by Marisa Louw

A calculated decision

Department of Basic Education pledged R6 million towards International Mathematical Olympiad

R6 million towards International Mathematics Olympiad
The South African team in Argentina

After recently running the risk of having to cancel the 55th annual International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) to be hosted in Cape Town next year, the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) is proud to announce that the Department of Basic Education pledged R6 million towards this prestigious event. 

The Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mr Mohamed Enver Surty says that it is with great excitement that the Department welcomes the Olympiad to our shores in 2014. “The Department of Basic Education has identified mathematics as a priority area and every effort is being made to ensure that not only is there an increase in learner enrolment in this subject but also an improvement in the quality of results that learners achieve in mathematics.”

The efforts made by the SAMF and the Department can be clearly seen in the record number of entries for this year’s South African Mathematics Olympiad in which a total of 81 578 learners from 1 031 schools registered for the first round that took place on 14 March. Dinaledi schools were given the opportunity to enter at least 100 learners and some provincial education departments agreed to pay the entry fee on behalf of the schools. 

This marks an increase of 22 000 learners from 2012, and is also a huge increase on the previous record of 60 418 entries set in 2009.  It is also noteworthy that a total of 199 schools participated in the South African Mathematics Olympiad for the first time ever this year. The SAMF is however frustrated at the major delays caused by striking workers at the South African Post Office, causing some schools to write the first round later than the stipulated date. 

“We are extremely excited about the support from our government for this prestigious event. It shows real commitment from government to address the important issue of mathematics in the country” says Prof Johann Engelbrecht, executive director of SAMF. 

“While there is widespread concern about the high failure rate and generally low marks of most of those who passed, not enough attention has been paid to those who passed with high marks. Society needs more quality maths passes. 

"We need architects, accountants, computer scientists, engineers, statisticians and teachers with a strong mathematical background, including numerical, spatial and logical skills. We need to offer pupils opportunities to expand their mathematical horizons and to urge them on to high achievement.” 

“One answer lies outside the formal school curriculum,” explains Engelbrecht. “Over the years, tens of thousands of high school students have taken part in events such as the South African Mathematics Olympiad and the best of the best have gone on to represent South Africa at the Pan African and International Mathematics Olympiads. 

Their subsequent careers (Rhodes Scholarships, PhDs in maths and computer science, top careers in IT or industry or finance) demonstrate the value of searching for highly talented young mathematicians and giving them a real chance of showing what they can achieve in competition with the best in the world.” 

“To win a medal at the International Mathematical Olympiad will require a good deal of talent and hard work.  More than matric maths will be needed. Just as the Olympic Games and World Cups in cricket, rugby and football promote sport, hosting the International Mathematical Olympiad in South Africa in 2014 will focus attention on the importance of mathematical excellence.”

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