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The essential role of statistics in university education

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By Dr. Arowolo Ayoola

Statistics, often seen as just another branch of mathematics, holds a far more pivotal role in education and should be considered a mandatory course across all university disciplines. This assertion stems not only from the practical application of statistics but also from my personal academic journey, which underscored the importance of understanding real-world applications of mathematical concepts.

During my school years, I excelled in mathematics, consistently earning top grades. However, I struggled to connect with mathematical formulas when their applications in the real world weren’t clear. While I could memorize these formulas for exams, they never resonated with me on a deeper level. This disconnection was particularly evident during my secondary school years when students were allowed to choose between further mathematics and economics as an elective. To the surprise of many of my peers, I switched from further mathematics to economics after just two weeks of classes. This decision proved to be transformative, marking one of the best choices of my academic life.

Economics was enlightening and engaging because it connected theoretical concepts with everyday experiences. I could easily relate the laws of demand and supply to my mother’s small trading business, understanding theories of cost, revenue, and the distribution chain from manufacturers to consumers. This relevance made the subject come alive. In contrast, the abstract nature of calculus left me baffled and uninterested, as no one took the time to explain its practical implications in a context I cared about.

Despite my initial disinterest in mathematical applications, my perspective shifted dramatically when I encountered statistics. The topic of probability was particularly revelatory. Understanding that the flip of a coin resulted in equal probabilities for heads and tails, or that each face of a die had an equal chance of landing, made abstract mathematical principles tangible and directly applicable to daily life.
This newfound appreciation for statistics only grew as I pursued a degree in automobile technology. To my surprise, statistics formed a core part of the curriculum in automobile design. This field required not just mechanical knowledge but also a deep understanding of statistical methods. I was particularly drawn to anthropometry, where statistical data about body dimensions are utilized to optimize product designs, such as ensuring a car can comfortably accommodate a wide range of body sizes. Designers use statistical tools to determine, for example, the range of body sizes that a vehicle must support to ensure that 95% of the population can use it comfortably.

The utility of statistics extends beyond individual sectors like automobile design. It is foundational in fields as diverse as sports, politics, medicine, engineering, and business. Statistics helps us analyze sports performances, understand factors associated with diseases, and adapt businesses to meet customer needs.

Given its vast applications and the ability to make informed decisions it provides, statistics should indeed be a compulsory subject in universities, tailored to the specific needs of each field of study. This approach would not only enhance educational outcomes but also equip students with critical skills necessary for success in diverse careers.

 Dr. Ayoola can be reached at arowolo.ayoola@dataleadafrica.com

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