Ten years on, controversy still surrounds four-figure table

Education Minister, Mr. Nyesom Wike and Orente

Allegations of official silence and profit sharing greet the ministerial committee on the amendment of the mathematical table, writes FOLASHADE ADEBAYO

Until 2004, the Mathematical and Statistical Tables and Formulae book, introduced by the Cambridge University in 1913, was a trusted tool for candidates seeking to score at least a credit in Mathematics.

The book, popularly known as Four Figure Table, was also widely in use by pupils sitting for the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination of the National Examination Council.

That line of thought was truncated in 2004, when a Nigerian, Mr. Austin Orente, allegedly spotted some errors in the table and called the attention of the NECO, National Mathematical Centre and the Federal Ministry of Education to his findings.

Following Orente’s observations, a Ministerial Committee on the Amendment of Mathematical Tables was set up by the Federal Government to look into his allegation. But almost two years after, intrigues still surround the subject as the report has yet to be made public.

The committee was inaugurated in 2012 to look into the issues raised by Orente over certain anomalies in the four-figure tables supplied by the National Examination Council for candidates sitting for the NECO/SSCE. The implication, in the view of stakeholders, is that many candidates sitting for the external examinations will continue to fail Mathematics Examination due to no fault of theirs.

In a telephone interview with our correspondent, Orente alleged that the committee had recommended an amendment, based on his observations, to counter the Cambridge’s version.

“The amendment was done in December 2012. But the ministerial committee was supposed to send me a report and also send reports to the 36 state commissioners for education, indicating that it is official. But as we speak, the faulty four-figure table is still in use across the country. The column of 10 to 99 on the table has been amended to column of 1.0 to 9.9,’’ he said.

Orente was referring to the Amended Mathematical Tables, which he wrote to replace the existing one. The mathematician, who claimed he won the 2005 Best Creative Mathematics
Teacher award of the Mathematical Association of Nigeria, said unless the Four Figure Tables in circulation were withdrawn, respite might be far from candidates seeking to pass Mathematics.

“If we continue to use the old table, I am afraid that the situation will remain the same. More and more students will keep on failing Mathematics,’’ he said.

Though the alleged error may not be the sole factor responsible for the poor performance in Mathematics, a core subject required for admission to tertiary institutions, our correspondent observed that credit scores in Mathematics and English Language have been on the decrease.

Orente had noted that sections in the four-figure table, as first published by Cambridge University, were filled with anomalies. In a correspondence to the Federal Ministry of Education in 2004, Orente pointed, “In the June/July NECO/SSCE Mathematics examination marking scheme, Log 5.53 (o.7427), Log1.85 (0.2672), Log1.38 (0.1399) and Log 2.02 (0.3054) are decimal points, which cannot be obtained with the use of NECO logarithm table as far as the x column of 1.0-9.8 and 9.9 is not found on the table.’’

Orente had also copied NECO, the West African Examination Council and the National Mathematical Centre, Abuja. The whistleblower also went ahead to publish a book, Orente Formula & Method and Amended Mathematical Tables/Alternatives, an outcome of a research by a resident consultant with the NMC, one Prof. L.O Adetula.

However, between 2004 and 2012, when the first sitting of the committee held at the NMC, Abuja, the NECO had raised certain objections to Orente’s claims.

In a 2005 correspondence to the Ministry of Education, made available to our correspondent, the Head of Department, Mathematics Unit, Williams Onwuakpa, accused Orente of insincerity as all the 11 officers from NECO used the table and arrived at the same result.

“The rectification of the perceived anomalies in the four-figure tables is an outcome of a research by Prof. L.O Adetula is an innovation in the teaching and learning of logarithm topics only. The innovation, to the best of our knowledge as mathematicians, may create some confusion for students in secondary schools.

“Mr. A.N Orente’s letter and claims have political /ulterior undertone. It appears he wants to popularise the sale of the books published by his company. Mr. A.N Orente is not an authority in Mathematics as he is using the research work of Prof. L.O Adetula to advertise his company.’’

But Orente dismissed NECO’s allegations as baseless.

He said, “WAEC asked me to express my findings in a book form and I did just that. When I wrote to the NMC, I was assigned to Adetula.” He also alleged an issue of request for profit sharing. “This is certainly not right. It is my work. What everybody is waiting for is this report. The originator of the table should also be informed for ratification,’ he insisted.

However, a member of the ministerial committee, in a telephone interview with our correspondent, said he had no mandate to speak with the press on the issue.

“Orente said he discovered that the four-figure table can be adjusted from decimal point either forward or backward. There was a committee, which was chaired by our director. A report was sent to the Ministry of Education. I am a civil servant and should not be quoted. I do not have the capacity to talk to you. Please, get in touch with our director,” he said.

When contacted on the telephone, the NMC Chief Executive, Prof. Adewale Solarin, also declined to speak on the issue. He directed our correspondent to reach out to the Ministry of Education for clarification.

“The report was sent to the then Minister of Education, Prof. Rukayyatu Rufai, and she addressed a press conference on the matter. You can only get a substantive report from the ministry,’’ he said.

He was also not forthcoming when prodded on the allegation that the NMC intend to share from the proceeds of the Amended Mathematical Tables.

“If you want to find out about that also, I can only tell you that the position and opinion of the NMC is contained in the report. But you can write officially to the NMC on that,’’ he added.

But the Public Relations Officer, Ministry of Education, Simeon Nwakaudu, faulted Orente’s position. According to him, members of the ministerial committee comprised senior officers from the Nigerian Education Research Council, NMC and others.

“These senior officers saw no fault in the mathematical tables. Mr. Orente was also contacted. We did not find any error in the mathematical table,’’ he said.

The NECO Registrar, Prof. Promise Okpala, while announcing the November/December Senior School Certificate Examinations in 2011, lamented the woeful performance of candidates in Mathematics and English Language.

According to him, only 10 per cent of 110,724 candidates who sat for the examination got credit in English and Mathematics. The results were slightly better in 2010 when 34.18 per cent were awarded credit in Mathematics. The most woeful result was in 2009 when 98 per cent of 234,682 failed to obtain credits in both subjects.


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