30th January, 2010
A scientist from Mali has shown mathematically that practice makes perfect, even in science! He is one of the eminent scientists and African Science Heroes that I am profiling – Prof. Diola Bagayoko. He is a distinguished Professor of Physics at Southern University Baton Rouge, USA and founder of the Timbuktu Academy. In a conversation I had with him recently he described one of his greatest achievements – The Power Law of Human Performance or of Practice (PLP) which states that the time (T) it takes an individual to perform a given, simple task decreases as the number of times (N) the individual practices the task increases. This law applies to the performance of athletic, creative and intellectual tasks. He has written that “the shorter the time T to perform the task, completely and correctly, the higher the level of proficiency is” so… to become more proficient, you should practice more. The figure below graphically shows this model. Prof. Bagayoko says “that genius is mostly the result of sustained, competitive practice (efforts)” and that the same way adequate practice is needed for Olympic training is the same in the making of scientists and therefore the law of human performance provides the scientific basis for high expectations for all students and is a fail-safe strategy for promoting the academic excellence of all students regardless of race, sex, or economic background. This law is ingrained in the teaching philosophy of Timbuktu Academy , USA – an institution he set up in 1990 that runs recruitment, holistic mentoring, and research participation programs for middle school to graduate school students. The Academy is extremely successful with a significant number of students in high school attaining high scores, proceeding to college to study physics, chemistry or engineering and some even going up to graduate level training. He has won several awards including in 2002, the much coveted US Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. He has developed several principles that have propelled Timbuktu Academy to success including the ten commandments of systemic mentoring which to name a few include financial support, communication skill enhancement, tutoring, development of computer skills and guidance whilst the problem solving paradigm includes knowledge, skill, resource, strategy-experience, and behavior . I was very encouraged to hear that “Anyone can be made into an intellectual giant, (a genius)!” .
Read more at – Education Vol. 115, No. 1, 31, 1994