Renowned professor says discipline is required to improve performance in maths

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A high-ranking mathematician at the University of the Free State says high-level of discipline is required to improve academic performance on the subject.

Renowned Professor Abdon Atangana is ranked as the second-best mathematician in Stanford University’s Top 2% of scientists in the world. Professor Abdon Atangana lives and breathes mathematics. The world-acclaimed scholar is also ranked 188th in all of science, technology and engineering in the world.

Stanford University created the list of the Top 2% of world-class researchers based on citations over their full careers. The list features more than 190 000 researchers. It was his undying passion for mathematics which landed the 37-year-old Cameroonian scholar in South Africa in 2009.

He pursued an honours degree at the University of the Free State. Prof Atangana’s talents got recognition after assisting one student whose maths performance was below par. Soon throngs of struggling students were picking his brains.

“And I told myself that one day I would like to see a name of an African person attached to a mathematical formula and that was my vision and that was my focus,” says Atangana.

Professor Atangana says teaching methods in maths need to be revised. The multi-award-winning academic insists mathematics is not just a subject but a tool that can be used to understand nature. There’s been a growing concern about the decline in the number of learners studying maths in South Africa. The professor stresses a need to create a platform where Africans can publish their mathematical research . He has published more than 100 papers in international journals and released prescribed textbooks.

“People wanted to employ me, but I fell in love with the fact that one needs to be in his continent to make an impact, because if all the brains of Africa will go to Europe, who will represent Africa? Then I decided to stay here at the University of the Free State,” Atangana added.

In 2021, Atangana was elected as a fellow of the World Academy of Science for the advancement of science in developing countries.

However, his journey to global stardom has not been without challenges. The celebrated professor learned English while in South Africa. He hails from the French-speaking region of Cameroon. He laments exclusion and prejudice as hurdles against African scholars.

“I’m looking forward to the future, what can I do to impress the global north? What can I do for the European people to understand that mathematics does not see colour, it does not know geographical region,” Atangana explains.

Atangana became a professor when he was 31. He has presented papers in many regions around the world, including Europe and Asia.

Prof Atangana has been inundated with job offers from all over the world but has chosen to stay in South Africa.