CAVEAT: This will be a long read (but in a very simple English).
I cannot quite remember how and when exactly my predicament with Mathematics started. Or, how I came to hate Mathematics and anything with calculation with a passion, and how the subject (and its cousin and nephew — Accounting and Statistics) became my enemies in the academe. And while I remember vividly my fascination for English at an early age (an age when I actually lived in agbo ile — communal environs of brown mud houses and where 99.9% of people spoke Yoruba), I cannot recall ever having any interest in Mathematics. Ditto Yoruba. I still cannot read Yoruba smoothly and except when very necessary, I avoid reading Yoruba like a plague.
My sordid foundation and eventual divorce with Mathematics was further cemented by truancy while in secondary school. I was a typical absentee student and I was (with an accomplice) the headache of Maths teachers. I would do things that would make Maths teachers leave class in anger, or send me and my accomplice out.
I managed to survive until it was time for the final examination (West African Secondary School Certificate Examination — WASSCE). I knew I cannot pass Maths and sought the assistance of my brother’s girlfriend. The lady taught me Maths for about three months leading to the examination. I passed with a C5.
Something strange (to the Principal) happened the day the result was released. Though I passed other subjects, my English Language was withheld (till date) and the Principal didn’t find it funny that I was dancing with ‘incomplete’ result. Unknown to him, I was dancing because I passed Maths and I knew I would always pass English. Any time. Any day. I registered again because of the withheld English and passed as expected.
I shouted eureka, believing that I would have nothing to do with Maths again in my life since my proposed courses of study in university were Law and Mass Communication. I was patiently wrong.
Fast forward to Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife.
My first disappointment wasn’t having to meet Maths again, but the fact that my dream to read Law or Mass Communication was shattered. This happened because of dearth of mentors and advisers (remember I lived mostly with old, uneducated and semi-educated people). Educated brothers, sisters, uncles, etc. who could have guided me were mostly far away.
While my dream university was OAU, I chose the school as a second choice to study Law and University of Lagos (UNILAG) as the first choice to study Mass Communication. Unfortunately, OAU didn’t admit second choice applicants because the school had tens of thousands of applicants that chose OAU as first choice and passed. My initial interest in UNILAG and Mass Communication had waned even before the release of Joint Admission and Matriculation Board’s (JAMB) administered University Matriculation Examination (UME), now rechristened Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).
I eventually opted to study History/English Language (the journey to that too was tortuous). But that story too is for another day.
Fast forward to my sophomore in OAU.
At the time, OAU had a course CSC 221 (Computer Appreciation) that was compulsory for all 200 level students (except Law students).
I was happy when I learnt we would study CSC 221 because it was about computer and because it was a period when PC was akin to spacecraft to majority of people in Nigeria. That elation went kaboom few weeks into the course.
After the initial one-on-one with PC and after being taught how to put it on, shut it down and some other things kids of today would consider mundane, the class veered into Theorem and whatnots.
I didn’t understand a thing again. I just stopped attending CSC 221 lecture.
I was lucky to pass because the test and examination have areas that weren’t calculations. I didn’t touch the calculations and I escaped with an E. I danced.
Fast forward again to Nigerian Institute of Management professional examination during my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) days. The calculations therein were very minimal and I survived.
My next big face-off with Maths and anything calculation came few years later in the same OAU.
Because of the need to hone my professional calling as an administrator, I applied for a masters degree programme in Public Administration. And yet again, I had to deal with Maths’ cousin and nephew (Accounting and Statistics) at the same time. It wasn’t savoury.
Accounting and Statistics were compulsory courses. No escaping them.
How I escaped Accounting: a class was ongoing one day and I didn’t understand a thing as usual. I summoned courage, raised my hand and told the teacher that all lectures so far were Greek to me, that my background is in the humanities, and that….
I hadn’t finished my statement when some other students joined me to say they too could not understand a thing. And being an adult class, the lecturer was magnanimous enough to listen to us. Eventually, he promised to ensure that the test would be devoid of calculations while examination would be mixed. I scored 23 out the possible 25 in the test. I hired a 300 level Accounting student to be my teacher twenty-four hours to the examination and crammed everything. I survived.
Statistics: I applied similar method I used for Accounting. Suffice to add that I bought so many books, particularly those that were elementary. I cultivated the habit of buying elementary books in areas I am not good at in my undergraduate days. I used this method to dismantle Pragmatics in 300 level when the course was proving intractable (the method is good in that it affords one to start from less difficult and gradually graduating to understanding difficult areas).
Fast forward to my attempt at a doctorate degree.
I applied for M.Phil/Ph.D in Ladoke Akintola University (LAUTECH) Ogbomoso, with concentration in Human Resources Management (HRM). Doctoral students in LAUTECH are required to attend classes, write test and sit for examinations for two semesters. That to me wasn’t a problem until Statistics was stated as one of the courses I must study — I later realised that these classes were mere auditing as no credits were given.
This brand of Statistics required every student to come to class with a laptop. (We even went to examination hall with our laptops). We were required to use some applications, prominent among these is STATA. You see, life can be confounding at times. Imagine me, a complete olodo in Statistics, being made to use applications to learn something I hated with a passion. I had no option. And I survived.
(I completed my two semesters with no hassle and proceeded to my thesis before I abandoned the programme after years of efforts, huge bills on hotel, books, journal, car fuelling, sacrifice by my wife, my employer then, etc. One single person put paid to that dream).
I have come to the conclusion that my ontology is not wired to understand anything calculation. Mere counting money is a huge task for me and I have lost substantial amount of money to bad counting in the past.
I lost substantial office monies to bad counting in 2006/2007. My former place of work where I worked as a lecturer, Acting Registrar and later the substantial Registrar was new then: banks were far away, the road then was bad and the Bursar and the Bursary were located in another town because of fear of armed robbers. So the Management concluded that we should assist the students and I became the emergency money collector. I was loosing money and was repaying it to the Bursar until I couldn’t take it any longer.
I went to my employer and told him that I have been losing and repaying money and that I would rather resign than continuing. He was surprised as the Bursar didn’t tell him of my ordeals. He directed the Bursar to return all the monies I had repaid to me and we subsequently decided that all fees must be paid to bank.
And while I cannot foreclose the possibility of coming in contact with Maths and its unwelcoming family members again, I am positive that I’ll always survive.
Thank you for your time.
Femi Olabisi is on Twitter: @Femiolas