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‘Poor teaching method makes Maths difficult for students’

How did you become a mathematician and teacher? I was born in 1942, to the family of Alhaji Salaudeen Elekoyangan. I am from Eleko Yangan…

How did you become a mathematician and teacher?

I was born in 1942, to the family of Alhaji Salaudeen Elekoyangan. I am from Eleko Yangan compound in Isale Guniyan in the Ilorin West area of Kwara State. I started primary education in 1947 at the United Primary School, Esa Oke in the defunct Oyo State, now in Osun. I completed it there, but when I was brought back to Ilorin, I repeated Primary Six in order to adjust to the system at Okesunna Primary School, after which I was admitted to Ilorin Middle School in 1954. It is now known as Government Secondary School, Ilorin. From there, I taught for a year at Community Primary School, Share in 1960 and went for training. I was admitted into the Katsina Teachers’ College in 1961 and 1962 as a pivotal Grade 11 teacher. 

I picked up an appointment as Grade 11 teacher. In fact, I went on secondment from the Ilorin Local Education Authority (LEA) to Zaria LEA Primary School, where I taught for two years and gained admission in 1964 into the Advanced Teachers’ College, Zaria, now College of Education, where I studied Mathematics and Geography. 

In those days, things were very easy because immediately we finished our Grade 11 we got employment. After my National Certificate in Education (NCE) I was employed by the former Northern Nigerian Government and posted to the Sokoto Teachers’ College. I taught Mathematics there. Although I studied Mathematics and Geography, interestingly, I never taught Geography throughout my career. I taught only Mathematics because in those days, there was scarcity of teachers in the subject. We usually combined classes when it was time for Mathematics lesson. 

Having completed my NCE and taught for about three years, I further went for training in the United Kingdom. I got a Commonwealth scholarship to study Mathematics as a professional course at the Cambridge Institute of Education for one year. When I finished the training in the UK, I was posted back to the Teachers’ Training College, Sokoto to teach Mathematics. 

Some few years later, I had another opportunity to go and study for a degree in Mathematics, so I went to Saint Luise College, Exeter. I was there for about three years and got a degree in Mathematics (education). Immediately I finished, I came back to my old school and taught till 1977 when I was appointed as Inspector of Mathematics in the Sokoto State Ministry of Education. I was there till 1979. As God would have it, I was transferred to Maru Teachers’ College, now in Zamfara State, as principal. I was there for about five years, and because of pressure from my people in Ilorin, I transferred my service to the Kwara State Ministry of Education, where I was posted to the inspectorate division again. 

I was an assistant director in the Ministry of Education in Kwara State before I retired in 1995. Since then I have not been doing anything. What makes me more relevant is that I am an author of a book on Mathematics, published by Longman, now known as Learn Africa. Because of my age, I was not interested in taking up any appointment after my retirement.

From primary school to when you retired as a teacher, would you say that any of your experiences was more challenging than others?      

Almost all of them were very challenging, but my days as a principal at the teachers’ training college appeared to be more challenging because we were training would-be primary school teachers. It became very challenging to control students, especially with problems associated with boarding school. It was difficult to manage teachers who were of different origins. We had some white people among our teachers. Also among them were Egyptians, Indians, Americans, British, and a lot of them like that. The challenge of managing the school itself was also there because discipline was the hallmark of our activities. And to do that successfully you must be a disciplinarian. 

I also combined the work of a counsellor and beating some of the stubborn ones. I remember that some of the students would tell me that education was not by force or compulsory, and I would tell them that it was not by force, but once they were in school it was compulsory for them to study.           

Who were your mates in school? 

Some of them are dead, but I remember Ahmad Kamaldeen, the Mufti of Ilorin. Dapo Olanrewaju is dead.

Among your students, can you remember anyone who has made a landmark achievement in life?

I taught the former Minister of Agriculture, Professor Sheik Ahmed Abdullahi in primary school and the teachers’ training college. I also taught the former governor of Sokoto State, Aliyu Wammako. We still communicate up till today. One of my students, Usman Madawatta, was a director-general of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). We are still communicating. In fact, he has become part of my family. I cannot even remember some of them who usually call to greet me.

After your studies abroad, how did you feel when you came back to Nigeria?

I am a different man completely. I was already married before going abroad, so each time we were on break, I usually ran back to Nigeria to stay with my children and wife. Some of my friends advised me to stay back, but I made them understand that I could not leave my family for a long period of time.

You seem to be completely attached to your family, can you speak about your marital life?

The journey has been smooth. There’s no regret because it was a case of matchmaking. My two wives were given to me by their parents. My first wife was a daughter to my brother’s friend and my second wife is related to my mother. They joined us to keep the family together and stronger.

Would you share your experience in the early days of your marital life as a polygamist?

Life is not difficult; it is whatever you make out of it. That has been my philosophy in life, and I always admonish my children and people around me with that understanding.

How would you describe the teaching profession?  

It is borne out of passion. There’s a popular saying that “being a teacher is nature.’’ Teaching came to me naturally.

As a young boy, what was your dream for Nigeria?

Nigeria was better when we were growing. Things were not difficult. You got whatever you wanted with no stress at all. I expected that it would get better as time passed by, but it’s shocking to see the country become what it is today. 

Youths of nowadays have made the country what it is; and I believe that is how they want it to be. I had wanted Nigeria to remain big and indivisible, no matter our differences. I am shocked with what is happening in the country now. It was during one of the meetings on Mathematics I attended in Onitsha that I was co-opted as the author of the book I showed you earlier.

Mathematics happens to be one of the subjects dreaded by students; what do you think is responsible for that, and how can it be solved?

Mathematics is not that difficult. The interest of teachers and method of teaching is our problem. The attitude and interest of teachers towards the subject must change. As a teacher, you must come down to the level of the pupils and devote time for them, collectively and individually, if need be. The use of participatory method is very important. Mathematics is simple and easy to understand, but our teachers are making it difficult.

Do you support the call that sciences should be taught in local languages?   

No, I don’t.

Why?          

There are things that cannot be explained in local languages that are in science; that is why I don’t subscribe to such call.

What is the way out of Nigeria’s education challenges?

We should look at the environment and draw schemes and syllabuses to meet our needs. If the environment is not conducive for the scheme, it should not be applied at all. Teachers should be made to have interest in their job.

Do you have any child in the teaching profession?

Yes, I have some of them; one is even a lecturer. In fact, he is the head of the Department of Computer Science in the College of Education Zuba. 

What would you like to be remembered for?

I want to be remembered as a good teacher and community development activist. I have been contributing to the development of my area.

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