Must-read: Math plays key role in Africa’s future

Written by M and i, c, h, a, e, l, , k, s , B, r, o, k, s, and s Houngwook biang, South Korea, translated by John McMaster On his trip from Dakar…

Must-read: Math plays key role in Africa's future

Written by M and i, c, h, a, e, l, , k, s , B, r, o, k, s, and s

Houngwook biang, South Korea, translated by John McMaster

On his trip from Dakar to Algiers, I found myself on the highest point in the Sahara Desert. The mountain just outside Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, was an iconic figure, as the most colored rock on the face of the Sahara. On the wall it were written the words, “Galileo Galilei. ウィンートフォン.”

In fact, as I drove into Senegal to catch the train to Dakar, it wasn’t long before I, too, found myself on the top of a great mountain, on a tiny patch of desert, under a deep blue sky and surrounded by towering blue baobab trees.

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By that moment, it was clear to me that there is something wrong when mathematics has been written out of history books.

On the other hand, we must do something to ensure that it is remembered and respected throughout the world.

This is why, more than 30 years after the BRICS announced that the year 2001 would be their year of math, it is encouraging to see renewed enthusiasm in mathematics in Africa.

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As Africa’s middle class continues to grow, and youth enrol in school, a growing number of citizens will become future math students.

We need to ensure they are not only educated, but also nurtured in mathematical practice.

Until Africa has a long-term, coherent strategy to provide a strong support for mathematics in schools, the continent will continue to fall behind in many areas, including the entire economic system.

Take Botswana’s economic success story: It has done well as one of the world’s top performers on the UNDP index of human development, particularly thanks to its stellar performance in education. Despite its strong showing, it is ranked 23rd on the annual Global Economic Competitiveness Report.

In such an essential system, mathematics will be an essential tool for this country to compete with other top performers in the world.

The day I left Senegal, I met a group of students in Dakar — Portuguese-speaking students — preparing to study at the University of Algiers and in Portugal.

These are students who, despite being educated in Africa, continue to benefit from the Portuguese language, culture and education system.

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As I think about the great machines of the future — from robotics to quantum computing to artificial intelligence — it is clear to me that more and more people will rely on mathematics to solve these challenges. In a world where African countries are forced to produce a lot of graduates from primary school to technical college, this is essential.

We must not be complacent in educating children on Africa’s fastest growing industries; as young people grow into adults they will have to innovate. No economy will achieve maximum competitiveness and prosperity without a strong framework of mathematics education.

I have been a student of mathematics all my life. I met Newton, Euclid, and Calculus in my first job, at the world’s first commercial software company.

I remember Nelson Mandela using word trigonometry in his speech in Cape Town in 1991. It was a then-revolutionary move in African classrooms.

As I understand it, most people don’t remember Nelson Mandela using that word. He is, however, remembered for much more.

Nelson Mandela always pushed forward on the path of mathematics education.

There are many examples of the evolution of mathematics from education systems I have visited. I learned about Africa’s own algebra program, from my travel tutor, Uganda’s Minister of Science and Technology.

It’s only natural for me to see Africa making great strides in the field of mathematics education, going back to the same foundation for Africa’s school system, which is now called STEAM.

As both education systems grow with the continent, it’s important to note the key link between mathematics education and STEAM.

Steptech shows how Africa is now being able to apply the powers of mathematics in different fields, including military engineering, mathematics and urban planning. This is the future of the continent.

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