Pause: “Neighbour, the times they are a-changin’…”

__We need a revolution in numeracy, now!

If there are no qualified Maths teachers at your childrens’ school, don’t complain… Get together with other parents and fix at least this ONE problem now! Why? Because there is ZERO time to waste! 

In my last #LionessMom post, I introduced a Maths teacher from Nigeria who used her skills as a mom and a teacher to encourage her two sons (in their early teens) to develop their own business based on an Application (App) they developed that can now be downloaded on Android. Why?

“Because the times, my friend, they are a-changin’…” (song by Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan)

When my mother left school in 1960, she and her generation were raised to believe that education was LITERACY. The colonial education system was designed for the purpose of the colonial economy. They wanted a small educated elite who could speak the language of the master well.

Being educated was really about speaking and writing English, French or Portuguese well. Things like Maths were not really taught, beyond basic “Arithmetic”. Whilst colonialism has been gone for the past 60 years, the emphasis on “literacy over numeracy” has not gone in much of our appreciation of what is an “educated person”!

__But “the times they are a-changin”!

The world is rapidly depending on numeracy as the basic skill now, because of computerization and now things like Artificial Intelligence (AI). The countries that are excelling, like China, India, Singapore, and South Korea, totally drive their education system on numeracy, rather than the “letters” (literacy).

This is not to say we should not teach the ability to “read and write,” but if our children are going to be masters of their environment, we need a revolution in numeracy.

We need everyone who can teach maths to get going! This is why I see an urgency in the teaching of Mathematics.

One more thing: Did you know there’s a condition known as “numerophobia”? That is, a fear of numbers! There are people who avoid anything to do with numbers. They either speak gibberish or panic completely!

This is a disaster if you’re an entrepreneur or a leader. I meet a lot of entrepreneurs who cannot talk numbers of their own business, and even if they do, it can be sadly hilarious.

A guy sat next to me on a plane once, and was keen to engage me in a conversation, as an entrepreneur. Given the way he was dressed and manner of talking, it was clear he wanted people to know he was doing well. Here’s how our conversation went, once he knew who I was:

“Mr Masiyiwa,” he said. “I’m making a lot of money, I tell you!”

“Okay, give me an idea. What are your margins?” He had told me he bought and sold goods.

“Margins?” he said. “I have no margins in my business. I just make a lot of money, Mr Masiyiwa.”

“Okay. What sort of markup do you put on your product?” I pressed.

“Oh, I see. Yes. I buy each item for $200 each, and I just put a small markup of only 20%, and sell each one for $400. I don’t like to cheat anyone, you see.”

… I see!

This is not so bad, because judging by his dress, he was clearly getting by on his small margin of 20%! Jokes aside, people like him will crash one day, and will never be able to figure out what happened!

It’s gets worse when the people who are “innumerate” (the numbers equivalent of “illiterate’) are in positions of power and authority. We have MPs, and sometimes even ministers, who cannot tell you anything meaningful on their economy using “universally recognized data points.” This is extraordinarily dangerous for a country.

And even when you are given “numbers,” sometimes they are just plucked out of thin air, often as unreal as someone saying “Ghana beat Nigeria 20-0 in a soccer match!” Even my grandmother who never went to soccer matches would have told you it’s not possible, even though my Ghanaian friends would settle for 2-0!

__Let’s talk numbers, and let’s talk numbers that show numeracy, even as we speak in perfect English, French or even Afrikaans!

We need numeracy in our education and public discourse. The media is one of the worst culprits. Unless they’re giving football scores, much of what we see in numbers (particularly on the economy) in our press is “numero-ignorance,” and we cannot afford to laugh anymore because it hurts us in a world of “big data” and the “March of the Robots” into the lives of our children.

Turn to someone and say loudly: “Neighbor, the times they are a-changin’!”

Now here are some simple numbers you need to know:

# How many qualified maths teachers does your child’s school have?

# And your country?

Start thinking about it TODAY, because it could be more important than how much oil (or shall I now say, lithium) you have in the ground!

Now you see why a revolution in Mathematics teaching (or shall I say Maths and Science) is a Top 10 must-do for Africa NOW!



by 21 Replies

About Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet, a diversified global telecommunications group with operations and investments in over 15 countries. His business interests also include renewable energy, financial services, media and hospitality. Masiyiwa serves on a number of international boards, including Unilever, Rockefeller Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Advisory Board, the Africa Progress Panel, the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board for Sustainable Energy, Morehouse College, Hilton Foundation's Humanitarian Prize Jury and the Kenjin-Tatsujin International Advisory Council. He is one of the founders, with Sir Richard Branson, of the global think tank, the Carbon War Room, and a founding member of the Global Business Coalition on Education. Masiyiwa took over the Chairmanship of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) from Kofi Annan. He is also Chair of the Micronutrient Initiative, a global organization focused on ending child hunger and improving nutrition. In 2012, Masiyiwa was invited by President Obama to address leaders at the Camp David G-8 Summit on how to increase food production and end hunger in parts of Africa. In 2014, Masiyiwa was selected to Fortune Magazine’s list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders”. As a philanthropist, he is a member of the Giving Pledge, and his contributions to education, health and development have been widely recognized. Masiyiwa and his wife finance the Higher Life Foundation, which provides scholarships to over 42,000 African orphans. In 2015, he was the recipient of the International Rescue Committee’s Freedom Award and was presented with a UN Foundation Global Leadership Award for the work of the Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Trust, which he chairs and helped establish to fund the deployment of African healthcare workers to combat the outbreak in West Africa.

21 thoughts on “Pause: “Neighbour, the times they are a-changin’…”

  1. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 1.
    Just as I was finishing this post, I saw this great comment on my last post about the #LionessMom math teacher. Thank YOU, Benny.

    Benny Staphylococcus Peter

    One of the greatest Books I ever read at the age of 23 was by Robert T Kiyosaki, “Rich Kid Smart Kid.”
    The lesson I got from reading that book was,we should spend our days in schools deriving financial formulas that will sustain us for our lifetime. Rich dad was also concerned about the current education system,which prepares us to be employees not employers. I am graduating this year with My BSc( Hons) In Accounting right here in Botswana. I spent My 5 years in varsity looking for business opportunities not employment opportunities. Our lectures teaches us to sit on the other side of the table,employees side of the table not employers side of the table.

    And from the book I also learned why Bankers never ask for our reports cards,instead they request for your financial statements. Good grades at school won’t work,thats why Bankers never ask for report cards. They ask for your financial statements to measure your Financial Intelligence.

    May God bless my Business,as it’s a new start up and as time goes in I think it will grow.

    Thank you so much Mr strive,i started following you in 2014 and ever since then,your posts made a very significant impact in my life,in the world of entrepreneurship!. God bless you

  2. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 2.

    “Our economy is doing very well,” the MP said to me, showing his satisfaction. “Our party is running country well. Since we took over, we have doubled the GDP in 12 months.”

    I smiled and thanked him, wishing them well for setting a world record. If you believe that a country’s GDP can be doubled in a year, you will believe anything!

    Maybe he’s even hoping they will make him Finance Minister!

    Members of Parliament are what Napoleon called the “sleeping giant.” When they wake up, as happened in Zimbabwe and South Africa recently, they have all the power. They must step up their game in “numbers.” Every serious MP should know his or her country’s economy in numbers, even on a daily basis.

  3. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 3.

    I was once asked by a Minister in my country to sit on the board of a state-owned company. Having thanked him for the invitation, I asked him if I could first have a copy of the latest audited Financial Statements that he as a minister would normally receive. It turned out that he’d never received audited statements, neither had the board of directors of the company! I declined the appointment.

    When the surprised Minister asked me why, I asked him: “So what do they discuss on that board?”

    As “public” owned companies, all state-owned companies should be required by law to publish audited accounts in newspapers every six months, just like any listed (public) company. Someone please nudge Napoleon’s sleeping giants!

  4. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 4.

    There are two ways to fix our schools and universities, in addition to proper government policies, and investment:

    #1. Parents. A parent who is not involved in the school of their children is acting irresponsibly. If your job does not allow you the time, then get another job!

    #2. Alumni. You who studied at those schools and universities must get involved. If you want to “give back to the community”, it’s as simple as getting involved with a school or college that you attended, particularly if it’s a rural or government-owned school. They need you!

    Education is “ground zero” of philanthropy in Africa. We must all be involved even if we have no children in school or college.

  5. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 5.

    I used to think that we need to get every child in Africa a computer, but I have since found a greater urgency: We need to make sure every teacher has either a tablet or a laptop. Parents and alumni should take up this mission. To paraphrase my Pastor, “It’s time to sell our shoes and get our children’s teachers laptops and tablets.”

  6. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 6.

    One of my daughters once came up to me when she was very young and asked what I thought she should study when she grows up: “Well, you do whatever you want as long as you understand economics, as well as have the ability to read financial statements. As far as I’m concerned you can be a dancer, artist, doctor, or politician. In short, you can be anything you have a passion for. I just want you to have those two skills as basic life skills.” Now, I can’t say she took the advice, because only time will tell.

  7. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Sydney writes,

    i together with my former collegues we’re already involved in our former high school . It’s now high time we start programs for the benefit of the school

    My reply,
    Well done.
    One suggestion which is simple, and yet very practical is to buy all teachers in the school a personal tablet or laptop. You can also pay for a young school leader who is a techie, to come in regularly and help the teachers on a private and individual basis. Through our foundation, we actually send school leavers to schools.
    Once a teacher knows how to use a computer in their private lives, the skill is quickly passed on to children.
    If we wait for governments to deal with this, what happens if they don’t?
    #Its your child my friend.

  8. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Nkehmjika writes,

    “Education is the ground zero of philanthropy”…and to that I say a loud “Amen”! I would also like to add that it is one cause that delivers great dividends very fast. My alma mater, Federal Government Girls’ College Owerri has descended so low that by 2012, we were struggling with another school in Zamfara State in Northern Nigeria for the bottom position in the rankings of unity schools. The assessment was done based on the O levels School Certificate Exams. We were doing badly to say the least. We got together by November 2013 as old girls to celebrate tge school’s 40th Anniversary with a wake up call. Fast forward to 2017 and we came first! Four years of attention, giving, bullying truant teachers, lobbying the government, encouraging the girls etc paid off. We built toilets, reinstated inter-house competitions, instituted prizes, added cash incentives for performing teachers etc. I am so happy I got involved. I will be proudly taking my daughter to the entrance examinations in a not too distant time.

    My reply,
    This is exactly what I’m talking about.
    This can happen to every school, college and university in Africa. It really is that simple.
    This is exactly why America has those great universities that we all talk about:
    They have been built by former students, who went back to ensure they attained the highest standard.
    There would be no truant teacher if parents and alumni (former students) were involved in our schools.
    Parents like my mother were so “fierce”, that if a teacher did not turn up for school, they would have gone there, and beat up that teacher!
    Now I’m not advocating that people beat up teachers. We must help them by equipping them with everything they need, including salaries befitting the value we place on the education of our children.
    I can’t imagine my mother paying school fees and the teacher not turning up to teach us!

  9. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    For years my wife and I have actually invested in computer rooms at schools. However we have realized that whilst this is good, and should be done when resources are available. What is more effective is when the teacher actually OWNS the computer (preferably a laptop or tablet). This way they are able to develop intimacy with the computer at their own pace. As they learn they pass the skills to students.
    #So my challenge:
    Let’s help EVERY teacher to have a computer!
    Why not “gift” your child’s teacher a computer. Trust me it could be one of the greatest gifts you ever gave in your life!

    Parents must sell their shoes, bicycles and even cars, to ensure every child has a computer!

  10. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Hildah writes,

    I am very grateful for this forum you created to share your wisdon with the rest of the world at no cost. Thank you again for stamping my new year’s resolution that as an entreprenuer i need to be financially literate and understand economics. I have since taken up a program in accounting and while i considered myself a marketer at depth understanding of Economic and financial languages is bringing me so much joy as i can now relate to so many situations that seemed irrelevant around me yet it was i who was becoming redundant. Thank you Mr Strive Masiiwa and God continue to bless you so that you carry on with this vision of empowering young Africans.

    My reply,
    This made my day!
    There is nothing that excites me more than when I succeed in inspiring someone TO DO!
    You have surely blessed me too!
    God bless you and all those others who took similar advice.

  11. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Ikechukwu asks,

    What is your take on setting up coding boot camps in Nigerian Universities?

    My reply,
    Excellent idea!
    We might even be able to help:
    For the last three years Econet has developed one of the most successful Coding Schools in Africa: it is called Muzinda Hub.

    We launched the first Muzinda Hub in Zimbabwe, and we train thousands of young professionals, a year on a free scholarship, for six months!
    They are then deployed at freelance developers for local and international customers.
    Visit their website.

    Now that we have full “Proof of Concept”, it will be rolled out in different countries. Rwanda and South Africa are next.

    Whenever we launch a new business venture, we choose a country, which we use as “launch pad”. Zambia, Rwanda, and Ghana were the launch pads for Kwese, if you remember.

    We have things going on even in Nigeria, that we have never announced!

  12. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Arinze writes,

    As a young boy, I have always been fascinated by fixing things and making stuffs. Till I recognised that to go into mechanical engineering or electrical engineering, I needed to know maths which I don’t know very well, I had to switch to arts class.

    Now in my school then, the maths teacher will always teach us maths with notes, long notes! and with little numbers. He will tell us that maths requires special attention and special students thus he will pay more attention to those students who understood him. Now I realised that had I been taught in a more familiar manner, I would have loved maths then.

    Yes, we need a revolution, cos this will definitely affect our children if we don’t do anything.

    My reply,
    As I have written before, whilst I was the best student in my class in High School, I had one major weakness, and that was Maths. It was so bad that I did not sit the Maths O level exam, at all!
    My best subjects at High School were English and French.


    After leaving High School, I taught myself maths for two years, and proceeded to do a degree which requires the highest application of Maths: engineering!

    So what does this tell you?!
    The rest of your life begins today. What happened in the past is the past. Even if things don’t work out the way we would have liked does not mean we cannot realize our dreams.
    #NothingTurnsOn It!

  13. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes up she will shake the world”.
    Napoleón Bonaparte.

    This is what the French leader said over 200 years ago, when China looked like a basket case. It turned out to be a prophecy which has been fulfilled in our time, for now China is very much awake, and is shaking the world.

    There is an even bigger giant than China waiting to be woken up:
    At the turn of this century there will be 4bn Africans (nearly 40%) of the world’s population. More than 60% of the world’s youth will be Africans!

    If you read the comments on this platform you will know that the giant is awakening!

    “Black Panther”?! You ain’t seen nothing;
    we are going to control the global film and movie industry!

  14. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Re-posted from last week:
    It is with deep sadness that I learnt [today] of the passing of Zimbabwe’s former PM, and leader of the political party known as The Movement For Democratic Change (MDC), Mr Morgan Tsvangirai.

    As with all peace loving Zimbabweans, I salute him for his deep convictions for freedom, justice and democracy, as well as his indomitable courage.

    I had known him [personally] for nearly 30 years, and although I’m not involved in politics, we always held each other in the highest esteem and respect.

    My wife Tsitsi and I, as well as our family, extend our deepest, heartfelt condolences to his family, beloved followers, and friends:

    May the Lord comfort them, strengthen them, and grant them wisdom during this time, and in the days to come.
    #Peace and love.
    Strive and Tsitsi Masiyiwa

    P.s: respectfully avoid making political or other comments here, as there are other more appropriate platforms. “Let’s mourn with those who mourn”, even as the Lord said we should.

  15. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Donald writes,

    No matter how hard the situation is, Dr Strive I want one on one with you. I want to know the secret behind success and I want you to be my mentor . I will take any cost until I meet you live.

    My reply,
    I too hope that we will one day meet.

    However as one of your colleagues has rightly pointed out, it is not meeting me “live” that matters so much, but reading what I have written, and equally important, the comments from your peers who are members of the platform.
    It is the same as those people who ask me to put what I write in a “book”, but what I write is a “book”!
    As entrepreneurs (everyone on this platform is an entrepreneur), we focus on substance over form. The substance here is to read, study, and do!
    Others who have done so, have already launched businesses, and social enterprises, and yet others have left “so called safe jobs” and joined fast moving entrepreneurial companies as frontier executives!

  16. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Peter writes,

    Sir, I just finished reading the autobiography of Steve jobs. When he started Apple inc, the first investor told him he will only invest if he writes a business plan and show him a financial report.
    My university taught me how to write a well detailed CV and not how to write a business plan.
    There are lot of graduates seeking jobs and less creating jobs, this is due to the fact that our educational system trained us on how to be an employee by chasing after grades than an employer by stimulating our mind for business ideas.
    I am studying civil engineering but I make sure to get notes from my economics and accounting friends.
    Thanks so much.
    I hope to read your autobiography soon.

    My reply,
    Your observation is quite profound.
    I have said it before:
    #1. By the time you leave High School you should know how to start a business, and read financial statements of a company. This includes proper registration procedures, tax payments, employment laws, recruitment of staff, and their basic rights, legal and ethical conduct, preparation of proper financial records.

    #2. A university graduate in whatever discipline (including the arts and even sport) should know how to prepare a BUSINESS PLAN (even for a not-for-profit), and be able to do a proper pitch to an investor.
    You cannot lead effectively in any field, if you cannot do the above.

    #3. All the above should all understand economics…”oh how I wish everyone could understand economics…”:

    Who is not affected by inflation, or falling exchange rates, foreign currency shortages, liquidity??? …but how can you allow yourself to be affected by something which is totally manmade through policy, as though it were rain falling from the sky!

    #as for the autobiography of Strive Masiyiwa, this is it my brother…I have told you everything you need to know on this platform, and more. Ask 3.1m readers!

  17. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Ali writes,

    My name is Ali Nelson Uchenna (Champion) I am a blind boy that lost my sight to Glaucoma in 2009, when I was in my second year in a polytechnic studying computer science and had to stop school and also could not afford my medications and had to lose my sight completely. I am from Afikpo north, in Ebonyi state of Nigeria. I am 31yrs old and the first child of a family of eight(8), I am not married but I have a4yrs old daughter.

    Sir, following you on Facebook is the greatest miracle of my life, that day when I commented on your post and you found me and decided to favour me, turned my life around from a directionless blind boy to someone that has education and is exposed to the opportunities that exist for blind people.

    Sir and Ma, you sponsored my training at the institute for the blind, Kaleidoscope SA, where I studied marketing and got training in entrepreneurship, life skills, End user computer and
    Apple technologies that are accessible to the blind persons. I received an award for the best student, Academics during my set.

    My reply,
    The love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts.
    I thank the Lord for the opportunity to have got to know you. I also thank him for the passionate team at Higher Life Foundation who looked for you, and helped you fulfill your dream to get to South Africa.

    My wife is developing a new initiative which we saw when we travelled to Israel to help people living with physical disabilities. She calls it “YAD MERCY”.

    The only blind people are those who see, and decide in their hearts not to do anything because it would be too much trouble. For each one of us, there is an Ali Nelson Uchenna, waiting to be released into the world as a Champion..we just have to open our real eyes, what the Apostle Paul called “the eyes of the man of the spirit within us”
    Have a blessed day!

  18. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Banzornwa writes (in part):
    I have no doubt in my heart that you are leading us somewhere…

    My reply,
    Yes, I’m!
    I have to prepare you for a future with 4bn Africans, that will require very smart leadership, on a scale we have never seen or imagined before, if our people are to prosper and preserve a place for themselves.

  19. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    The most important things that happen in the world, do not always grab headlines, or trend. They do not happen in palaces or State houses. They do not even reach the discussions of Parliament or Cabinet.
    And yet when the true arc of history settles a time or period, you will be amazed what is really remembered.

    Great Politicians talk of their “legacy”; the great things they did that people will remember. And yet the big things that happened whilst they were in office often had nothing to do with them:
    Most great scientific developments start small, or in an insignificant way, and yet eventually the scientist or inventor ends up being more famous than the ruler of his or her time.
    Imagine the Wright brothers who invented the airplane, who remembers the leader of America at the time?!

    Elon Musk’s (born in Africa) rocket launch 2 weeks ago, is one of those developments. He could be well on his way to occupying such a position in history, alongside the greatest of any age.

    I often wonder what else is happening, perhaps in a corner of Africa, that will shake the world:
    are you the one working on it?
    #why not?!
    I believe.

  20. Stephen Kamugasa

    Sir, I share your sentiments respecting the teaching of maths to African children. The maths revolutions you propose is welcome and long overdue, and I would go further, a lot further!

    Africa’s problems are so considerable and complex that it is impossible to see how we can ever hope to solve them without a solid foundation of sound education. By education, I mean a healthy balance of literacy and numeracy. This balance is very necessary if we are produce a generation of critical thinkers. Africa’s leaders since independence have short changed the continent by not investing sufficiently in a balanced education. They were content with an education system left over by colonial administrations, not realising that the colonial education was designed to produce workers to support the colonial infrastructure which did not take into account the needs of Africans. The teaching of maths was not a priority under the colonial administration because Africans were not expected to take up leadership roles in business, government, medicine, the law or any other walk of life that required a sound understanding of maths. The mistake independence leaders in Africa was to presume that what worked for the colonial administration, would answer well to the complex needs of a post-independence Africa.

    Independent Africa continued this unhappy policy to the detriment of the continent, and it is the best example I can think of which explains Africa’s failure to take advantage of her rich inheritance of natural resources. It is the primary reason Africa is not able to negotiate on an equal basis with foreign powers such as the USA, Europe, and China. Africa does not have lawyers, accountants and business men (save, perhaps, your good-self) with the competences to negotiate on the level with negotiators from the great powers.

    In addition to the maths revolution you are calling for, I would recommend that African parents be encouraged to take an interest in maths themselves; young children tend to learn best by the eye. Parents could for instance start by interesting their little ones in things such as the value of money; that is, involve their children in the day to day business of buying and selling things. For commerce is the life blood of a healthy society; therefore, learning process of buying and selling should be the first building block upon which the rest may follow. It is what parents in South Korea and Taiwan do with their little one. I have never met a single Taiwanese who cannot do simple maths; they start young, we should do the same.


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