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It seems there are few well-known professional mathematicians in Africa. It is mainly because of the poor quality of elementary/undergraduate mathematics education in African countries.

Question 1. Is there any math education research which shows the past, current and future status of mathematics and math education in African countries?

Question 2. Is there any charity NGO in EU or US specially for help on improving the quality of math education in African countries at different levels?

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Since there is already an usa-tag, I have changed the tag math-in-africa to africa – Markus Klein Mar 31 '14 at 7:23
I am lead to believe that the American University in Cairo is rather good, and my PhD supervisor had a few students from Egypt. So perhaps it is not all of Africa that is lacking? – user1729 Mar 31 '14 at 9:50
I was a professional mathematician from Africa doing research in Algebra. I left research mathematics recently for more money in finance. In my country, the problem is not with the education system, but the attitude of the powers-that-be. Every year the undergraduate system produced bright students with potential. I had really wanted to go back when I finished my PhD, but the system there made it really hard, so I chose to remain in the US. – John Smith Mar 31 '14 at 14:39
@JohnSmith Thanks for your comment. It is very nice to hear from persons like you who know more about the problem. Would you please explain more about the situation in an answer? What kind of solutions are needed to solve the problem of mathematical research in Africa? I am pretty sure that there are very talented children and students there. A supportive system can help them to be one of the best mathematicians of the world. – user230 Mar 31 '14 at 14:51
@SaintGeorg : I've added in an answer. – John Smith Mar 31 '14 at 18:24
up vote 7 down vote accepted

This is my personal view of the problem. I think sending NGO's out to Africa is a very very bad idea. It will perpetuate Africa being the undeveloped mess it is and continual subservience to the western world (unless that's the plan of course). If people really want to help, the best first step is to let Africans try their own ideas first.

First, my background: I was a professional mathematician from Africa doing research in Algebra, now working is computational finance.

In my country, the problem is not so much with the education system. The biggest problem, like all problems in Africa, are the powers-that-be. Unfortunately aid to Africa only exacerbates the problem.

The high school education syllabus was first rate, covering a far wider ranger of mathematics than the US syllabus. We had math clubs, magazines etc.. Every year the undergraduate system produced bright math students with potential. I believe my university produced 10 to 15 math honors students, the vast majority who went for higher degrees overseas. Based on my undergrad education I was able to ace US qualifying exams, that's how good the system was. One of the biggest advantages we had was that European and American professors used to visit our university during their summer breaks. I got to meet many great mathematicians that way. Stupidly, the university has now adopted the US calendar just to look "developed".

The biggest problem is this: The people in power want to exploit the everybody, so after doing an undergrad in math the only work available was teaching in rural areas for next to nothing, unless you could get a way out.

My personal belief is that EU and US aid is a very bad thing. It perpetuates the beggar mentality of Africa (unless that's the plan of course). All those scholarships given by the western world are distributed to the politicians' kids. The truly deserving are left with nothing. I saw this personally because I was one of those who tried to get a scholarship and failed for bizarre reasons.

I had really wanted to go back when I finished my PhD. The system there made it not worthwhile. I would become and overworked underpaid professor. so I chose to remain in the US.

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(+1) Thank you very much for your interesting answer. Welcome to MESE, John! – user230 Mar 31 '14 at 18:25
Based on your answer the main problem of math research in Africa is a political problem produced by governments and politicians. I would like to emphasize on this really true part of your answer: My personal belief is that EU and US aid is a very bad thing. It perpetuates the beggar mentality of Africa (unless that's the plan of course). All those scholarships given by the western world are distributed to the politicians' kids. Would you please let me know where is your country? East, West, South, Center of Africa? – user230 Mar 31 '14 at 18:59
The southern part of Africa. I had been asked to help in the founding of AIM around 1996, but left before anything concrete had been drawn up. – John Smith Mar 31 '14 at 19:12
It's a very difficult problem. I can best tell you what problems you'll encounter whatever you do. If you can solve the math problem you can solve Africa's main problem. The best would be organic growth as happened all other nations with a strong math presence, but this requires a competent government. Second best would be to train Africans in developed countries and have them be seeds for mathematical growth, but how do you convince them to go back and what support will you provide when they are there? – John Smith Mar 31 '14 at 19:48
The idea of a "seeding project" is interesting. Maybe a group of African and American mathematicians can organize a multi-national NGO with branches in both Africa and US. It could be a bridge for African students to go to developed countries. Also such a NGO can support them in standards of developed countries to back to their countries and work there to find more and more talented students. If this NGO is successful, there are many sources which can support it financially. After a while it is the target of almost all Western scholarships and there is no money for kids of politicians! – user230 Mar 31 '14 at 20:15

The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) aims to create an "African Einstein". AIMS is a network of what are essentially maths universities in Africa, and is a joint venture between, I believe, the University of Stellenbosch, University of Cambridge, University of Cape Town, University of Oxford, University of Paris-Sud, and University of the Western Cape. I quote from their web page,

AIMS is a pan-African center for post-graduate training and research, providing advanced, broadly applicable mathematical skills to talented students recruited from all over Africa.

There used to be money floating around the UK for people to give short courses at the AIMS centers. Also, I know that Heriot Watt University has ties with AIMS. For example, one of their former PhD students is currently doing a postdoc at AIMS Ghana, while I believe there are two current PhD students there who are products of AIMS.

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(+1) It is really interesting. Thanks for your useful guidance. – user230 Mar 31 '14 at 9:51

There is a scheme "Mentoring African Research in Mathematics" run by the London Mathematical Society (which is effectively the UK national maths society) and the African Mathematics Millennium Science Initiative.

Some details are here:

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(+1) Thanks for your useful reference. – user230 Mar 31 '14 at 8:04

The book Mathematics and Science Education in Developing Countries (edited by M. Nagao, J. Rogan, and M. Magno and published by The University of the Philippines Press in 2007) has a few chapters on mathematics education in Africa.

Chapter 7 is entitled "Improving the Teaching of Science and Mathematics in Basic Schools in Ghana: Challenges and Lessons from Technical Cooperation Assistance" (by Kwame Akyeampong and Norihiro Kuroda). From p. 211:

Before reviewing JICA's STM approach and achievements, we shall present briefly some evidence about Ghanaian basic school pupils' performance in science and mathematics to highlight the extent of the problem. Next, we shall present an overview of the curriculum for basic education of mathematics and science teachers in Ghana. Our intention is to highlight the weaknesses in traditional pre-service (PRESET) teacher education programming and the need for strong linkages with in-service education and training (INSET) to change teachers' classroom practices.

Chapter 10 is entitled "Localization Process of Mathematics Education in Post-independence Kenya" (by Takuya Baba). From pp. 276-277:

This chapter describes the beginning stage of an international project co-funded by Kenyan and Japanese governments---Strengthening Mathematics and Science at Secondary Education (SMASSE)---with a focus on problems encountered when attempting to introduce localization. In Kenya, by the year 1998, there were a few scattered initiatives to train secondary teachers to upgrade the quality of teaching. A major concern addressed by the project was that after twelve years of primary and secondary education, students did not understand the basic mathematics necessary to function effectively in society, and that the performance of mathematics in the national examination was low compared to other subjects. The project's aim was to strengthen mathematics and science at the secondary level through the systematic in-service training (INSET) of teachers. Although both mathematics and science are targeted in the project, in this chapter the analysis is limited to mathematics education.

(The book has other chapters that involve South Africa but these are about science education.)

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