Education

Nigeria’s pool of eggheads abroad swells

Severally, development experts have attested to the abundance and quality of Nigeria’s human capital. Unfortunately, the inclement political, economic climates and sundry mundane factors have joined forces to ensure that the ingenuity of great minds resident within the Nigerian shores is not brought to bear, a development partly responsible for the country’s development remaining on the slow lane. That notwithstanding, those bright heads of Nigerian extraction that are domiciled in saner climes are manifesting the true Nigerian spirit and blossoming at great speed. Saheela Ibraheem, Esther Okade and the Imafidons are some of the prodigies that the world is waiting with baited breath to see what they become in the days ahead, writes ENO-ABASI SUNDAY.

The roll call of the current world’s 50 smartest kids is comprised of kids that would continue to stun the world in the coming years, having already shown a bit of what they have up their sleeves.

For instance, Marko Calasan, a 14-year-old Macedonian became a computer systems prodigy, and was acknowledged as the youngest MCSA-certified computer systems administrator at age eight. He became the youngest MCSE-certified computers systems engineer at age nine and currently holds 12 Microsoft certificates and one Cisco certificate, receiving his first certificate at the age of six.

After he passed the examinations, Microsoft presented Calasan with DVDs and games. While he considered it a thoughtful gesture, he said he wasn’t “really interested in those things.”

Calasan, who is deeply in love with mathematics and physics, began reading and writing at age two; and at four he could speak in English. In describing his first memories of using a computer, he said: “I was approximately three years old and I was making simple actions like personalising Windows, then installing Windows, making remote desktop connections with workstations and servers on remote locations, and so on.”

Calasan said to teach computer basics to children aged eight to 11 in his elementary school is reportedly fluent in three languages and is learning a fourth. The prime minister of Macedonia provided him an information technology (IT) laboratory to further his technical learning.

In 2010, he wrote a book for the pre-installation, installation, and post-installation process of Windows 7. The book consists of 305 pages. The Macedonian government bought the rights to the book, published it, and distributes it free to all schools.

At 16, Colin Carlson from California, United States has earned two bachelor’s degrees, a B.A. in Environmental Studies and B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, both from the University of Connecticut), a master’s degree (an M.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, also from Connecticut), and is working on a Ph.D. (Environmental Science, Policy, and Management from the University of California, Berkeley). He is also interning in the Office of Policy for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Carlson reportedly taught himself how to read by age two, and at nine, he began taking college credit courses at the University of Connecticut. Upon graduating from Stanford University Online High School aged 11, he enrolled full-time in the university as a sophomore by the time he turned 12. He is an honour student with a near-perfect 3.9 Grade Point Average (GPA).

The teen prodigy’s brilliance is reflected in the fact that he won the Truman Scholar, a $30, 000 scholarship toward graduate studies. He also received $7, 500 from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships programme.

The teenager, who has travelled extensively, wants to focus his career on environmental policy issues worldwide.

Thirteen-year-old Ainan Celeste Cawley, from Singapore walked after six months. By eight months, he was running. Cawley, a science prodigy, gave his science lecture, “Acids and Alkalis in Everyday Life,” at a Singaporean school when he was only six-year-old.

At seven years and one month of age, Cawley passed O-level chemistry examination normally taken during the latter high school years. In 2008, he became the youngest student to study chemistry at Singapore Polytechnic, taking courses and doing laboratory work there.

In 2010, the Cawley’s moved to Malaysia for a less-rigid higher education for the young whiz kid, who is now enrolled in Taylor’s University’s American Degree Transfer Programme, which allows for flexible, broad-based learning. He is majoring in the sciences, but studying everything from computer programming and animation to mathematics and theatre.

Heartwarmingly, Nigeria’s Saheela Ibrahim, is a prominent feature in the honours roll where the world’s 50 smartest kids are showcased.

On Thursday, February 26, the 19-year-old Harvard University finalist made history when the US President, Barack Obama and the First Lady, Michelle honoured her with an official reception in the White House.

Miss Ibraheem was admitted into the Ivy League Harvard at 15, where she is currently studying neurobiology- a branch of science that studies the brain. At the time the Harvard admission came, she was also accepted for admission by 13 other top universities in the United States, including the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Princeton University, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, Brown University, University of Chicago, Williams College, Stanford University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Washington University in St. Louis among others. In choosing Harvard, she became one of the youngest students to ever attend the university. She is expected to graduate in May.

Aside from being brilliant, Ibraheem who is also reputed to be a very humble girl, while giving a peep into her modus operandi, and by extension her world said, “I try my best in everything I do. Anyone who’s motivated can work wonders.”

According to The Best School website, Saheela believes the key to success is knowing what you love to learn as early as possible, a knowledge she says she came to at age five. “If you are passionate about what you do, and I am passionate about many things, especially mathematics and science, it will work out well.”

The teenage Nigerian, who is also interested in Arabic, Spanish and Latin did not just pop up from nowhere to display the unusually high intelligence. She has always been a star student. For instance, while in 6th grade at her Conackamack Middle School in Piscataway, New Jersey, she asked if she could be in a higher-level class, having come to the conclusion that she needed more challenge.

They school granted her request and placed her a full grade up. Expectedly, she acquitted herself eminently, backed of course by her parents, who have been a guiding light for her and often teaching her subjects the schools neglected to teach.

At Wardlaw-Hartridge, a reputable private school she left her imprimatur, by immediately skipping the awkward freshman year and heading straight into 10th grade.

Ibraheem has a SAT score of 2, 340 SAT (a perfect 800 on the mathematics section, a 790 in writing and a 750 in reading).

The teenage Nigerian is not only a bookworm with brawn, she is also sport inclined. She plays outfield for her school’s softball team, defender on the soccer team and she swims relays and 50-meter races on the swim team.

Speaking on Ibraheem’s feat (of being named one of the world’s 50 smartest kids) after an introductory speech by the teenager at the White House event, which was part of activities celebrating Black History Month, Obama stated that, “There are a lot of teenagers in the world. Saheela is like one of the 50 smartest ones. That’s pretty smart. And she’s a wonderful young lady. She’s like the State Department and the National Institute of Health all rolled into one. And we are so proud of your accomplishments and all that lies ahead of you. And you reflect our history. Young people like you inspire our future.”

Present at the evening event were members of the US Congress, including Leader, Nancy Pelosi, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Commenting on her daughter, Mrs. Shakirat Ibraheem, said she has been way ahead of the academic game since kindergarten, never cutting corners and always trying to do everything on her own. “She’s like always independent,” she said. “I never get to help with her homework because she’d say ‘it’s my work mommy, not yours.’

Three days before Ibraheem was feted by Obama alongside other eggheads, Esther Okade, was also chalking up an impressive record that would make Nigerians from all walks of lives walk tall and hold their heads high. At 10, Okade is studying mathematics in Open University, a United Kingdom-based distance learning university and already top of her class having recently scored 100 per cent in a recent examination.

The array of British newspapers that devoted prominent portions of their papers to celebrate the prodigy, lends credence to the magnitude of the feat.

“Ten-year-old prodigy begins college courses for mathematics degree,” was how online medium, blackamericanweb.com announced Okade’s feat. The London Telegraph relayed the message this way, “Mathematics prodigy, 10, enrolls on degree course,” while the Mail Online preferred to render its headline like a question. It went thus: “Is this Britain’s cleverest girl? Ten-year-old is accepted on university course to study mathematics degree despite not going to school.”

In these reports by the British papers and others, the writers spare no words in educating their readers that Esther Okade looks and acts her age. In other words, she seems like a normal 10-year-old, who among other things, loves dressing up as Elsa from “Frozen,” playing with Barbie dolls and going to the park or shopping.

However, what makes the youngster stand out is the fact that she is also a university undergraduate, and one of UK’s youngest college freshmen.

“It’s so interesting. It has the type of mathematics I love. It’s real mathematics- theories, complex numbers, and all that type of stuff… It was super easy. My mum taught me in a nice way,” America-based CNN quoted Okade as saying about her programme.

“I want to (finish the course) in two years. Then I’m going to do my PhD in financial mathematics when I’m 13. I want to have my own bank by the time I’m 15 because I like numbers and I like people and banking is a great way to help people.”

For those living under the illusion that the teenager’s parents have pushed her into starting university early, she emphatically disagrees.

“I actually wanted to start when I was seven. But my mum was like, “you’re too young, calm down.”

After three years of begging, mother Efe, an engineering graduate, who schools her daughter at home finally agreed to explore the idea.

Okade, the satellite television station revealed, has always jumped ahead of her peers. For instance, she sat her first Mathematics GSCE examination, a British high school qualification, at Ounsdale School in Wolverhampton at just six, where she received a C-grade. A year later, she outdid herself and got the A-grade she wanted. Then last year she scored a B-grade when she sat the Math A-level examination.

Mrs. Okade noticed her daughter’s flair for figures shortly after she began homeschooling her at the age of three. Initially, Esther’s parents had enrolled her in a private school but after a few short weeks, the pair began noticing changes in the usually vibrant youngster.

“One day we were coming back home and she burst out in tears and she said ‘I don’t ever want to go back to that school – they don’t even let me talk’

“In the UK, you don’t have to start school until you are five. Education is not compulsory until that age so I thought OK, we’ll be doing little things at home until then. Maybe by the time she’s five she will change her mind,” Mrs Okade submitted.

The “roller-coater” trip that Miss Okade is enjoying started by her learning basic number skills from her mother. By four, her natural aptitude for mathematics had seen the eager student move on to algebra and quadratic equations.

Interestingly, she isn’t the only mathematics prodigy in the family. Her younger brother Isaiah, 6, is on the verge of writing his first A-level examination in June.

However, Not content with breaking barriers to attend college at just 10 years old, little Okade is also writing a series of mathematics workbooks for children called “Yummy Yummy Algebra.”

“It starts at a beginner level – that’s volume one. But then there will be volume two, and volume three, and then volume four. But I’ve only written the first one. As long as you can add or subtract, you’ll be able to do it. I want to show other children they are special,” she informed.

Meanwhile, the older Okade’s are also trying to trail blaze their own educational journey in Nigeria. In this direction, they have set up a foundation and are in the process of building a nursery and primary school in the Niger Delta region where they are from. Named “Shakespeare’s Academy,” they hope to open the school’s doors in September.

The proposed curriculum will have all the usual subjects such as English, languages, mathematics and the sciences, as well as more unconventional additions including morality and ethics, public speaking, entrepreneurship and etiquette. The couple say they want to emulate the teaching methods that worked for their children rather than focus on one way of learning.

“Some children learn very well with kinetics where they learn with their hands- when they draw they remember things. Some children have extremely creative imaginations. Instead of trying to make children learn one way, you teach them based on their learning style,” Mrs. Okade submitted.

The educational facility will have a capacity of 2, 000 to 2, 500 students with up to 30 per cent of students being local children offered scholarships to attend.

“On one hand, billions of dollars worth of crude oil is pumped out from that region on a monthly basis and yet the poverty rate of the indigenous community is astronomical,” the engineering graduate lamented.

Her husband, Paul Okade added, “The region has poor quality of nursery and primary education. So by the time the children get secondary education they haven’t got a clue. They haven’t developed their core skills. The school is designed to give children an aim so they can study for something, not just for the sake of acquiring certifications. There is an end goal.”

A few years ago in 2010, it was the Imafidon set of twins- Peter and Paula- that hugged international headlines after their older sisters, Anne-Marie and Samantha, also had their time in the sun, wowing millions across the globe with their intelligence.

Nicknamed “the Wonder Twins,” Peter and Paula, in 2013 were named Great Britain’s highest achievers. At only nine, they made history as the youngest children in British history to attend high school. In 2013, they were in their third year.

It is on record that the twin are the youngest to ever pass the University of Cambridge’s advanced mathematics examination after participating in the Excellence in Education programme. They set world records when they passed the A/AS-level mathematics papers.

According to Black America Web, Peter Imafidon, who is also a 100m and 400m relay champion in London, says he would like to serve as Prime Minister one day and his sister Paula, a county champion in rugby, would like to teach mathematics. Both students are musicians.

The twins joined the ranks of their gifted siblings, Anne-Marie Imafidon, who was the pioneering child among the young geniuses. Now about 25-year-old, Anne-Marie spoke six languages and graduated from high school at age 10. In 2003, when she was only 13, she was granted a British scholarship to study Mathematics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Four years later, she obtained her Masters Degree from Oxford University. She was the youngest person to pass the A-level computing exam.

Because of her numerous feats, the September 2011 edition of “Higher Education Digest” called her a “serial world record breaker.”

Anne-Marie who believes in mentoring children to help them succeed, is also involved in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programme to help fulfill the need for mathematics and science female leaders.

At 11, Christina Imafidon, now above 20, was the youngest student in history to attend a British university – the United Kingdom University. At 15, Samantha, another of the Imafidon’s jewel’s passed two high school-level mathematics and statistics examinations at age 6. She became the youngest girl in the UK to attend secondary school at the age of 9. Samantha was the sibling who mentored the twins to pass their own mathematics secondary school test when they were also six-year-old.

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