This is what SA's Top Young Mathematicians look like

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Earlier this afternoon the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) and Old Mutual hosted the 2020 Annual Awards Function as a live broadcast on the SAMF YouTube channel. The event honoured learners, schools, and teachers that achieved in the various development programmes run by the organisation every year.  Andi Qu (Grade 12) from St. John’s College walked away with the title of Best Young Mathematician in the Senior division, while Minkyum Kim (Grade 9) from Reddam House Durbanville was awarded the Best Young Mathematician in the Junior division of the Old Mutual South African Mathematics Olympiad, that is co-sponsored by the South African Institute for Chartered Accountants (SAICA).

In his keynote address Prof Jonathan Jansen, former Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State, said that "so much of our system of education is built on mediocrity, built on just getting by." He continued by saying that "there is something in the way we teach mathematics that doesn't encourage people to think laterally, to be more efficient, to get to an answer in their own way because we are so traditional and rule-bound." Jansen highlighted that, “apart from its intellectual values, mathematics also has social values. It teaches you how to solve problems together.”

“What South Africa needs in this 21st century is high-level skills, and high-level skills are often based on competence in mathematics. The South African Mathematics Foundation for me, represents an example of what can be if we take education very seriously. Thank you for being the lodestar for education and thank you to all of those who are the teachers in the Olympiads. Thank you for refusing to be part of this mediocry and thank you for the work that you do, because without you a bad situation would be much more dire for our young people and our country.”

Prof Kerstin Jordaan, the executive director at the SAMF feels that South Africa needs a larger quantity and better quality of mathematically skilled people. Why? “Because mathematics underpins all innovation in finance, engineering, and business,” she explained. “For this reason, one of the main goals of the SAMF is to make a positive impact on the standard of mathematics teaching and learning in South Africa. The learners, schools, and volunteers who received recognition today are proof that we are well on our way to making an impact. Congratulations to everyone who received rewards and thank you to all the teachers and parents who make these achievements possible.”

Teachers play a vital role in the development of mathematics in the country. Without passionate mathematics teachers, there will be no Olympiads. That is why the SAMF awards schools for participation in the NESTLÉ NESPRAY South African Mathematics Challenge (SAMC) and the Old Mutual South African Mathematics Olympiad (SAMO).

“Congratulations to all the 2020 NESTLÉ NESPRAY South African Mathematics Challenge winners.  We are so proud of all learners and schools that took part in the Challenge and still managed to perform to the best of their abilities. Our role as NESTLÉ NESPRAY is to emphasize the importance of nutrition for the cognitive and physical growth development of school-going children” said Yovini Moodley, Business Executive Officer at Nestlé South Africa.

Competing in the Olympiad requires dedication. To reach the top 10 learners out of more than 86,000 participants who took part in the first round of the SAMO is quite an achievement. Olympiad mathematics is so much more than the problem solving found in the standard school curriculum.

“We are proud to be working with the South African Mathematics Foundation to improve education, particularly scarce skills like mathematics,” said Celiwe Ross, mining engineer turned Human Capital Director at Old Mutual. “The world has become heavily reliant on technology and this will most likely influence how companies select prospective employees – students with higher mathematical aptitude are more likely to stand a better chance stepping into the job market. At Old Mutual, we really believe in creating a mathematically enabling environment, which provides opportunities for all learners to develop to their fullest potential, which is what the South African Mathematics Olympiad strives to do. This year is particularly special – with so many disruptions to the academic year, the students still managed to do exceptionally well. A heartfelt congratulations and well done to all the participants and winners.”

The awards also featured recognition of special achievements and honorary awards. Mr Alwyn Olivier, a former lecturer from the University of Stellenbosch received a long service award for serving on the SAMC Problem Committee and an honorary award for substantial contribution to SAMF Olympiad programmes. Other recipients of long service awards were Mr Leon Roode from the Western Cape Department of Education, Mr Mark Rushby of Sweet Valley Primary School, Mr Steven Muthige from the Limpopo Department of Education, and Dr Vasuthavan Govender from the Eastern Cape Department of Education. Mr Michael Vamvadelis from Bishops Diocesan College also received a 10-year service award for serving on the SAMO committee

The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), co-sponsor of the SAMO adds: “As a scarce-skills profession, the chartered accountancy profession is in dire need of talented learners who have expressed an aptitude and love for mathematics. SAICA is delighted to see how many young South Africans have excelled in this year’s SAMO and worked so hard to develop the much-needed problem solving skills our country needs. We congratulate all the winners as well as all learners who took part this year,” says Chantyl Mulder, Executive Director of Nation Building at SAICA.

The 2020 Annual Awards can be watched on the SAMF YouTube channel.

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