Nigeria has been debating the introduction of indigenous languages as a medium of instruction for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in schools to enable a better understanding of the so-called difficult fields.
Stakeholders have lamented at various conferences that it is not possible due to lack of adequate science teachers who can speak their indigenous languages and the diverse ethnic backgrounds of the students.
However, this has been achieved by a mathematics teacher, Cynthia Onwuchuruba Bryte-Chinule, who has succeeded in using her local language, Igbo, and the Nigerian pidgin to teach the subject in her community in Rivers State.
She said in an interview with Victor Ekwealor of Techpoint that she was inspired by her students in the Port Harcourt prison and some other 40 children she teaches for free every Thursday and Saturday respectively.
“Most of them are school dropouts who do not understand the English language … I felt English language shouldn’t be a hindrance to learning mathematics. So I tried a different method. I gave them the maths questions in Nigerian pidgin and concepts they could relate with. For example, trying to find the sum of 5+7 became; ‘If you carry 5 yam join am with another seven yam, how many yam you go get?’ in Pidgin,” she explained.
Cynthia Onwuchuruba Bryte-Chinule, who is a mathematics graduate of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University took her mathematics lessons in the indigenous language to a global audience via video tutorials which have been viewed by many Nigerians around the world.
“Even though I could not teach all my students in Igbo because of their diverse ethnic backgrounds, I still made short video tutorials on Facebook and YouTube in Igbo and Nigerian pidgin … I see a lot of interest is being stimulated and that is the sole essence of the exercise; to show people maths is not that difficult. I made Igbo and Pidgin versions of videos and tutorials on mathematics but I discovered the Igbo ones got wider acceptance,” she said.
Cynthia strongly supported the use of indigenous languages to teach STEM subjects to increase the level of understanding of students and to improve the low-interest level.
I discovered teaching in English was a waste of time. Most do not know what “addition” means so you have to tell them “join am together”. To make STEM subjects widely accepted and understood in Nigeria, language mediums that are easily understood by the students have to be employed.
Using herself as an example, she called for a systemic change of the notion that girls cannot study mathematics. “We need to continually encourage the Nigerian girl child. Being a long-term mentor to these girls is also very important as a one-day seminar cannot change this mindset. They have to be continually guided and disabused of these toxic notions.”
She aims to improve mathematics education on the continental level through her non-profit organisation, PEEL Initiative, which she founded in 2016 to provide quality education, develop leadership potential and support underprivileged children through education.
Cynthia is also running the Maths Afrique programme which links tutors to students at a fee that helps in financing her initiative. She acknowledged her difficulty in getting funds from donors to sustain the programmes but expressed her determination to push through no matter the circumstances.
“We have currently reached out to organisations to help and are waiting for them to respond. But I believe I don’t have to wait for funds to do what has to be done. I’ll keep on at the level I can,” Cynthia Onwuchuruba Bryte-Chinule assured.
UNESCO has earmarked February 11 as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science to promote female inclusion and participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.
Statistics show that the male-dominated fields lack women due to the inadequate encouragement of girls to pursue mathematics and science at the early school-going age. Women worldwide pursuing careers in science are only 28%, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 30% of professionals in the sciences are women.