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Source: Ministry of Education
Title: Asmal: Launch of African Institute for Mathematical
COMMENTS BY THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION, PROFESSOR KADER ASMAL, MP,
AT THE LAUNCH OF THE AFRICAN INSTITUTE FOR MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES,
Muizenburg, Cape Town, 18 September 2003
Minister Ben Ngubane
Friends and Colleagues
Ladies and Gentlemen
I apologise that I only join you at this stage; as you may have
been told we had a Three-line Whip today in the National Assembly
for a vote that requires, in terms of the Constitution, a two
thirds supporting majority to secure the appointment of the
Inspector General of Intelligence Services. Nevertheless, I am
pleased to be here now.
The peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy in 1994
provided South Africa with the opportunity to play a meaningful
role in the development and promotion of our continent. South
Africa, led by President Mbeki, together with a number of key
African partners, has being playing a key role in the formation of
NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa's Development.
The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) is an
example of the spirit of NEPAD in action. With the advent of
democracy in South Africa it was our great hope that South Africans
who had achieved high level intellectual and business positions and
appointments abroad would return to South Africa and to Africa to
assist with the development of our country and our continent. Under
the leadership and inspiration of Professor Neil Turok this is
exactly one such project.
Thirty of Africa's brightest graduates in mathematics and science,
from 16 countries - from Algeria to South Africa - have been
brought here to Muizenberg, to a state-of-the-art educational
facility. The project is fully international, involving
collaboration between Cambridge and Oxford Universities in the
United Kingdom, the University of Orsay in France, as well as the
three Universities in the Western Cape.
AIMS has already succeeded in eliciting global interest and
enthusiasm, as evidenced by the article appearing today in Nature,
the leading magazine in world science. Some of the world's finest
lecturers will teach fields running across all the sciences, using
mathematics as a unifying thread.
But why does Africa need a mathematics institute?
Last week I was privileged to be present at the installation of,
Professor Loyiso Morgan Nongxa, who has a doctorate in Mathematics
from Oxford University, as Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; the first occasion,
probably anywhere in the world, where a herd boy was inaugurated as
a Vice-Chancellor. In my speech I commented that the arch advocate
of Bantu education, Hendrik Verwoerd, must have been turning in his
grave at the very thought of this professor of mathematics assuming
the helm of one of our greatest universities. Verwoerd, in his
notorious speech introducing the Bantu Education Act of 1953,
proclaimed the education provided for whites as "forbidden
pastures" for the African majority. These "forbidden pastures"
included the world of mathematics, science and technology.
In South Africa fifty years later, we are still striving to undo
the damage of this cruel ideology. We are well aware of the acute
shortage of maths and science teachers at school level, and of
maths and science graduates at university level. Yet the global
economy is increasingly driven by industries requiring these
skills. We need initiatives such as AIMS, where African students
will learn to be first-rate researchers, to provide beacons drawing
our children into maths and science at school.
I am particularly impressed with the plan to make AIMS a centre for
the development of school mathematics enrichment materials, and for
in-service teacher training, to help our teachers improve the
quality of maths and science teaching in our schools. I hope too
that AIMS will support our Dinaledi initiative which is focussed on
increasing the number of maths and science passes at Grade 12 level
in more than a 100 schools in South Africa, partly to ensure that
we have more matriculants equipped to follow courses at
universities which require a grounding in these subjects.
Recognising the vital role that maths plays in our lives and also
recognising that there are many, such as myself for whom maths has
been a great mystery, we have introduced into our national
curriculum a new subject, called mathematical literacy, for all
students who will not be taking regular maths as a subject. And
this is not pop maths but rather a course of study that should give
our students sufficient grounding to take on the challenges of life
in the 21st century. In the process I hope that maths and the
related sciences will become more exciting and grounded in the
experience of our youth.
The final argument for an African Institute for Mathematical
Sciences is that mathematics and science are a global language,
which have great power to unite humanity. In these times of
fracture between North and South, between the artificial divide of
the so-called Muslim and Christian worlds, we must support
initiatives which bring people of many cultures and religions
together, to build links and bridges, and thereby reduce suspicions
based upon ignorance.
Of course we should not forget that maths is not a Western
invention. In about 1000 AD it was Europe that had to play catch up
by beginning to absorb Chinese science and technology and Arabic
mathematics. The word algebra was derived from the book Al Jahr
wa-al-Muqabilah by Mohammad Ibn Muza-al-Khwarizmi whose name gave
rise to the term "algorithm"
Science and mathematics, besides being useful economically, are
true unifiers because usually everyone can agree on mathematical
and scientific truths, and unlocking the secrets of nature is one
of humanities greatest quests.
AIMS already has a presence on the global Internet, indeed the
project itself would not have been possible without the Internet.
Its plans to disseminate free software and educational materials
over the Internet thereby assisting Universities and lecturers
across Africa, may have an enormous impact in the coming years.
Likewise its plans to build a network of African academics in maths
and science, linked via the internet and by academic exchanges,
could dramatically speed the development of maths and science
capacity across the continent.
In conclusion, AIMS is a glimmer of another achievement which
Africa needs. African and international scientists working together
to improve education and research across the continent could
provide a leading-edge example bringing Africa together to solve
its problems and build a brighter future for all it citizens.
I thank you.
Issued by the Ministry of Education, 18 September 2003