How to beat mathematics before it beats you: everlasting lessons from The Ambassadors College, Ogun State, school whose students swept 2016 National Cowbellpedia Mathematics awards
How student of The Ambassadors College solved 17 mathematical questions within a minute
By Sam Otti
Mathematics spreads phobia in the minds of several students. The declining performance of students in core subjects like English Language and Mathematics in the senior school certificate examination conducted by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and the National Examinations Council (NECO) has continued to drag scores of students to the floor.
Year by year, analysis of results released by exam bodies leave many parents jittery, as their children fail in core subjects, notably mathematics, which forms major entry requirement into the university. The Cowbellpedia Secondary School Mathematics Competition was brought in among several initiatives to boost students’ performance in the subject in a bid to address the high failure rate in mathematics.
A tough contest
Like past editions of the contest, the 2016 Cowbellpedia Mathematics Television Quiz Show was a tough contest that left only the champions standing. It was a day of rugged brainwork that ended with a new record set by the teachers and students of The Ambassadors College, Ota, Ogun State, the first school in the history of the competition to win all the awards in all the categories. Also, the amazing performance of Miss Oluwatumise Idowu raised the bar of the competition, as she answered 17 mathematical questions correctly within a minute.
Two teachers from the College, Iyanuoluwa Osewa and Kolawole Bello, won the Cowbellpedia Best Teachers’ Award for the junior and senior categories respectively. The quizmaster put on the hot seat all the mathematics teachers from different schools, whose students made it to the final stage of the competition.
Time was of the essence in the competition, as some gave the answers to the questions even while the quizmaster was reading out the questions. The last stage involved three teachers, who were required to answer as many questions as they could in one minute. Part of the competition was the Cowbellpedia 60 seconds of fame, where students take as many questions as they could and give the answers correctly.
Standing out from the crowd
Similar feat was repeated by students of The Ambassadors College, as six of them stood out among the 12 that made it to the final stage of the competition. Students of the college beat other contestants to win the first, second and third prizes in both the junior and senior categories. In the junior category, while Miss Juliet Ekoko, 12, won the trophy for the junior category, her schoolmates, Oreofe Daniel and Glory Okoli clinched the second and third place prizes.
In the senior category, Ayooluwa Oguntade, also from The Ambassadors College, emerged the champion, while his schoolmates, Taiwo Adeyemi and Blessing Udoh won the prizes for the first runner-up and second runner-up respectively.
The Sun Education gathered that the competition was a battle of wits for 48,000 students from 9000 schools across the country that participated. Scores fell by the side at different stages of the annual competition, leaving behind 108 students that made it to the second stage. Out of this number, eight of them were from The Ambassadors College. To cap the feat, the school produced six out of the 12 contestants that made it to the final stage.
The other Junior finalists are: Oluwafunmbi Fakorede of Bibo Oluwa Academy, Ilesa, Osun State; Dennis Balogun of Greater Tomorrow International College, Akure, Ondo State and Oluwatunmise Idowu of Scholars Universal Academy, Ota, Ogun State and Glory Okoli also of The Ambassadors College.
Aside bagging a distinguished award as the school that provided the highest level of students at the semi-final and final stage, the school had the best three students that contested keenly for the first, second and third positions at both the junior and senior categories. Other finalists in the senior category include: Adegoke Aromolaran of Bibo Oluwa Academy, Ilesa, Osun State, Ademola Fatoke of Ota Total Academy, Ota, Ogun State, Blessing Udoh of The Ambassadors College, Hasanah Adeyanju of Ota Total Academy. Our reporter spoke with the Proprietor of The Ambassadors College, Samson Yomi Osewa, as well as the winning teachers from the school to discover their secret of success in mathematics.
Lesson plan for mathematics
In the chat, Osewa said his school has 18 competent teachers that handle mathematics alone. According to him, in the past years, the school had produced top students that scored 100 per cent in Cambridge Mathematics, as well as 800/800 in SAT mathematics.
“Last year, we brought five students to the final stage of Cowbellpedia but they didn’t win,” he said. “We went back and did our homework. This year, we brought eight and six got to the final stage.”
When this reporter demanded the specific teaching plan the school adopts for mathematics, he said: “In every class, we try to see how we can change them. For example, those who came for the JS1, we admitted about 150. Any of them who scored less than 70 per cent in mathematics came to school during the summer coaching for five weeks on mathematics, morning, afternoon, evening. That’s how we start. By the time they come to JSS1, we engage about four teachers to erase primary knowledge of math away from them.”
The school that emerged eighth in West African School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in 2014 replicated what Cowbell did for pupils in primary schools in Lagos and Ogun states. In an interview, Kolawole Bello, a math teacher at the college who won the Cowbellpedia Best Mathematics Teacher award (senior category), said he had spent 14 years in the classroom. According to him, he majored in Physics, but later took up the teaching of mathematics for the past six years. Bello graduated in Chemical Engineering, from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife and later had his Masters programme and Post-Graduate Diploma in Education (UNILAG), revealed more of the secret behind the school’s success in math.
He said that The Ambassadors College adopted workable measures to erase students’ phobia for math. “We motivate them,” he revealed. “We make it simple, interesting. We use illustrations that the students like, things they can easily relate with, those things they are quite familiar with. Once you arrest the students’ interest, they will do well.”
Bello said the most important step in making students pass math is to develop the interest in them. “You need to motivate them. Sometimes, you give out gifts to encourage them,” he said. “Once you motivate them with little things and challenge them, you will get the best results.”
Reasons for repeated failure in mathematics in WASSCE, NECO
Bello said teachers should be blamed for the repeated failure in math in public exams. “If anything goes wrong with a team, the coach should first be held responsible,” he argued. “Most teachers, especially in public schools are not passionate enough. The passion comes within the individual. The teacher must be well motivated.”
Citing cases of schools that owe teachers salaries, especially, public schools, he warned that such unfortunate situation could affect teaching, as well as students’ performance.
He said students of The Ambassadors College that participated in the last Mathematics Olympiad in South Africa qualified. According to him, such international exposure of both the subject teachers and the students help to lay the cornerstone of success.
He urged the Nigerian government to look at what China is doing, which had enabled Chinese students to soar high in International Mathematics Olympiad. He said talented students are fished out and kept in a special school, where the teaching method would be accelerated to bring out the best in them.
“You could imagine someone in a Primary 6 that is already solving JSS 3 Maths. Schools are trying but the government needs to invest in modern facilities for teaching,” he said. The introduction of Special Science School, our reporter gathered, was a step taken to fish out the best students in the sciences, but the admission process into these schools had since been bastardized. While celebrating her victory, Ekoko, who emerged champion in the junior category, with 90 points, said her teachers dutifully taught her.
NECO boss lauds performance
The Registrar, National Examinations Council (NECO), Prof Charles Uwakwe, said Cowbellpedia mathematics competition has helped to improve students’ interest in math thereby gradually erasing their phobia for the subject. He described it as a highly relevant subject in school. He expressed satisfaction with the large number of female students at different stages of the competition, such that only three boys made it to the final. Girls took away the five prizes, leaving only one for a male student that emerged the overall best in the senior category.