By Okoro Prince Voke
A study by the Nigerian educational finder in 2013 shows that 6 in 10 people are highly innumerate and 3 in 10 lack full literary skills. Juxtaposed with the UK's standard of 1 in 5 people, it shows that the major problem here is tackling the numeracy battle.
A lack of numeracy and literary skills in a less developed country like Nigeria is a huge problem. The challenges are endless and the consequences are daunting. Imagine your local vendor on the highways of Ojuelegba giving you N10 change after paying for one piece of gala with a N500 note. The possibilities of a normal person who lacks numeric skills being ripped off on the streets is a reality.
These adults are as well or may turn into parents and when this happens they can't help their kids with basic homework problems. These kids are affected and may develop a sudden hatred for complex subjects like mathematics. The cycle continues as these students usually end up being the adults their parents once were.
In 2010, Belinda Vernon, in her article for The Guardian, wrote about a possible solution. In order to get parents more involved in their children’s math education, a group of charity workers initially invited parents to sessions on their own. But they soon realized that the key to getting them to attend was to run mixed classes with parents and children. This way, parents were motivated as they saw first-hand their children's enthusiasm and progress and in turn improved their own skills.
Changing attitudes is probably the biggest challenge, but it is not the only one. Teaching adults is a specialist skill and one that is in short supply. Imagine helping a class of adults who do not even have the numeracy skills of an 11-year-old. The success of the teacher will depend as much on their ability to boost the confidence of those adults and keep them motivated as on their knowledge of the subject matter.
Also, since teaching people above the age of 18 is most successful when numeracy skills are embedded within a more practical course, on-the-job rather than classroom-based training is important. And this points to a larger role to be played by employers and other organisations such as charities.
However, while teaching adults is important, better math teaching at school is vital. Ultimately, it will provide the key to ensuring an adequately skilled population. It is also much more effective to teach children well in the first place than to waste resources on poor teaching, only to have to correct problems later on.
Addressing these challenges requires effort from many different sectors – government, businesses and charities. Good co-ordination is needed and an overarching strategy to improve numeracy across all age groups, coordinating the teaching of children right through to adults. This does not exist at the moment. What's needed is a National Numeracy and Literacy Board on similar lines to the National Literacy Trust that's adopted in the UK.
It would be responsible for fostering more positive attitudes to math, and promoting initiatives to improve how math is taught and increase numeracy in adults and children. And once numeracy skill is improved, literary skills generally follows suit.
It's a win-win