Pi-Day celebrations in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Mar. 23, 2014

Pi-Day is celebrated on March the 14th, by mathematics enthusiasts each year. In Tanzania, the day is celebrated as a national event by students, teachers and policy-makers. The Pi-Day celebration in Tanzania was first held in 2004 through the initiative of Mr. Beniel Seka under the auspices of Tanzania Institute of Education and later in 2007, the Mathematical Association of Tanzania (MAT) took over the responsibility for organising the celebration event. Since then, there has not been a single year without the event not taking place with over 1000 students and teachers participating. 
This year’s event was special as it marked the 10th anniversary of the celebrations.

As a result, the Mathematical Association of Tanzania, currently chaired by Dr. Sylvester E. Rugeihyamu in partnership with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS-NEI) organised this years’ event with the overall objective of widening participation and increase general awareness of the role and importance of Mathematics in our lives. Also to make Mathematics the subject of choice among students, which requires policy-makers to put more emphasis on the teaching of Maths in school. For the first time, there was a pre Pi-Day exhibition event on the 13th March which brought together 18 Exhibitors and 6 Book Publishers and attracted over 900 students and over 60 teachers.  The Guest of Honour to the 14th March event was the Vice President of The United Republic of Tanzania, Dr. Mohammed G. Bilal, who also delivered the keynote speech about the importance of Mathematics in general and in particular amongst other things for Tanzania’s economic growth. The event held in Dar es Salaams Mnazi Mmoja Park was attended by over two thousand school children and their teachers from 3 Universities, 33 Secondary Schools, 14 Primary Schools and one Teacher Resource Centre. IMAGINARY in collaboration with The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences actively participated in the two-day event.  This meant that for the first time the SURFER programme, was displayed in the form of an interactive exhibit in Africa. 

The 13th March was a day of pre-celebrations, AIMS and IMAGINARY had a joint tent, where pupils had the opportunity to first get a demonstration of SURFER and then play around with the software themselves using two laptops as well as a larger setup with a projector. I was in charge of this activity and had one Teaching Assistant (Mr. Laurent Shilingi) from the University of Dar es Salaam helping me in particular with the Swahili speaking pupils. The publicity material, consisting of postcards and posters disappeared into the hands of students and teachers very quickly and there was always a larger group of pupils surrounding the tent eager to understand the ideas behind SURFER. This was only broken up by the rain, that forced us to pack up the computer equipment during this pre-celebration event.

On the actual Pi-Day, i. e. the big celebration day, the timetable was a bit more formal with few exclusive tents for Mathematics related exhibitions, featuring IMAGINARY+AIMS, a group of students of one of the best high schools in Tanzania (Loyola High School) and the Peace Corps Volunteers. Tents with seats for a couple of thousand pupils and teachers had been arranged in front of the stage of the main event. Everything started off with a march of majority of all attending pupils, scheduled to arrive at the grounds around 10 am.

The rest of the day followed the following schedule:

10:00 Guests of honour attends the marching students

10:05 Students perform a song followed by an introduction by the chairperson and a performance of a traditional dance.

10:25 Mr. Samuel Awuku from AIMS- Next Einstein Initiative gave a short speech about AIMS and the outlook of an AIMS centre in Tanzania.

10:35 A short speech by the Chair of MAT, Dr. Sylvester E. Rugeihyamu

10:55 Student awards to top performing mathematics students are awarded.

11:25 Speech by the guest of honour, Dr. Mohammed G. Bilal

11:45 Group photos

11:55 Guest of honour visits all exhibition tents

12:00 onwards various traditional dances and performances by students

1:59:26 Pi-Hour

14:30 closing

Samuel Awuku’s speech, encouraged students to take up Mathematics, as well as made everyone aware of what possibilities in terms of scholarships and teacher training opportunities that an AIMS Centre of Excellence in Tanzania can provide. Of course the collaboration with IMAGINARY, was also mentioned. 

Unfortunately, the rest of the speeches by other speakers were in Swahili, so I have no idea, what was being said, apart from that the word ‘Mathematics’ in Swahili (Hisabati), was repeatedly used. The Vice President on the other hand, spoke in English about MAT/AIMS partnership and confirmed his government’s commitment to support the establish AIMS in Tanzania. Furthermore, in my discussion with Dr. Rugeihyamu the importance of the Association’s collaboration with other organisations in improving the teaching and learning of Mathematics in Tanzania was highlighted and welcomes all interested organisations on board.

After the Vice President speech, he personally came around all the tents to have a look at the exhibits, including the AIMS/IMAGINARY tent, where I gave a brief introduction into SURFER, how it can aid teaching the idea behind simple polynomial functions and solutions to multi variable polynomial equations, but also demonstrated the connection of Mathematics and Art. 

Many schools had prepared a dance or some other kind of contribution to the event. This was on going, while I was busy explaining SURFER to the many curious pupils and teachers who had approached out stall, after the most formal part of the event was over (Around 12pm). The event lasted until 2:30pm.

What was particular interesting for me to observe, as young female scientists, was that in particular girls showed an interested and actively asked me, what they could do to improve their grades in maths classes at  school. Also from my own perception, girls seemed more eager to play around with SURFER themselves, rather than just watching me explain the software to them. This is great to see, as Tanzania still has a problem of underperforming girls in science subject, were all top 10 places in a national mathematics competition went to boys. 

All in all the event was a great success, and I want to thank Samuel Awuku, AIMS-NEI and IMAGINARY (a project by the Mathematical Research Institure Oberwolfach and supported by the Klaus Rschira Stiftung) for having made it possible for me to participate in the Pi-Day in Tanzania and Dr. Sylvester Rugeihyamu and MAT/CHAHITA for the organisation and generally inspiring discussion regarding Mathematics in Tanzania. Lastly, I want to thank Mr. Laurent Shilingi for all his help and enthusiasm he put into demonstrating SURFER to pupils. I hope that the success of this year’s event means that next year will be even bigger, again with IMAGINARY’s participation in collaboration with AIMS-NEI.

For some photos related to this, check out the event’s page here.