At first glance Esther Okade seems like a normal 10-year-old. She loves dressing up as Elsa from “Frozen,” playing with Barbie dolls and going to the park or shopping.
But what makes the British-Nigerian youngster stand out is the fact that she’s also a university undergraduate.
Esther, from Walsall, an industrial town in the UK’s West Midlands region, is one of the country’s youngest college freshmen.
The talented 10-year-old enrolled at the Open University, a UK-based distance learning college, in January and is already top of the class, having recently scored 100% in a recent exam.
“It’s so interesting. It has the type of maths I love. It’s real maths — theories, complex numbers, all that type of stuff,” she giggles. “It was super easy. My mum taught me in a nice way.”
She adds: “I want to (finish the course) in two years. Then I’m going to do my PhD in financial maths when I’m 13. I want to have my own bank by the time I’m 15 because I like numbers and I like people and banking is a great way to help people.”
And in case people think her parents have pushed her into starting university early, Esther emphatically disagrees.
“I actually wanted to start when I was seven. But my mum was like, “you’re too young, calm down.” After three years of begging, mother Efe finally agreed to explore the idea.
A marvelous mathematical mind
Esther has always jumped ahead of her peers. She sat her first Math GSCE exam, a British high school qualification, at Ounsdale High School in Wolverhampton at just six, where she received a C-grade. A year later, she outdid herself and got the A-grade she wanted. Then last year she scored a B-grade when she sat the Math A-level exam.
Esther’s mother noticed her daughter’s flair for figures shortly after she began homeschooling her at the age of three. Initially, Esther’s parents had enrolled her in a private school but after a few short weeks, the pair began noticing changes in the usually-vibrant youngster.
Efe says: “One day we were coming back home and she burst out in tears and she said ‘I don’t ever want to go back to that school — they don’t even let me talk!’
“In the UK, you don’t have to start school until you are five. Education is not compulsory until that age so I thought OK, we’ll be doing little things at home until then. Maybe by the time she’s five she will change her mind.”
Efe started by teaching basic number skills but Esther was miles ahead. By four, her natural aptitude for maths had seen the eager student move on to algebra and quadratic equations.
And Esther isn’t the only maths prodigy in the family. Her younger brother Isaiah, 6, will soon be sitting his first A-level exam in June.
A philanthropic family
Not content with breaking barriers to attend college at just 10 years old, Esther is also writing a series of math workbooks for children called “Yummy Yummy Algebra.”
“It starts at a beginner level — that’s volume one. But then there will be volume two, and volume three, and then volume four. But I’ve only written the first one.
“As long as you can add or subtract, you’ll be able to do it. I want to show other children they are special,” she says.
Meanwhile, Esther’s parents are also trying to trail blaze their own educational journey back in Nigeria.
The couple have set up a foundation and are in the process of building a nursery and primary school in Nigeria’s Delta region (where the family are from). Named “Shakespeare’s Academy,” they hope to open the school’s doors in September.
The proposed curriculum will have all the usual subjects such as English, languages, math and science, as well as more unconventional additions including morality and ethics, public speaking, entrepreneurship and etiquette. The couple say they want to emulate the teaching methods that worked for their children rather than focus on one way of learning.
“Some children learn very well with kinesthetics where they learn with their hands — when they draw they remember things. Some children have extremely creative imaginations. Instead of trying to make children learn one way, you teach them based on their learning style,” explains Efe.
The educational facility will have a capacity of 2,000 to 2,500 students with up to 30% of students being local children offered scholarships to attend.
Efe says: “On one hand, billions of dollars worth of crude oil is pumped out from that region on a monthly basis and yet the poverty rate of the indigenous community is astronomical.”
While Paul adds: “(The region has) poor quality of nursery and primary education. So by the time the children get secondary education they haven’t got a clue. They haven’t developed their core skills.
“The school is designed to give children an aim so they can study for something, not just for the sake of acquiring certifications. There is an end goal.”