KANO: Isah Usman prayed silently before entering the examination hall at Premier Hill College, his secondary school in Kano State, to write his third-term mathematics paper in August 2022.
Because the senior secondary school two (SS2) student had always struggled to understand and pass math comfortably, he spent extra time reading and preparing for the exam.
“I don’t have much interest in mathematics as a subject, but there are students in my class who score excellently every time. I think they are specially gifted.” Usman told Prime Progress.
He is not alone. Every year, over a third of candidates who sit for the West Africa Senior Secondary Certificate Examination or WASSCE fail math. WASSCE is a standardized test for West African students doing their final year in secondary school.
A WASSCE certificate with at least five credit passes, including in math and English, confirms a student’s graduation from secondary school and qualification to seek university admission.
Math is compulsory for all students from junior to senior secondary across Nigeria. Yet, students fail the subject massively in their terminal examinations and WASSCE. In 2020, for example, 534,777 candidates out of 1.54 million who sat for WASSCE failed the subject.
“The impression [among students that math is difficult] largely causes [the] recurring mass failure in Nigeria,” said Abdullahi Abdulrahman, Usman’s math teacher at Premier Hill College.
But “other times, poor reading culture is responsible,” said Mohammed Wazir, a professor of mathematics at Bayero University in Kano. “There is also the problem of inadequate infrastructure and poor library facilities in schools” [partly due to the government’s under-funding of education.
It was for the fear of possible failure that Usman prayed before entering the hall for his exam, despite having read hard for it. Thankfully, when the result came out, he scored over 70%, a deviation from his previous under 50% performances.
But his improvement started when he began watching tutorial videos on Youtube. In April, after Usman’s poor performance in his second-term examinations, Abdullahi, his teacher, referred him to Esomnofu Online Math, a nonprofit that helps students understand mathematics by using easy-to-understand words to explain how to solve mathematical problems. It posts recorded videos of the tutorials on its Youtube channel and Facebook page for students to access free of charge.
“My teacher…knew about my [poor] performances in mathematics, so he asked me to follow and watch tutorial videos of Esomnofu online mathematics on Facebook,” Usman said.
Each video is about three to five minutes long. In one, Esomnofu Chukwuebube, the founder and facilitator, explained in a simple way how to solve geometry, one of Umsan’s most challenging topics.
After watching a video, students can drop questions as comments or send a direct message to Chukwuebube. From watching videos on Facebook regularly to following instructions and asking questions, Usman improved quickly within months.
“Watching Esomnofu tutorial videos on Facebook changed my orientation about mathematics,” he said. “The briefness and simplicity in their presentations motivated and helped me to get a satisfactory result after my third exam.”
Born during lockdown
During the COVID-19 lockdown (March-July 2020) in Nigeria, schools were among the institutions shut down. Esomnofu, a math teacher, found it very hard to sit idly at home, “So I came up with Esomnofu online math, to help myself and other students at home,” he said.
He started by recording videos of himself teaching mathematics in a very simple but brief manner and posting them on his Facebook page. He did this several times daily, treating different topics. Soon, more students on his Facebook page took an interest, appreciating the simplicity of his style and the brevity of his videos.
“Creating a Facebook page and sharing the links of my videos with parents and students on my list really helped,” He said. “Many of them who fell in love with my teaching skills referred my page to all other students who were willing to do something with their time”.
With more commendations, Esomnofu also started posting the videos to a YouTube channel he created in 2016 but left inactive. Now, his students watch the videos either on Facebook or Youtube.
The production of his videos is now sponsored by Ulesson App, an online learning mobile application for primary and secondary school students developed by ULesson, an education technology company providing affordable education to Africans using new technologies.
Since then, Esomnofu Online Math has uploaded more than 800 tutorial content on the YouTube channel. Prime Progress’ analysis of the channel confirms that he posts more than 10 videos every month, sometimes several a day.
While the channel has over 31,000 subscribers, including students and teachers, the Facebook page has nearly half a million followers.
But besides Esomnofu, other young Nigerians are using Youtube to help students understand math and other subjects. Moshood Wasiu, a graduate of economics and community development advocate, for example, started Wasiu Adebayo Moshood Foundation or WAMF in 2009 to help senior secondary school students in Ilemba Awori, his community in Ojo Local Government, Lagos, avoid failure in math in their WASSCE.
He started gathering students in his community and teaching them practical ways to tackle specific math topics.
Later, he opened a YouTube channel where he posts math tutorial videos.
After each video, a phone number students can use to ask their questions via Whatsapp is displayed. On Whatsapp, he has a group he calls “Scholar Hub”, to which he adds his students. Besides asking questions in the group, students can work collaboratively to tackle difficult mathematical problems.
Moshood’s WAMF, which receives funding from DHL’s Got Heart Charity Program, has helped about 200 students understand and pass mathematics in their WASSCE examination.
“The experience I had at WAM [helped me pass my WASSCE and gain admission] into the University of Ilorin,” said Fawaz Adekeye, one of WAM’s former students.
Yet, a challenge like poor internet connectivity across Nigeria sometimes hinders students from consuming video contents online when they want to. High cost of browsing data in a country with 133 million people (over 50% of the population) living in poverty, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, is another hinderance.
“[Some of] our students are seriously restrained,” Moshood admits. “what we have been doing is to reduce our video resolution to an extent that will help them burn less data and at the same time help us maintain manageable standards.”
This story was produced with the support of Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.