The highs and lows of my mathematics journey

Damas Mgani reflects on his relationship with mathematics throughout his life. Through sharing his struggles and how he pushed through them, coming out a better man, he hopes to inspire a positive attitude.

Illustration by Cayla Basson

I am the first-born and the only boy in a family of five children. My father, who passed away in 2017, was a primary school mathematics teacher and my mother a peasant. As a young boy I really enjoyed playing football and would normally join my friends after school to play. I remember that my parents were not very happy with the fact that I spent more time playing football than engaging with my homework. When I was in Grade 5, I performed quite poorly in mathematics. My father was very disappointed in me and decided to teach me mathematics during the evenings. Since he also gave me mathematics exercises to work on, I no longer had much time to play football with my friends. Because of this, I would often find myself crying.

Although it took me a while to get used to my new “timetable”, my improvement in math was evident. When I was in grade 7 my father even registered me to do weekly/monthly and joint examinations with Grade 9 learners. I am extremely grateful for the things my dad had done to help me improve my math skills, overcome math anxiety and develop my interest in mathematics. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

In high school I was selected to do Mathematics, Economics and Geography. I remember struggling quite often to grasp new mathematical concepts because they were not taught properly. I thought about leaving Mathematics and considered doing Physics, Chemistry and Biology. One weekend I decided to call my father to share my experience of high school mathematics with him and my intention of dropping mathematics. We talked for more than two hours and my father advised me to carry on doing mathematics. He continued to encourage me to work hard and even bought me extra mathematics books for practice. My friends and I would solve problems from these books and motivate one another to improve in math. My love for mathematics was restored and to this day I take pleasure in helping those who struggle with mathematical concepts.

Illustration by Liani Malherbe

I decided to study mathematics and informatics at university. As an undergraduate student, I performed exceptionally well in my mathematics courses and decided to pursue a masters in pure mathematics. Pure mathematics involves deep reasoning, understanding theorems and constructing mathematical proofs for statements. Whenever I failed to understand certain concepts and results I would always approach my lecturers for assistance.

I am currently doing my PhD in Mathematics at Stellenbosch University. To be able to travel abroad to study mathematics at this great institution is like a dream come true for me! My research is in algebraic geometry, an area which has applications to physics. At present my home country has no experts in algebraic geometry and I am very much looking forward to sharing my skills and knowledge with students in Tanzania after I have completed my PhD.

I would like to advise learners to develop a positive attitude towards mathematics. I have observed over the years that most of the students who are doing well in mathematics do not face difficulties learning other subjects.

Damas Karmel Mgani

PhD student, Department of Mathematical Sciences,
STELLENBOSCH UNIVERSITY

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