By Abutu Agada
For decades, mathematics has been perceived as a difficult subject to read as a course of study and to teach in Nigerian schools. In spite of all efforts to correct this perception, the problem of poor performance in mathematics by majority of Nigerian students is still apparent in results released by various examination bodies at the end of every testing period.
Mr. Arawonde Okanaye, a mathematics teacher at Loyola Jesuit College in Abuja, has never hidden his frustrations at the way students easily give up on the subject. “The job of the mathematics teacher is probably the most difficult one at the secondary school level of education in this country,” was the usual refrain from Okanaye during discussions with colleagues. Getting students excited about the subject let alone sustaining their interest in it was the most difficult aspect of his job, he would always lament.
All that changed, however, when the school started entering for the Cowbellpedia Mathematics competition. An elated Okanaye is now singing a new tune. Gone are the lamentations because the students have developed a keen interest in the competition and, since then, performance of Loyola students in mathematics is now on the rise. This development has even made the screening of students in the school into the Cowbellpedia to be more competitive.
“I am a fulfilled teacher today because the performance of my students in various external examinations is now the major talking point among teachers in the school. It has also become a thing of pride for the school. The joy of seeing these students perform so well over and over again is not quantifiable. Thanks to Promasidor for organizing this competition. It has been a game-changer for me and my students,” Okanaye said.
Indeed, Okanaye has every cause to sing joyful tunes because in 2015, two students from Loyola Jesuit College emerged winners of the competition in both the senior and junior categories.
Jarlath Unuegbu, father of the winner of the 2009 senior category of the Cowbellpedia Mathematics competition, has more than one reason to thank Promasidor Nigeria Limited for organizing the competition for school children. Unuegbu who used to fret over the poor attitude of his children towards the study of mathematics is now relieved of the duty of having to push his children to study.
His fears over the financing of his children’s education have also been allayed. “I am a poor man. My earnings are barely enough to cover my needs not to talk of paying for my children to attend university. The cash reward and gift to winners in the competition is a big motivator, a morale booster as well as an incentive that encourages the young people to take the subject of Mathematics more seriously,” he said.
Like every socially responsible entity worth its salt, Promasidor Nigeria Limited, makers of Cowbell Milk wanted to do something sustainable for its target audience that includes a large percentage of younger people in secondary schools for their patronage of its flagship brand, Cowbell milk.
Having observed the woeful performance of students in mathematics for some time, the company decided to sponsor a mathematics competition that will encourage intellectual development of school children in a manner that is consistent with its brand promise of bright kids with sharp brains.
In 1998, the annual National Secondary Schools Mathematics Competition (NASSMAC), now renamed Cowbellpedia, was born. The competition holds in over 200 centres across the nation and in over 11,000 schools. To further underscore the popularity of the competition, the number of students participating has jumped from 15,000 to 34,000 in recent times excluding students that participated in their respective school’s selection test.
Two participants, a junior and a senior, are selected from each school. From there, the students participate in a series of preliminary rounds until 36 students are selected for the Cowbellpedia TV Quiz show, from which 12 finalists are selected for the final round, which is then broadcast around the country on selected TV and radio stations. In 2016, Promasidor began to ask mixed schools to nominate a minimum of two girls for each category to represent them in a bid to further encourage the girl-child to take interest in education.
Aside from the drive for academic excellence that the competition is meant to create in participating students, the ultimate prize for wining has been upped to N1 million and an all-expense paid educational excursion outside the country while the first and second runners-up will get N750,000, and N500,000 respectively. The teacher of the winner is awarded N400, 000 while that of the first and second runner-ups receive N300,000 and N200,000 respectively.
Nineteen years down the line, the competition was initiated with the objectives to awaken consciousness and interest in mathematics among secondary school students, improve the performance in mathematics in Nigeria, create a credible platform for identifying outstanding students and encourage them, redress the myth that mathematics is a very difficult subject to pass and assist schools in equipping their classrooms and libraries as well as provide financial assistance to benefiting schools and students. The competition has lived up to these objectives as attested to by officials of federal and state ministries of education, parents and West African Examinations Council (WAEC).
According to WAEC, there has been a remarkable improvement in the performance of students in mathematics in the last eight years. For instance, it was noted that credit passes in mathematics in the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) has grown by 47 per cent while failure rate has dropped by 24 per cent between 2002 and 2010.
This positive development has been traced to the high level of sustained interest and awareness that NASSMAC and other related programmes have generated in mathematics education over the years.
Furthermore, according to the National Mathematical Centre, Abuja, Cowbell champions are among the best 10 competitors in mathematics competitions at the international level. It added that since 2006, the medals from international competition were won by students who participated in CowbellPedia.
Promasidor’s contribution to the development of mathematics education in Nigeria has not gone unnoticed. The company has been consistently recognized and awarded by stakeholders in the Corporate Social Responsibility arena. For instance, the company won the Sustainability Enterprise and Responsibility Award (SERA) for Best Company in Education in November 2016.
The company was also awarded the Best Company in Education at the prestigious Lagos State PR Industry Awards (LAPRIGA) held in December last year.
Both awards were aimed at recognizing and rewarding corporate organisations and individuals for their ground-breaking investments in CSR projects and to encourage more investment in the practice.
Furthermore, in recognition of the company’s contribution to the Lagos State Government Ministry of Education Support Our Schools Initiative project for promoting teaching and learning of Mathematics through Mathematics competition in all public senior secondary schools in the state, Promasidor emerged as one of the winners of the Lagos State Government Support-Our-Schools-Initiative Corporate Social Responsibility Award for 2014.
The people of Isolo community in Lagos, through the Osolo of Isolo Kingdom, Oba Kabiru Kolawole Agbabiaka, named Promasidor as the Best Corporate Social Responsibility Performing Company of The Year. The award was in recognition of the enormous contributions of Promasidor Nigeria Limited to the Isolo community. The company had donated a borehole and water treatment plant to the community. It also supported the community in healthcare, solar-powered street lights and security, and offers yearly scholarships to bright students of the community, among others.
Since government alone cannot fund the growth of the education sector alone, the contributions of corporate organizations like Promasidor remain the only hope for revamping the sector and raising standards. If Nigeria is to emerge as a knowledge-based economy and catch up with the rest of the world, investments in science education, particularly mathematics, must be given priority.