For a lot of Nigerian kids, maths is likely their Achilles heel. Would one say the same for Mr Chika Ofili who just discovered a new way of dividing numbers, especially 7?
Miss Mary Ellis, Chika’s teacher was all radiant as she recounted events leading up to Chika’s discovery. “Something very exciting happened last Friday when one of my pupils, Chika Ofili, popped into the classroom and asked if he could tell me something he had thought of over the summer holidays. I was intrigued.”
Probably from the onset, the teacher had shown the pupil that they could approach her anytime with their problems and questions. Accessibility and availability is very important in handling kids. What if the teacher was a stern person always appearing angry; would Chika have the disposition to walk up to her and talk to her about some new way of solving mathematics he discovered?
Chika Ofili, an indigene of Delta State Nigeria, is a pupil of the Westminster Under School, an independent preparatory school for boys aged 7 to 13, located in London. Teachers have a huge role to play in the development trajectory of kids under them. When teachers are not well compensated, it may take some juice out of their job and seemingly land them at loggerheads with kids they are supposed to be friendly with.
In the grand scheme of things, Chika’s teacher should take some credit in Chika’s new exciting discovery. While she was still intrigued about what Chika had to say, it did not stop her from giving a little background into the occurrences leading up to Chika’s enthusiastic lurch.
“I had given him a book called First Steps for Problem Solvers (Published by the UKMT) to look at, over the holidays and inside the book was list of divisibility tests, which are used to quickly work out whether a number is exactly divisible by either 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 before you actually start dividing,” she said and continued.
“Except that there was no test listed for checking divisibility by 7.” Miss Ellis stated that the reason behind the omission of the divisibility check for 7 is because there is no easy or rather memorable test for it.
Chika in his lonely period had focused greatly on getting a formula for checking the divisibility of 7 and he found something. Miss Ellis who spoke in admiration of the 13 year-old could not contain her joy when Chika explained his discovery.
Chika realized that if you take the last digit of any whole number, multiply it by 5 and then add this to the remaining part of the number, you will get a new number and if this new number is divisible by 7, then the original number is divisible by 7.
Recall that Miss Ellis earlier stated that there was no test for checking the divisibility of 7, because it was seemingly difficult to come by or totally non-existent.
This may be a pointer to the importance of asking, “Why”. It would have been easier for Chika to join generations of people who used the textbook, but could not find a test for checking the divisibility of 7.
However, probably due to his curious and relentless mind, he was able to add value to his society. This shows that there is limitless opportunity for a curious mind and a favorable condition. Imagine how many Chika get lost to unfavorable academic conditions, taking the supposedly cheerful Miss Ellis as a metaphor for the favorable condition which Nigeria’s basic education system so needs.
It however is disingenuous to ask inspiration of a generation whose culture and education system seeks to keep them suppressed with questions like, “what do you think you know?” “how old do you think you are?” “When did you start school?” and exclamations like, “I too know!”
For people who live and breathe this system, their reality is way different from Chika’s and the right thing to do may be to start with the likely rotten education system, make it more favorable for the people in it and encourage the kids to seek for that extra more which turns a kid to a legend.
Chances are that there are more Chika’s than there is, but because they have not found a favorable and fertile ground to grow, their interest to make a change and add value may end up quashed in the sundry moods of a poorly remunerated teacher.
For Nigeria to produce as much Chikas as the country should, it becomes pertinent that there should be an overhaul of the basic education system, a cultural shift, else the country risks the continued loss of its best talent to other countries. Ofcourse, Chika may get a scholarship, attend an Ivy League, but never add as much value to Nigeria as he should, because our system had failed his parents.
Will he be the first? No. Chelsea’s highest goal scorer, Kevin Oghenetega Tamaraebi Bakumo-Abraham has currently opted to play for England, the country he knows, because his parents left for greener pasture when he was young. Now he is referred to as an ‘English Professional’. That is likely going to be Chika’s description when he wins a Nobel Peace Prize; an ‘English Mathematician’, they would say.