Maths Masters

Saw this in The Star this morning. This is the online version of the article:


Sunday December 5, 2010

Maths masters


Knowing their numbers have certainly brought six young Malaysians a long way.

The students, aged between 15 and 19, recently had the chance to meet and compete with Maths whizzes from around the world at the 51st International Mathematical Olymiad (IMO) in Kazakhstan. And they returned home with Malaysia’s best performance to date, bagging a silver and bronze medal, and three honourable mentions.

But it certainly took more than just luck for the opportunity to battle against participants from 96 other countries.

Malaysian Mathematical Sciences Society (Persama) vice president Assoc Prof Dr Arsmah Ibrahim said that the participants were selected from a total of 8,000 secondary school students who competed in the Malaysian Mathematical Olympiad. From there, only 40 students were selected for intensive screenings and workshops.

She added that the shortlisted candidates also went for two international competitions — the Asia Pacific Mathematical Olympiad in Japan, and the Tournament of Towns Mathematical Competition in Russia.

Silver medalist Tham Ying Hong, 16, who also participated in the IMO last year, said the best thing about Maths was that it challenged him to innovate and think of a new solution all the time.

“It is very pleasing to finally figure out a problem after thinking about it for days!” he shared.

Ying Hong, from SMJK Katholik, Petaling Jaya, said that even though he had to set aside a lot of time for the IMO training and seminars, his school work was not affected.

“Half of the subjects in school can be easily handled. After all, I enjoy Science as much as Maths, so in terms of catching up, I only have to focus on the language classes and History.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, the determined lad said that he already has his sights set on the gold medal in next year’s competition.

Also a high-achiever was bronze medalist How Si Wei, 15, from SMK USJ 12, Subang Jaya.

Qualifying for the IMO this year with his twin brother, How Si Yu, it was apparent that the competition for them begins at home.

When asked what the best experience was from the competition, Si Wei said without hesitation, “I managed to beat my brother!”

Persama member and former participant M. Suhaimi Ramly, who was the team leader for the participants this year, said that the competition gets tougher each year.

“The bar is raised every year, so the training we provide for our participants are also more intensive.”

He said that while there was no strict syllabus for participants to study, the training revolved around the Olympiad Cannon, which covers areas such as number theory, algebra, combinatorics, and geometry.

Supported by the Education Ministry, ExxonMobil Subsi-diaries Malaysia contributed a sum of RM100,000 to fund the intensive training programmes and materials, and also paid for the registration fees at the competitions.

The company’s human resources director Lokman Baharuddin said, “The IMO is a great platform to recognise young Malaysian talents in the field of Mathematics at an international level.

“In supporting this programme, ExxonMobil hopes to promote greater interest in Mathematics and Science education among students and contribute towards a future quality workforce that will be more innovative and productive.”

Suhaimi said that the competition can get serious, especially during the judging sessions: “Because there are many ways of solving a problem, sometimes team leaders can become too obsessed, and even cause major arguments.”

On the Malaysian contingent’s performance at the competition, Dr Arsmah said, “We are very proud of their achievements.”


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