Brightest young maths minds shine at Cape Town Olympiad

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first_imgSome of the 560 contestants from over 100 different countries writing the first test at the 2014 International Mathematical Olympiad, held at the University of Cape Town in early July. (Image: IMO2014)• Marisa LouwHead of communicationIMO2014+27 72 987 [email protected] KearneyGrade 12 student Robin Visser did South Africa proud, earning a bronze medal in the International Mathematical Olympiad 2014  (IMO2014), held at the University of Cape Town over the past week.The medals were handed out at the closing ceremony on Saturday evening, after a week of rigorous work and serious fun. The annual event – held in July each year – is more than just a contest for the world’s brightest young maths minds: it is also a time to build networks and forge bonds. Friendships and collaboration from the week carry on into later life as the students become leaders in their fields internationally.Visser, a pupil at St George’s Grammar School in Cape Town, joins the other medalists, led by Alexander Grunning from Australia, Jiyang Gao from the People’s Republic of China and Po-Sheng Wu from Taiwan, each with a score of 42 points, or 100%. A total of 295 medals were awarded at the closing ceremony: 49 gold, with a score of 29 or more points; 113 silver, with a score of 22 to 28 points; and 133 bronze, with a score of 16 to 21 points.Speaking after the medals were handed out, Visser said: “It was a great privilege to participate, and we are pleased with our results. It was very tough, but we did the best that we could.” The IMO is considered to be the world’s hardest Olympiad for high school students. Participating, Visser said, “is something which I’m grateful for and which I can only attribute to hard work, perseverance and determination”.The South African team had learned how to think about problems in a different way, and how other countries approached problems. “We learned how to manage our time better,” said teammate Sanjiv Ranchod. “It was a really great experience. There were lots of different cultures and South Africa got to showcase itself.”Robin Visser, a pupil at St George’s Grammar School in Cape Town, won a bronze medal for South Africa. (Image: Lorraine Kearney)Top marksAustralia’s Grunning was modest about his score. “I did this paper well,” he said. “I don’t know if I would have done another paper well because I only wrote this one. But I am pleased.” Taiwanese Wu was delighted: “I am overwhelmed. I must thank my family, my teacher and my school.” All of the winners agreed that “the best way to get better at maths is to practice”.A total of 101 countries participated. Out of the 560 contestants, 56 were female. Even though the IMO is a competition for individuals, the countries are also ranked based on the teams’ collective individual results. The top five countries in ranking order were: People’s Republic of China, the United States, Taiwan, the Russian Federation and Japan. South Africa was ranked 64th, receiving four honourable mentions – solving at least one problem completely – and a bronze medal.Hosting the event in South Africa, the first time it was held in Africa, was seen as a positive way to inspire pupils and students to do maths, which was “so important to the world, especially the developing world”, said Sandra Klopper, UCT’s vice-chancellor.Some of the gold medal winners at the Olympiad. (Image: Lorraine Kearney)On the right trackBasic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was confident that participants were future leaders and revolutionaries. “Our department prioritises maths because of its impact on the development strategy of our country,” she said. “I know that education is not of the quality we would like, especially maths, science and technology, but we are making continual improvements. I am convinced we will get better and hold our own in the world.”Such competitions were important as they helped to benchmark South Africa against the world: “We get a feel of where we are as a country and where the world is; we get geared to run the race.” She also offered to swap numbers with prospective maths teachers: “I have a bursary for you.”For the country to improve its results, her department would continue doing what it was doing and had planned. “We are implementing the recommendations [from our commission]; we are talking to universities and continuing to benchmark internationally. We are putting in place programmes to continue what we’re doing more intensively. We are on the right track.”Already strong partnerships with higher education and the private sector were also being strengthened, particularly in the creation of teaching materials and reaching the target of one book for each schoolchild.The world’s oldest and toughest OlympiadDuring their time in Cape Town, the students spent two days writing papers. They also toured the peninsula, visited Ocean View township and learned African games and music.The IMO, the oldest, toughest Olympiad, is the world championship maths competition for youths under 20, and is hosted by a different country each year. It was first held in 1959 in Romania, with seven countries participating. It has gradually expanded to over 100 countries from five continents. It was hosted by the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) at UCT from 3 July. The contestants returned home yesterday. The IMO’s main sponsors were the Department of Basic Education, Google, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the South African National Roads Agency Limited and Sasol.Prof Johann Engelbrecht, the executive director of the SAMF, agreed that “not everything is going well” in education in South Africa, but pointed out that many things were working already. “One of our big problems is that we are not using our current generation to inspire the next generation. We must try to raise the status of the current maths teachers.”One of the ways of doing this is through competitions. UCT’s Prof John Webb, the director of IMO2014 and a member of the IMO Advisory Board, said: “We have found that maths competitions and enormously effective and cost-effective in generating interest in maths. South Africa has been sending teams to the IMO for 20 years; now the past teams are training the teams of today.”Off to ThailandThe 56th IMO will be held in Chiang Mai, in Thailand, from 3 to 15 July 2015. The South African team will be announced by the end of May next year and team members will be selected from the top performing pupils in this year’s South African Mathematics Olympiad. It is an annual competition for high school students, as well as youngsters who perform well in other SAMF programmes.Engelbrecht encouraged teachers to enter their pupils in the South African Olympiad. “Learners will be exposed to problems that will test and improve their critical thinking skills,” he said. “Schools will also benefit from learners’ participation in that they will get a better quality of product. Last but not least are the Grade 12 learners, who will specifically benefit because the questions are similar to those at university level.”Registration for next year’s South African Mathematics Olympiad opens in January 2015 and schools that would like to enter their pupils can contact the SAMF office on 012 392 9362 or send an email to [email protected]last_img

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