Maths project enables mutually beneficial collaboration
Diasporans include those whose ancestors migrated out of Africa willingly and those whose ancestors were taken forcefully out of Africa as enslaved people.
Both groups have the advantage of having resided, worked and been educated in developed countries outside Africa with effective institutional structures that foster good governance and buoyant economic, social, educational, and healthcare systems that provide citizens or residents with the basic necessities of life.
But Africa is yet to fully capitalise on the knowledge, skills, experience and background of these two groups and what they can offer or give to Africa.
This article focuses on the willing migrant group, particularly those in academia. They are some of the most highly educated and productive citizens in their diaspora countries, doing phenomenal things for which they are renowned.
They are uniquely positioned to support the building of great institutional structures and the creation of systems that will benefit humanity development in Africa.
Likewise, they are able to facilitate infrastructural development, science, technology, economic, social and educational growth in Africa.
As someone in this group, with accomplishments in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) education and apostolic missionary endeavours that have earned me global recognition, I will use as a case study my seven-year Carnegie African Diaspora Project , ‘Culture, History and Women’s Stories: A framework for capacity building in STEM and fostering entrepreneurship’.
It was first run at the Centre for Gender Issues in Science and Technology, at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, and later at the National Mathematical Centre, Abuja, both academic institutions in Nigeria.
Strong roots with homelands
Although this willing migrant African diaspora group are doing phenomenal things, their home and other countries in Africa hardly reach out to them to provide consultative and other professional services for sustainable development and economic growth in Africa.
Rather, countries in Africa often use the services of those who are foreign to the African landscape, understanding of African people, their cultural heritage and way of life.
This, in turn, leads to partnerships devoid of strong commitments and lasting connections beyond the consultative or service period.
However, when the partnership is with a member of the diaspora, its chances of continuation and sustainability are stronger, as is the case with my Carnegie African Diaspora Project that is still ongoing beyond the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program (CADFP) funding period.
One good reason for this is that I have strong roots with my homeland as is the case with many of those in the willing migrant group.
The CADFP is a scholar fellowship programme for educational projects at African higher education institutions funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and operated by the Institute of International Education in collaboration with the United States International University-Africa.
It has supported 527 diaspora fellows, including myself the maximum of three times, since its inception in 2013.
This group provides a good database of Africa diaspora academics with the knowledge, skills, experience and background to provide consultative and other professional services to African countries and to foster intellectual collaboration with their colleagues in higher educational institutions in Africa that will lead to a reverse of the brain drain and capacity building of our African professionals capable of finding good solutions to Africa’s problems and challenges.
At the October 2021 alumni convening of this group, they made several recommendations to the Institute of International Education and the Carnegie Corporation on how they could serve as an effective think tank for capacity building and for facilitating intellectual growth and collaboration in higher education in Africa.
African institutions and leaders need to move away from this pattern of preference of the other over their diaspora for consultative or other professional services, especially where the members of the diaspora have the knowledge, skills, experience and background at par or better than the other.
One of the greatest avenues through which this can happen is in the transfer of intellectual capital and technology through mutually beneficial collaboration between the African academic diaspora and their counterparts in academic communities in Africa on sustainable projects in critical areas of need and capacity-building.
My Carnegie African Diaspora Project at the Federal University of Technology Akure and the National Mathematical Centre falls into this category.
This initiative serves as an avenue of reducing the brain drain by keeping Africa’s best and brightest in Africa, gainfully engaged with international collaborators on projects that have a high potential for success, professional credibility, continuity, sustainability and global recognition, such as is the case with my Carnegie project that has received global acclaim for bringing the indigenous mathematical knowledge systems of Nigerian ethnic nationalities and the stories of successful Nigerian women in STEM to the forefront.
Likewise, it serves as an avenue for getting members of the Africa diaspora engaged in other humanity development projects in Africa, beyond the project they were engaged in at their host African institution.
It also serves as an avenue for transition of some members of the African diaspora academics back to Africa where they can contribute more effectively to growth and development in Africa.
Indigenous mathematics knowledge systems
My Carnegie African Diaspora Project is geared towards developing mathematics curriculum based on ethnomathematics research of the indigenous mathematics knowledge systems of Nigerian ethnic nationalities and the work of successful Nigerian women in STEM.
It uses a mathematical storytelling procedure developed by me that engages learners in the crafting of Ndebele dolls representative of the Nigerian women in STEM, crafting of cultural heritage items that reinforce mathematics conceptual understanding, and in learning basic principles of small business entrepreneurship.
I have, for instance, an Ndebele doll representation of the late Dr Mojisola Edema, created by one of my project workshop participants at the Centre for Gender Issues in Science and Technology at the Federal University of Technology, Akure.
Edema, a traditional food microbiologist, was the founder of the Nigerian Women in Agricultural Research for Development, the director of the Centre for Gender Issues in Science and Technology and co-principal investigator for my Carnegie African Diaspora Project at the Federal University of Technology, Akure.
A by-product of my Carnegie project was in moving the work done at the Federal University of Technology, Akure and the National Mathematical Centre in Nigeria to the outside community.
In partnership with the Center for Gbari Research and Documentation, the Pan-African Strategic and Policy Research Group and CHI STEM TOYS Inc, we engaged in an enrichment workshop of field-testing our Gbari mathematics module with Gbari children in Abuja.
We also engaged in the training of teachers in Lagos, Nigeria, on how to use the curriculum developed to teach mathematics; and in community development through the STEAM vocational education and entrepreneurship workshops to children, youth, women and vulnerable persons in rural communities in Abia State, Nigeria. The latter two initiatives are still ongoing.
Citadels of learning
Colleges, universities and research institutions in Africa are the citadels of learning that primarily produce the next generation of leaders and are supposed to provide the advisory backbone for shaping the policies of economic growth and development of a country.
It is extremely important that these institutions be ranked on a par with similar institutions globally.
This way, their graduates are educated to compete effectively in a global world and innovate, create and solve local, national and global problems in an effective and sustainable way at minimal cost and low risk.
A great way of facilitating this parity is through programmes such as the CADFP that supports mutually beneficial collaboration between the African academic diaspora and their counterparts in academic communities in Africa.
Reverend Nkechi Madonna Agwu is a professor of mathematics at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York, United States, the founder of CHI STEM TOYS, and author of God’s Own: The Genesis of Mathematical Storytelling. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.