects such as mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry and informatics, were selected for awards,’’ he said.
On further training for teachers, Saporu said that NMC occasionally conducted series of research lectures for advanced postgraduate and post-doctoral researchers.
According to him, such lectures organised for lecturers in the tertiary institutions on teaching methodology had helped to improve productivity.
He said that lecturers who were engaged in teaching a particular subject in statistics needed to acquire more training on fundamental statistical skills that would be useful for research methodology.
“Because, these days in the tertiary institutions, some of these lecturers don’t know how to present lectures.
“And by interacting with experience professors in these subjects, they will learn the best method of teaching them properly.
“They learn the subject properly so that by the time they go back to teach the students they will have a better idea of the subject,’’ he said.
He noted that students’ learning and performance depended on the knowledge of the lecturers and their ability to deliver effectively.
Saporu also said that retraining the lecturers would help them to understand how best to handle projects that involved collection of data in any area of sciences and analyse it properly.
He said, “it will be easier for them because the workshop covers computer-based data analysis training’’.
“So the workshop is extremely useful in all areas of sciences such as mathematics, statistics, computer sciences, theoretical physics and mathematics education.
“That is why we encourage lecturers both in the tertiary institutions and research institutes to come and get properly trained.’’
The coordinator then urged lecturers in tertiary institutions as well as the post graduate students to get exposed to the retraining opportunity offered by NMC for better delivery of lectures in mathematical sciences.(NANFeatures)

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