SIAM News Blog

AIMS Advances Mathematics Education in Africa

By Barry Green

This past August, the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) opened its newest centre in Kigali, Rwanda. There was great excitement when 46 talented young African students arrived from all over the continent to begin a special one-year master’s programme in the mathematical sciences, taught by local and international lecturers in a 24/7 environment.

There are six AIMS centres throughout Africa. The South African centre opened in 2003, while the Rwandan centre opened just this year. Image courtesy of AIMS.
There are six AIMS centres across Africa: one in South Africa, which opened in 2003, and others in Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon, Tanzania, and now Rwanda. These centres train over 300 students each year. AIMS’ Next Einstein Initiative is working to establish 15 centres of excellence across Africa by 2023, thereby building a network of gifted young Africans in tune with the broad use of the mathematical sciences and able to contribute to new opportunities for growth in Africa.

Established in 2003, AIMS is the first pan-African network of centres of excellence in the mathematical sciences. Its model prioritises international-class education of Africa’s most valuable resource—its young people—for the transformation of the continent. AIMS has graduated more than 1,200 students from 42 African countries to date, 31% of them being women.

Each year over 3,000 young graduates apply for this programme, and it is our conviction that Africa has the pipeline to produce the next Einstein. The continent has what it takes to make breakthrough discoveries, either individually or collectively, that are relevant in Africa but also of global value and recognition regarding science and its use in society. AIMS is working to fulfill this potential, aware that mathematics underpins most of modern life, from information and communication technology to genetics, medicine, finance, demographics, and planning. In this way AIMS is filling the skills gap in the mathematical sciences, which will directly contribute to the development of the continent and drive Africa’s transformation.

The training programme at AIMS focuses on developing scientific, technical, and entrepreneurial competence as well as creating a critical mass of well-rounded scientists with excellent problem-solving skills, capable of creative thinking and genuine innovation. AIMS students learn professional and employable skills, and are also trained in entrepreneurial methods to broaden their career preparedness for paths outside academia.

Our core programme, for which full scholarships are provided, is taught by world-class lecturers from both Africa and abroad in a continuous learning environment.

Dovetailing with this programme, we have introduced the AIMS Industry Initiative, which seeks to maximise the opportunities and potential for the mathematical sciences to contribute to African economies via human capital, knowledge transfer, and applied scientific research and technological excellence. The initiative links the mathematical sciences to the needs of industry, focusing on eliminating the skills gap in Africa. AIMS is also piloting a cooperative programme at our centre in AIMS Senegal. This programme seeks to enhance the competencies of our students and graduates by providing them with opportunities to gain real-world experience with international and local partners, which will help them make a notable impact on Africa’s economic, academic, and governmental capacity.

The core AIMS training programme is part of a broader project for development that also involves research, outreach, and community engagement. Thus, a key pillar of the institute’s strategy is the facilitation of high-quality research that addresses challenges in African development. Each centre is expected to engage in relevant, multidisciplinary research. AIMS provides outstanding researchers the opportunity to conduct their work surrounded by peers in a world-class environment designed to inspire innovation and creativity. AIMS students and alumni are also able to interact with researchers through research projects, post-AIMS bursaries, and research-related workshops.

AIMS’ outreach and community engagement initiatives are committed to growing the pipeline of students progressing to secondary and tertiary mathematics and science education, and decreasing the failure and drop-out rate of mathematics students at all levels. Through innovative pedagogical approaches, the use of technology, and continually-updated curricula, the AIMS teacher training programmes focus on strengthening the mathematics teacher capacity and professional development of teachers. These teachers can then provide as many school learners in Africa as possible with a quality education in maths and science, investing in the future thinkers who will lead Africa’s development.

The AIMS Schools Enrichment Centre (AIMSSEC) in South Africa has trained over 1,700 teachers with its Mathematical Thinking Course. The teacher training program in Cameroon—supported by The MasterCard Foundation—hopes to train 1,920 pre-service teachers and 1,200 in-service teachers over the next five years, reaching 1.7 million school children.

The AIMS Women in STEM Initiative (AIMSWIS) is dedicated to accelerating progress for African women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through evidence-based reporting and advocacy, leveraging of increased investments, adoption of best practices, engagement of men, and collaboration with African women in the STEM pipeline.

AIMS is keenly aware that it has many partners with which to work and is part of a growing renewal in Africa. The Next Einstein Forum (NEF), an initiative of AIMS and the Robert Bosch Stiftung, was launched in 2013 as a platform to bring together relevant stakeholders and policymakers—from the scientific and academic sector, governments, science funding agencies, industry, media, and civil society—to showcase Africa’s remarkable progress in science. By creating a community of scientists, NEF is catalysing action to translate these scientific advances into human benefit.

In collaboration with the Robert Bosch Stiftung and the government of Senegal, AIMS co-hosted the first NEF Global Gathering in March 2016 in Dakar, Senegal. The gathering brought together more than 1,000 global scientific and industry thought-leaders, political leaders, and young scientists to establish a clear roadmap of Africa’s future transformation by leveraging science, technology and innovation. The next Global Gathering will be held in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2018.

The spirit of AIMS distinguishes it from other institutions; AIMS is more than just the math. The organization has a caring side, concerned with the development of people and the inspiration of empowerment through understanding.

One in seven people, or 15% of today’s population, is African. In 2050, a little over a generation from now, 40% of the world’s youth population will be African. These numbers mean that the world will look to Africa for talent. If we increase the pipeline of students pursuing STEM fields, both in research and industry, Africa has the potential to transform and inspire the world. African countries do not lack talented potential mathematicians. But without increased investment and more conducive education policy, few of them will reach their potential.

Barry Green is the director of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences South Africa and Chief Academic and Research Officer for the AIMS Global Network.

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