Maths experts support Africa’s future scientists

11 January 2016

Staff from the University of Namibia visiting Cardiff University School of Mathematics

Cardiff University has helped organise an intensive maths school in Namibia to tackle high drop-out rates among potential scientists whose crucial skills are being lost.

Most science degree students at the University of Namibia (UNAM) must pass a mathematics qualification in their first year, but a lack of the required maths skills and knowledge has led to many failing to complete their courses.

Cardiff University’s School of Mathematics is working with UNAM to offer a two-week ‘summer school’ to 120 UNAM students, who will attend the pilot course as part of an induction before starting their degrees.

The intensive course, which takes place in January – summer in Namibia - is part of Cardiff University’s Phoenix Project, an engagement project which works with UNAM on a range of activities involving education, health and science.

It is hoped the summer school will leave students better prepared for the mathematics section of their courses and help reduce drop-out rates.

Dr Rob Wilson, Director of Learning and Teaching at Cardiff University’s School of Mathematics, said: “The aim is to provide a refresher in essential mathematical topics but also to try to increase confidence and reduce the maths anxiety that some students may have.

“Some mathematical concepts will be introduced alongside general approaches to learning mathematics. We’re trying to get students to work together and discuss ideas to help develop their knowledge and confidence.”

University of Namibia

The programme, which takes place at UNAM’s main Windhoek campus, runs from 11 January for new students across faculties that take first year maths.

Two staff and two postgraduate students from Cardiff’s School of Mathematics will work alongside UNAM mathematics staff.

Dr Wilson said the project was not only a wonderful learning experience for the two Cardiff postgraduate students involved, but also for himself and his School of Mathematics colleague Dr Vincent Knight.

“It’s really exciting to get out there and experience teaching people from a different background and culture, but with the common theme of the subject matter,” said Dr Wilson.

“I’ll be really interested to see if there are major differences in approach.”

Dr Martin Mugochi, head of mathematics at UNAM, said theprogramme was intended to “encourage incoming new students taking mathematics courses to engage with mathematical ideas and concepts, to increase their confidence in relation to mathematics, and to reinforce their mathematics foundation”.

“We hope this pilot programme will have sufficient impact in order for it to be further extended to a broader range of students in the future,” he said.

The Phoenix Project, which supports the Welsh Government’s Wales for Africa programme, is a mutually beneficial collaboration between Cardiff University and UNAM.

Staff from Cardiff University’s three Colleges are directly involved, as are professional services staff in areas such as Libraries and Human Resources.

The project covers three broad areas: women, children and infectious diseases; science; and communication.

It is one of Cardiff University’s flagship engagement projects, otherwise known as the Transforming Communities programme, which work with communities in Cardiff, Wales and beyond in areas including health, education and wellbeing.