Mathematics role in African Union’s Vision 2060

June 20, 2016

As a tween, my mother told me that mathematical thinking is important for use in school, workplace, business and more importantly for personal decision-making. In fact, I vividly recall her telling me that mathematics is fundamental to my prosperity in providing tools for understanding science, engineering, technology and economics with which without i will be nothing today. Mathematics is an absolutely critical part of our life. On this article, I wish to share what roles I think Mathematics can help Africa, my ancestral continent, to maximise its impact for the public and private good if it takes the opportunity.To achieve this, it is the multidisciplinary and universal nature of mathematics which makes this a reality.For example, it is multidisciplinary because of its vast scope and universal because of the effectiveness of its processes. In some fields it plays a supportive role and in others, the lead. Broad mathematical capability across the community underpins most qualities identified under Vision 2060 that was mooted by African Union three years ago. Just to share a common man view, bankers, nurses and engineers practise various forms of mathematics every day. But the slow uptake of mathematics and statistics in the university curriculum in the continent is hampering its progress despite the demand for mathematically capable specialists at the research frontier.The lesson here is to connect mathematics and biology in African schools, two disciplines which have not traditionally been close. Maths is meeting the biosciences much as maths met physics before, and African countries must communicate this through the curriculum.

Kenya is in the process of upgrading its national curriculum but what most people are curious is how the country will address the low number of math subject both theoretical mathematics mainly developed without an immediate view to external application and applicable mathematics which is a focus on practical benefit on various time scales.Mathematicians’ roles are increasingly important in a continent addicted to progress, and they are multidisciplinary in nature, statisticians work with retailers to refine and analyse their loyalty programs and mathematicians work with banks to manage financial risk and with the hospitals to manage emergency ward workflows.They are making a fundamental contribution to the growth of knowledge based industries and to the smart operation of the natural and primary resource sectors in the continent. Sadly, African countries don’t communicate this very well, especially to students and their parents and there’s a widespread attitude that Mathematic subject is hard.Strengthening the mathematical sciences will thrust Africa, towards 2060 and beyond without fear of falling into the ditch of mathematical ignorance.Mathematics is a universal language that unlocks innovation by abstracting a problem to reveal patterns that answer the crucial questions. The key to Africa’s future competitiveness and security lies in continually creating and adapting mathematical representations of the real world. Mathematical truths make a complex world more comprehensible and manageable and they are intertwined with efficiency and innovation at all levels of the economy.Mathematics can show Africans how to minimise traffic snarls in congested cities like Cairo, Lagos, Abuja, Nairobi, cut costs in a complex network of rail transportation, avoid congestion on the internet, produce innovative designs in optical lenses, weigh costs and benefits of environmental policies and optimise a small business plan.Mathematics can create new and better African industries.

The more technologically sophisticated Africa becomes, the more critical its need for mathematical thinking. The pathways towards economic diversity and opportunity are paved with mathematics.A smart economy depends on mathematical skills but few in the continent would hardly know it. Mathematics in practice is often not recognised as such, and unrecognisable in terms of school and undergraduate mathematics. This is the great failure of mathematics education in Africa.The greatest contribution that the discipline of mathematics could make to Africa’s smart economies like Mauritius to remedy that.The remedy concerns approach as well as content. Mathematics as it is practised, in research and professional occupations, requires thought, creativity, judgement, questioning and problem solving. An economy based on production lines like Nigeria might not require these skills as a matter of course, but a knowledge and innovations based economy does like that of Kenya.Current mathematics education, in African schools and universities, is satisfied with programming students to carry out certain mathematical processes, and assessment rewards students who can calculate everything even if they understand nothing.It’s more like preparing for a production line than a knowledge based economy.The mathematics discipline in Africa should seek a remedy in improving the knowledge base of those teaching mathematics. However, teachers with 20th century skills will not deliver mathematics in the form that a smart Africa needs.The continent of more than a billion people need mathematics to be taught by those engaged in it, in both the innovations economy and research. This is a cultural change that involves the discipline itself, one that African countries must mainstream into school and university systems.Without this, the connection between mathematics and the economy will remain dubious in the public mind, and mathematics will remain hamstrung in achieving its proper influence and delivering its benefits under African Union Vision 2060.

Contador Harrison