Mistakes are good, make one now

The science of mistakes: Why you should get your child to make one now

When my cousin was learning driving, we were the ride-along squad.  We sat at the back while he struggled with the gears. My uncle, his father, was the one teaching.  And he snapped at his son for what he thought were very silly mistakes.  Now I recall that at that time my uncle had what the Heath brothers, authors of Made to Stick, called the Curse of Knowledge.  Which means knowing so much about something that you forget the history of your own ignorance about the subject and expect everyone to understand at your level of expertise. “Once we know something,” Chip and Dan Heath wrote, “we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily recreate our listeners’ state of mind.”

But there was something more fundamental that I observed during the driving classes.  Whenever my uncle left the car to observe his son’s performance from a distance, the son’s driving improved.  He stopped hesitating, became decisive and drove smoothly – encouraged by the fact that we (left in the car with him) were not there to judge or shout at him.  My cousin’s driving improved because he was given (however momentary) autonomy.

Later, Daniel H. Pink wrote a book about it and titled it Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  He wrote the book to stress the point that human beings – in many situations – are no longer motivated by punishment and rewards, but by Motivation 3.0 which sits on the three pillars of autonomy, mastery and purpose. But one of the most important lessons I learned from that book was on autonomy, how allowing individuals to make their own decisions, make their own mistakes and self-correct improves performance.

There is more scientific evidence that encourages us to make mistakes. “Every time a student makes a mistake in math, they grow a synapse,” said Carol Dweck who has made significant contribution to the field of psychology on how mindsets affect our performance. By this, she means, mistakes make the brain to spark and grow.  Jo Boaler, in her book, Mathematical Mindsets, commented on the significance of Dweck’s statement: “Many good teachers have told students for years that mistakes are useful and they show that we are learning, but the new evidence on the brain and mistakes says something much more significant.”   But where is the evidence?

A psychologist, Jason Moser, reported the results of an interesting study in 2011 of what happens in our heads when we make mistakes.   Moser and his colleagues found that when we make mistakes, the brain can react in two ways.  The first one is called the ERN response, which means an increase of electrical activity in the brain when it experiences some conflicts between the right response and an error. This happens whether you know that you’ve made a mistake or not.  The second response is called Pe; this happens when the brain signals conscious attention to the mistake.

What does this mean?  “First, the researchers found that the students’ brains reacted with greater ERN and Pe responses—electrical activity—when they made mistakes than when their answers were correct,” Jo Boaler wrote.  What does that mean?  The more your brain spark, the better you become at what you’re learning.  And what is the point of that?  Since researchers have found that the brain sparks and grows better when we make mistakes than when we get correct answers, we shouldn’t be terrified when we or our children make mistake when learning.  It’s actually good.  It’s a tonic for the brain.

Personally, when I was in school, there was a programming language that I found difficult to learn.  I persisted and got all the books I could find from the library and from Amazon on the subject – the dummies’ guide, the idiot’s guide, the primers, etc.  At a point, I left it for a while.  When I came back to it, everything clicked.  I reckoned my brain was sparking and growing during the earlier struggles.

However, encouraging mistakes is not only useful for learning in schools, but even businesses and governments are taking benefits from it.  A good example is the city of Dubai.  Sheikh Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai mentioned this in his book, Flashes of Thought: “I might go easy on people who make mistakes, but never on people who make no effort.  It is by making mistakes that a person learns.  If a person falls down, he does not get up where he has fallen, but rather a few steps ahead.  Similarly, a person who errs will gain knowledge and experience as a result of his error.”

Mistakes are good, make one nowOpenClipart-Vectors / Pixabay

Some teachers called me to speak to a group of primary school children recently.  And I told the children that they should get double marks for every question they didn’t get right and one mark for correct answers.  Of course the teachers didn’t agree with me.  But we will get there. At least, Muslims understand that if you struggle to read the Qurán and make mistakes, you would get double reward.  One for trying and one for the mistake.  So if God encourages us this way in spiritual matters, why can’t we implement that strategy in the classroom to encourage students to learn and get better?

Therefore, go into the world and make mistakes – a great deal of mistakes.  Let your brain spark and grow!

Gov Abubakar Sani Bello remains dedicated.

Even angels ask: A gentle introduction to criticizing PMB

When I was the chief press secretary to the governor of Niger State (CPS), there was a time that electricity improved and my family gave President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) the entire credit. Change has come, they said. Baba this, Baba that, they chorused.

Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria
Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria

Few days later, electricity supply dropped and they started blaming the governor. “Talk to your boss,” my cousin said, “he should fix this light problem!”

“If the governor wasn’t responsible for the improvement,” I replied, “why should he be blamed for the lack of it?”

Even though we all know that everyone is suffering, nobody wants to blame Buhari. But we (Buhari’s supporters) blame everyone else. We find fault with the ministers, governors, our brothers and even our wives.

But dare to even clear your throat against Buhari and you would be shouted down. Every week, we find someone to blame for our economic troubles. Last week, it appeared to be the turn of the president’s wife. We trained our guns on her, supposedly because she wore a suit to America. I wonder who’s going to be our next victim.

But if you look closely, it’s probably because we’ve not eaten dinner. Or lunch. Or breakfast.

Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria
Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria

It’s like not knowing you’re shouting at your children because your boss shouted at you in the office.

It’s called displacement in psychology: satisfying an impulse (in this case, anger) with a substitute, less powerful object.  Example, an employee frustrated by his boss at work, could go home and kick the cat.

I recall the humorous story of a Bida based Muslim preacher who decided to criticize the APC government during the first Eid prayers of the new government.  The government was just a couple of months old. People were still basking in the afterglow of their victory at the polls.  First, the preacher attacked the state government. This got the worshippers’ attention.  “Where is he going with this,” they thought. Then he attacked the APC.  However, when he began to attack President Muhammadu Buhari, the people resolved that they had heard enough.  “Beat up the bastard,” they said.  At which point the worshippers abandoned the worship and set upon the preacher. “He’s a PDP malam,” I was later told.

This preacher was obviously mischievous.  Yet, there are some people who supported PMB, spent their money to elect him (and are still supporting him) who would like to ask some questions of the government or suggest something.  How would they do this without being called  yam eaters?  Well, there are some steps to follow.  You may call it Benign Buhari Criticism Technique.

The first step is to handle the religious corner. Mention that you pray for our leaders to succeed, then acknowledge what Prophet Muhammad (SAW): “Whoever wants to advise a sultan (leader or ruler) with a matter, do not do it outwardly but let him take him by the hand and go into seclusion with him. If he accepts it from him then that (is good) and if not then he (the adviser) has fulfilled that which was upon him (to do).”

Step two is to frame your concern not as a criticism or even advice, but as a question. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) himself was asked many times by his companions about questions which they didn’t understand. Even the angels asked God when He  wanted to create “generations after generations” of mankind:

 “Will You place therein those who will make mischief therein and shed blood?” Sheikh ibn Kathir explained that the angels did this to learn; they meant: “What is the wisdom of creating such creatures since they will cause trouble [on] the earth and spill blood?”

Then Allah told them: “I know that which you do not know.” [Qur’an 2:30]

Based on this conversation between God and the angels, Jeffrey Lang, a former atheist and a professor of Mathematics at the University of Kansas and an author of several memoirs on converting to Islam, wrote an instructive book in 1997 entitled Even Angels Ask to stress the importance of questions in Islam and the search for the truth.

The third step is to acknowledge the fact that PMB is probably the best president for us now.  Personally, I feel that were it another person as president, Nigerians would have revolted, considering the hardship we face now.

If you do this,  that is, arguing from the logical, moral and religious perspectives, PMB supporters would accept that your concerns are harmless and they would listen to you.  However, there are two other options.

Say whatever you want to say and tell whoever is not happy to go and jump from Kufena Mountain.  You may think you think it is their problem, not yours.  But that is not a wise attitude to carry.  Because they can make their problems yours.  They may come to you (not to the president) when they need money for food or want to take a new wife.

Finally, the option that works best, the tried and true method, is to just blame others.  Yes, anyone but Buhari.


Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, why do you need O’ level for a Ph.D. admission?

ABU Zaria, why do you need O’ level for a Ph.D. admission?

geralt / Pixabay

Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria recently placed an advert in the Daily Trust newspaper for “Online Sale of Postgraduate Forms.” However, counted among the requirements by the university was for the applicant to have five O’ level credits to include English and Mathematics.  Maybe there’s a reason why ABU and other universities do this and other countries don’t. So I got the office to contact National Universities Commission and ABU for an explanation. At the time of turning in this column, none had replied.

Could someone else tell us why?  Well, many Nigerians have opinions.

M.D. Aminu: It’s not peculiar to ABU. My mum applied for a master’s degree in Library Science at the University of Ibadan in the 1990s, and her application for admission was declined by the university because she didn’t have a credit in WASC English language.

Dr. Garba Ibrahim: I shouted against it, until I was hoarse, at Unmaid, but to no avail.

Dr. Ibrahim D Muhammad: It’s not only ABU, but several of the universities, if not all! Even lecturers with Master’s degrees teaching in their own university for years must have the five credits, including mathematics and English! Yes, they screened their own staff like others! What happened to screening done when they were being employed? And that’s not the worst part, some may actually not graduate due to “internal politics”! That is why some leave their university or even Nigeria for further studies so as to “finish on time”!

Godwin Ashituabe: Colonial mentality, period.


Hamzat Abubakar: Nigeria my country, where discrimination is the order of the day.

Hussain Zandam: University of Lagos has no business with O’ level results.

Dr. Samaila Waje: For refusing to be dynamic, it may take forever for our universities to be indexed in the world rankings of universities.

Victor Kulugh: But is it only ABU in Nigeria? Come to think of it, even at the undergraduate level, an admission seeker needs WAEC/NECO, UTME and post UTME examinations, is that not too much?

Ibrahim Zakariyau: The major problem in Nigeria is inadequate identification system. In some developing countries and the developed, you can’t just forge documents; they are well protected and there is an efficient data access.

Shayib Abdullah Mohammed: Who is crazy enough to even dream of a Nigerian PhD?

Ibrahim Shehu Hunkuyi: That is the problem with ABU Zaria. They always claimed to be the best, without knowing they are actually cheating our younger ones from the North.

Akote Sadeeq Abubakar: I don’t even like ABU. They always make things complicated for postgraduate students especially. Maybe they don’t want others to become PhD holders or professors. It is absolutely out of point demanding for O’ level result after one had graduated from university. When I applied for a direct entry degree program at the Islamic University in Uganda using my Diploma result in 2012, the screening committee only checked my diploma. And they gave me 200 level. Nigerian universities need to change.

Ibrahim Kalayi: Having five credits, math and English inclusive, is a recent development in ABU.
About two years ago, I applied for a master’s programme in Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice and I wasn’t offered admission simply because I had an F9 in mathematics in my O’ Level results.

I explained to them at the PG School that I am a graduate of ABU and that the department I graduated from didn’t require mathematics when I was offered admission, etc. and the people at the PG school informed me that the new policy is that one must have five credits with math and English regardless of one’s discipline to be offered post graduate admission in ABU.
I graduated in 2007 and now I am planning on sitting for WAEC again so as to get the mathematics that I ran away from many years ago. Lol!

Dr. Marzuq Ungogo: After practicing journalism for almost 30 years, my dad applied for MA in Mass Communication with his BA English Language at NOUN and was told he won’t be admitted because he didn’t offer literature in English at O’ level.
The man has hundreds of novels and literature books he used in his B.A. In fact growing up and reading most of them inspired me into writing (yes, including poems). But he wasn’t qualified because he didn’t offer “English Literature” in secondary school.

The old man has since forgotten that dream. So sad!

But nobody even cared about my O’ levels when I applied for mine here [in the UK]. Some friends told me they only used the O’ level result to get a waiver, so that they won’t write IELTS. Anyway, I have since stopped comparing our education systems.

Dr. Abdullahi Dahiru: My wife had to write NECO last year before she applied for PHD in BUK. Thank God she passed. Most universities only admit those with second class upper for masters.
That is why I salute our postgraduate medical colleges in Nigeria. Nobody ask for O’ levels before commencing residency training in any specialty.


Dabo Hammad:  Therefore, there is no logic for requesting O’ level results for Ph.D. admission. Practically, there will be no tangible research without PhD students. Consequently, if our universities continue with this silliness, they will never be within the global academic radar.

Al Mamun Mahmud Mallam: It’s an ‘ABU and Nigerian standard’ thing.

Dr. Umaru Samaila: It is not only ABU it’s all Nigerian universities based on NUC regulations. It’s just a check to determine your admission for first and master’s degree.

Sunusi Musa: It really beats my imagination. I wonder, what is the nexus between WAEC and Ph.D.?

Abubakar Alhaji Ahmed: It’s not ABU Alone. There was a case of a professor who aspired to be a VC but was having issues with O’ levels.

Babamusa Dannasir: FUT Minna did the same to me. I applied for masters in disaster and risk management, they told me I didn’t have five credits, I said I did and showed them, they said that Islamic studies didn’t count. Then it should be scrapped.

Adam Ahmed: Dr. Dooba, this matter was thoroughly discussed in the last CDPGS (Committee of Deans of PG Schools in Nigeria universities) meeting with NUC some  two months ago. I believe that the anomalies are being corrected.

Zainab Magaji: The same reason why promotions in the Nigerian civil service is not based on actual job input but on passing some funny examination where people just copy each other, because most often, what you do in the office has little to do with the exam questions.

Muneer Sanusi: I was denied admission to study Ph.D. history at Yar’dua University Katsina, due to the mathematics deficiency. I’d to write WAEC again, before being admitted this year.

Salisu Monsuru: Naija education frustrates people. Hope they didn’t ask for birth certificate, letter from local government, etc.

Salisu Dantsoho Muhammed: Our educational system is still at analogue stage, those who are concerned are yet to understand the current trend in global education.