The Usefulness Of African Time In The Mathematics Classroom


By Paul Chika Emekwulu

First of all, let me state clearly my stand on African time before some people proceed to a hurried conclusion.  African time, to me is an African invention.  It is not natural with Africans but a second nature to Africans.  Personally, I detest it, period and I’m writing a book on it. Writing a book or speaking up against African time is synonymous with a hatred for African time since there is nothing really good about it except probably in mathematics where it could be utilized indirectly in teaching the concept of what are known as variables.  You don’t have to worry about that at this point.  We shall still get into all that later and you don’t have to be a math genius to understand what is going on. I promise. All you need to know at this initial moment is that by definition, African time can be defined as a concept among people of African descent all over the world whereby an event scheduled for a specified time starts at a time longer than necessary.

Now, it cannot be argued that in this country today while the literacy rate is on the rise, the reading culture is in decline.  With this in mind, I set out to write a four or a five paged speech on my two cents on our reading culture or habit.  To do this, I chose the title, “Drop Your Phone and Pick up a Novel” thinking that it will take different and multiple voices to make the desired change.  This change, it is hoped, will make our children, a change that will make our fathers and mothers, a change that will make our uncles, our aunties, a change that will make our nieces, a change that will make our brothers and sisters, a change that will make our husbands and wives, a change that will make our sons and daughters and so on to drop their cellular phones and pick up a novel and “novel” as used here is a relative term.  In other words, a newspaper can be a novel, a history book can be a novel, a self-help book can be a novel and an autobiography or a biography can also be a novel.  When the mother cow is chewing cud, the little ones still look on.  That is living by example. Having finished the speech, I decided to write a similar one on African time. To any adult African, African time doesn’t need any introduction. 

Now due to the popularity of African time, the majority of even children are not ignorant of it.  That is why, to me, if African time were to be a religion at the mountains, every African will be worshipping at the mountains of course, including children.  African time seems to be another religion practiced by men and women, old and young, Catholics and Protestants, evangelicals and Pentecostals, literate and non-illiterate. Also, if African time were to be a crime punishable by law, mostly, if not all Africans will be serving different prison sentences depending on the severity of lateness an individual is associated with.  Habitual late comers are entitled to stiffer prison terms than others.  

Now when I first started to write a speech on African time I got excited full of hope. Yes, I got excited and I have my reasons:

(a) Past generations talked about African time.

(b) Present generations are talking about African time.

(c) African time is not only just a problem but a popular problem.

(d) Future generations are very much likely to talk about African time because enough is not presently being done towards improvement.

I was hopeful and looking forward to a wonderful speech. The expectation was so high and I got so excited thinking that I had enough material.  I was wrong.  I was wrong because after two or three sentences comprising of 117 words my mind went blank.  That is called writer’s block. 

African time has a lot of disadvantages.  I could have gone ahead and listed the disadvantages but that was not enough.  I wanted to say more than just disadvantages and I wanted to say more than just one page.  Today, thanks be to God that I’ve said not only more than one page, but two pages.  Not only have I said more than two pages, I‘ve said more than five pages.  Most importantly, today as we speak, a book has been born out of these pages and those initial pages provided the motivation I needed. At this time writer’s block was now a thing of the past.

By the way writer’s block is a normal phenomenon.  That was the time I forgot everything about the speech and decided to channel my energy and attention to many other tasks I was involved with (so many irons in the fire).  One of the tasks was finding out the meanings of certain phrases and common sayings by famous scientists and philosophers.  Some of them were quotes credited to the Jewish-American philosopher, scientist and mathematician, Albert Einstein that I saw at the east entrance of the University of Central Oklahoma library in the United States that says, “I am not a genius.  I am just passionately curious.”  A second quote was by the English scientist, Sir Isaac Newton who discovered the force of gravity.  The quote says, “If I’ve seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” 

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Following is the one that broke the carmel’s back, that talks about obedience and it says, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.”  That of Albert Einstein or Sir Isaac Newton is self-explanatory. 

“Obedience is better than sacrifice” as spoken to Saul by Samuel cannot be interpreted by itself except if you had read 1 Samuel 15:22.  So, to understand it, you need a reference and a context.  While the reference is the Holy Bible, the context is the story of Saul and Samuel in I Samuel 15:22.  Let’s turn to 1 Samuel 15:22. In 1 Samuel 15:22, the word of God tells us about the story of Saul who disobeyed God’s instructions given to him by Samuel, the prophet.  Disobedience became Saul’s situation while the reason he gave for not killing all the animals and saving the life of King Agay became his excuse.  Like Saul, we all have life circumstances or situations and at times lateness is one of them.  Lateness of course as a situation goes with different types of excuses including punctured tire, rainy day, family emergency, robbery at the office, traffic congestion and Good Samaritan work and so on.

Due to a direct spiritual experience I had earlier, reading the Bible became one of my favourite past times and I started compiling favourite Bible passages and verses.

 These include among others Ephesians 6:12, John 19:11, 1 Corinthians 14, John 11:35, Acts 22:28, and 1 Samuel 15:22. During this time I’ve read 1 Samuel 15:22 at least once.  One day I was reading the passage, as soon as disobedience came into the g\picture as a situation, the thought of African time which was discontinued as an article flashed through my mind.  Immediately, I replaced disobedience with lateness as found in African time which is built on situations and excuses. All situations in life don’t have excuses but all excuses have situations.  

Example 1

I’m not late. I’m not late is a situation because the situation here is punctuality.  There is no question to answer here that could have generated an excuse. 

 Therefore, while being not being late is a situation, there is no excuse to worry about 

Example 2

Mr. Okoye’s doctor’s appointment was 4 p.m. and he was there at exactly 4 o’clock. There is no question to answer here that could have generated an excuse. 

Therefore, while not being late is a situation, there is no excuse to worry about. On the other hand, when there is a question to answer, an excuse has a situation.

 Here are examples.

Example 1

I was late to school because it was raining.  Why were you late to school? This is the question to answer. I was late because it was raining and that becomes the excuse. You were late not because you were going to school.

Example 2

I was late to the meeting because I had an emergency. Now, in the first example, there is a question to answer that will generate an excuse and the question is: Why were you late?  

In the second example, there is also a question to answer that will generate an excuse and the question is:  Why were you late to the meeting?  

Summarily, when there is no question to answer for a known situation that is enough to generate an excuse, there is no excuse but when there is a question to answer for a known situation, there is an excuse.  What this means is that for every excuse (x), there is a situation (y).  Generally speaking every situation doesn’t necessarily have an excuse. There are many different excuses and situations as there are individuals as we have already discussed earlier. After further reflection, I started to look at situations and excuses as variables as found in mathematics.  I started to compare disobedience with lateness first as situations and then lateness as found in African time which is built on situations and excuses.  

We all are faced with situations and excuses in different life circumstances and our situations depend on our excuses. Your excuse for not attending that wedding ceremony on time determines your situation, your excuse for not coming to mass on time determines your situation and your excuse for not coming to the parish council meeting on time again determines your situation.  Now, African time is about lateness.  Your excuse comes with the question, “Why were you late?”  For example, “I was late because of punctured tire or I’ll be late because I’ve a punctured tire.  Here lateness has power over you and consequently, African time. In the first example, you are already late but in the second example, you are not late yet but you’ll.  You’ll be late because you know too well that time is not in your favour.  In the second example also, it is not yet time for the meeting, it is not yet time for the seminar, it is not yet time for the appointment and it is not yet time for the class and so on. So, here, unlike in the first example your situation is not lateness yet but you are doing what needs to be done. 

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In the first example, the situation is lateness and there is an excuse.  Saul’s excuse was sacrificing to the Lord.  This excuse determined his situation.  In other words, his situation depends on his excuse.  In the language of mathematics, we say that his situation is a function of his excuse.  Saul’s situation was a function of disobedience.  Where are we going with all this?  We shall come back to this later but first, let’s look at disadvantages of African time. African time can be compared to weeds in the garden, we’ve to discourage its growth whenever and wherever found or noticed.  

Right from time immemorial, African time has never been known to be of any use.  Instead, it has done more harm than good and we don’t need any research to confirm that.  Of course how can a concept that discourages professionalism, a concept that discourages punctuality among the bottom, the middle and the top of the society, a concept that encourages sluggishness towards time among the generality of Africans be of any advantage or use in any form?

The following are disadvantages of African time.

Degrading to Africans

Meeting lasts longer

Discourages punctuality

Discourages professionalism

Insult to Africa and Africans

Encourages undue relaxation

Encourages African time itself

Loss of revenue (Time is money)

Encourages lack of commitment

Encourages African time itself

Discourages attendance to meetings

Waste of time (meetings start late end late)

Encourages late coming (African time excuse)

Encourages lasses-faire attitude towards time

Encourages procrastination and complacency

Majority feels there is nothing wrong with African time. 

We can now see that the disadvantages of African time are many and we’ve not been able to identify a single advantage of this evil concept hated by a few but admired by many.  No wonder for most, if not every African family, African time seems to be the last born child and that is why we cuddle it so much and that is why we love it so much, that is why we there is no book on it because nobody talks bad about that loved so dearly.  African time I must point out is a habit and like honesty is a choice. African time is not natural with Africans but second nature to Africans.

However, no matter how hateful a few of us are towards African time, no matter how wasteful African time seems to be, no matter how metaphorically evil African time seems to be, no matter how degrading a position African time places Africans as a people and Africa as a continent, African time unbelievably presents something of interest that may be useful in the mathematics classroom for us to consider.  What is of interest of course is not people coming late to classes, what is of interest is not people coming late to PTA meetings, what is of interest is not people coming late to family meetings (umunna, umuada, inyemoona), what is of interest is not people coming late to CWO and CMO meetings and what is of interest is not people coming late to women’s August meetings etc.  What is of interest is the mathematics that comes with African time, what is of interest is lateness which is the end result of African time and this helps tremendously in the math classroom.  It is not only an interesting approach to teach a mathematical concept, but also an interesting way to understand a mathematical concept. Are we saying that we can use the concept of African time to teach mathematics?  Of course, that is exactly what we are saying. The end result of African time is very important to us. We are also saying one more thing!  We are also saying that by using the concept of African time to teach a mathematical concept, it is not being idolized and popularized. This cannot be said enough. By using the concept of African time to teach a mathematical concept, it is neither being encouraged in the schools nor in the society. Instead, by using the concept of African time to teach a mathematical concept, we hope to achieve two things:

We hope to identify individual differences.

We hope to recognize individual differences

This is because some students will understand the concepts of variables, dependent and independent variables better if African time is used to teach these concepts.

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Using the concept of African time to teach a mathematical concept comes with some bad news.  The bad news comes from mathematics not being very much a popular subject among students and the good news is that you don’t have to be a mathematics genius to understand what is going on.

Let’s go back to the case of punctured tire and ask some questions.  

What’s your excuse for being late? – Punctured tire.

Therefore, your reason for being late is your excuse and your excuse for being late is your reason for being late.  Therefore, if your reason for being late is punctured tire, then your excuse for being late is punctured tire.  It all means then that punctured tire which is your reason for being late becomes your excuse and lateness becomes your situation which is as a result of punctured tire.  Your lateness depends on what happened to you.  If you did not have a punctured tire, all things being equal, you wouldn’t have been late in the first place.  Your situation which depends on your excuse becomes the dependent variable while your reason or excuse becomes the independent variable.  If the value (y) of something (not necessarily numerical) depends on the value of another (x) which also is not necessarily numerical), such can be represented or plotted on a graph and that is the case of situations and excuses as seen in African time.  What depends on what?  Situations depend on excuses.

Here we are using African time to teach a concept in mathematics through situations and excuses.

By saying that African time can be utilized in teaching a particular mathematical concept, we are not saying that African time should be encouraged in any manner or form.  Here African time is being used to draw attention to a school subject that has been the bane of students not only in Nigeria but all over the world.  African time is being used to draw attention to mathematics and mathematics which is the bane of students not only in Nigeria but elsewhere in the world is being used to draw attention to African time which is a problem not only in Nigeria but throughout the whole of African continent and elsewhere people of African descent are found.  This is the case of the proverbial situation where the left and right hands washes each other clean.

Now as a part of my conclusion, let me say something generally about African time.  Time for a meeting should be clear to everyone involved. When you are in doubt of the time, find out the truth by asking members of the executive. Time for a meeting should not be an “or” case. In other words, time for a meeting cannot be 4 p.m. or 5 p.m.  If it is 4 p.m., it is 4 p.m. and if it is 5 p.m., it is 5 p.m. Period! No element of doubt. It has to be a specific time. Making the time for a meeting an “or” case is a direct invitation for African time which in turn is a loophole for African time excuse. African time excuse (when I get there will be nobody) is a situation where people use African time to be late. This should be discouraged. When it is agreed that a meeting should be in the morning time, afternoon time or evening time, there is no specificity attached to it. If the majority agrees with this time arrangement, then collectively, African time is being invited and consequently being encouraged. Specificity of time gives one a legal right to complain about African time. If you find yourself at a meeting 30 minutes before a meeting that is supposed to start at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, you have no legal right to complain of lateness by others.

Finally, in conclusion, there are no books written on African time because first, as pointed out earlier nobody talks bad about that loved so dearly. Africans love African time. Second, people don’t realize that African time is a problem. Third, people think that there are more problems than African time but is it not when you realize African time is a problem that initiating a conversation on it is very likely. It’s only when a conversation has been initiated that we think of what to do by way of taking action. Since we don’t want to initiate a conversation, let alone taking action, that is nothing but pretense. We know that African time cannot be eliminated globally but at least it can in a particular group with stiffer penalties.

Let me also add to my conclusion by saying that without time specificity, there is no African time and when there is no African time, there is no punctuality issue and when there is no punctuality issue, there is no lateness and when there is no lateness, there is no African time.

What are your thoughts?

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