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Grace Alele-Williams: Consummate, resolute trailblazing scholar



THE history of Nigeria’s University education system would have question marks if there is no mention of Grace Alele- Williams. She stands tall not only among her female contemporaries but also in the entire academic world. She is an inspiration to her gender.
She trod the path where most women dreaded in scholastic pursuits, Mathematics. She rose to the pinnacle in her field, as well as to the zenith of university administration, a rare feat for the female world to date, as it is still uncommon to find female professors of mathematics in Nigerian universities.
Her name still resonates in the academic world. She is professor emeritus of Mathematics and the first female vice chancellor of a Nigerian university; University of Benin. Her eight-year tenure as University of Benin Vice Chancellor which was described as one of the best in the history of the university, also illustrates that anyone can choose to be exceptional in life and be distinguished in any vocation irrespective of the gender. Her scorecard at University of Benin, garnered more respect for her.
Prof. Alele, who in 1963, became the first Nigerian woman to obtain a doctorate degree, values the role of the woman in the family but doesn’t subscribe to Nigerian concept of the functions of the woman attached to the kitchen and rearing of children.
She was born in Warri, Nigeria, in 1932. Her academic brilliance earned her a government scholarship at Queens College, Lagos. She also enjoyed a government scholarship at the University College Ibadan, (now the University of Ibadan), where she obtained an Honors Degree in Mathematics in 1954. She began her teaching career at Queens School, Ede, Osun State on completion of her undergraduate study, where she was education officer (Mathematics) from 1954 to 1957. From 1957 to 1959, she was graduate Assistant, Mathematics Department, University of Vermont; Burlington, USA. The professor of mathematics received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1963.
While in the United States, she worked with the African Mathematics Program in Newton, Massachusetts, under the leadership of MIT Professor Ted Martins. She also participated in mathematics workshops held in various African cities from 1963 to 1975
Prof. Alele returned to Nigeria for a couple of years and did her postdoctoral work at the University of Ibadan before joining the Faculty of Education of the University of Lagos in 1965.
The erudite scholar taught at the University of Lagos from 1965 to 1975. She was appointed a professor of mathematics at the university in 1976 and spent a decade directing the Institute of Education, which introduced innovative non-degree programmes, with many older women working as elementary school teachers as recipients of the certificates.
On her appointment as Vice Chancellor in 1985, she said, “The excitement I felt on receiving the news from Professor Jubril Aminu (the then Minister of Education) had more to do with seeing it in terms of opening up the field for women than anything else. I saw it as an opportunity to show that women too could rise up to the occasion.
Also, I knew what the weight of the expectations of the women were. They were eager to see how things would go and I was not going to let them down. Mind you, those who appointed me felt I was qualified for it; so it was not just a case of wanting to satisfy the yearnings of the womenfolk. It wasn’t that simplistic.”
The appointment, which ended in 1992, she believed, was a test case to demonstrate women’s executive capability. Aside the academic gains the university made, one of her most valuable impacts was to stem growing tide of cultism in the university, when the activities of secret cults, confraternities, and societies had spread within the Nigerian Universities.
The professor of Mathematics specialized in the rare but vital area of making children understand the basic concepts of Mathematics. In the course of her teaching career, she had strong focus on teachers of the subject reshaping their understanding and effectiveness. Her works have been acclaimed as leading authorities in the development of teachers and students alike, especially in the area of Modern Mathematics.
Besides teaching mathematics, she also made useful contributions in the development of education in Nigeria by serving as chairman of the curriculum review committee in the former Bendel State 1973-1979.. She served as chairman of the Lagos State Curriculum Review Committee and Lagos State Examinations Boards from 1979-1985.
Prof. Alele author of many publications is a recipient of Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR).She is a Fellow of Mathematical Association of Nigeria since 1987 and a fellow Nigerian Academy of Education. A role model per Excellence, Prof. Alele is married to late Babatunde Williams, a former university don, they are blessed with five children and ten grandchildren.

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