Maths competition ups the stakes

17 April 2012 | Story by Newsroom

Ntombentsha Thomas was pacing around campus nervously with school mates.

maths_competition Learners excitedly gathered on Jameson Plaza after the competition
Brainteasers: Learners had plenty to think about. Comparing notes: Learners excitedly gathered on Jameson Plaza after the competition, checking to see who got what right.

The 2012 UCT Mathematics Competition was her first, and the grade-12 learner from Manyano High School in Khayelitsha wasn't sure what to expect. She'd looked at a couple of past papers from the event, and her prepping had mostly involved going over her school work a couple of times. But she was trying to take things in her stride.

"I can't say I'm worried - I'm more nervous than worried," the chatty Thomas summed up her emotions.

The scale of the event perhaps surprised her. Thomas was one of a record number of 8,312 learners from 153 Western Cape schools who had signed up for the event, hosted at a jam-packed upper campus on Monday, 16 April. ("Why are there so many kids here?" one surprised UCT student asked a Monday Paper reporter.)

More salted in the event was Thys du Toit from Hopefield High School on the West Coast. Du Toit and four of his classmates had done at least one Mathematics Competition each, and were calmly sipping on coffee, recovering from the long drive to UCT.

The questions, experience told them, were more or less similar to what they do at school. Most times.

"They do try to catch you out sometimes, though," said Du Toit.

Later the evening, the learners - from grade 8 to grade 12 - were shepherded to 63 venues around campus, where they set about the 30 questions each grade had been assigned to tackle in 75 minutes in their respective papers.

There were minor glitches - learners arrived late or ended up in the wrong venues, and those in a dimly lit Jameson Hall had to squint for a few minutes until someone figured out how to switch on the main overhead lights. But despite the logistical juggling the event demands, the competition largely went off without a hitch, reported the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics' Professor John Webb, the driving force behind the competition.

Possibly the largest such event in the world - all the competitors at one location at the same time - the event is still growing, noted Webb. "I was particularly pleased with the substantial increase in numbers of learners from black schools," he said.

This year, over 500 learners from Khayelitsha alone - another record - took part in the competition. That was thanks to the efforts of the Schools Improvement Initiative (SII) who bussed in the kids from the community's 20 schools, all part of UCT's 100-UP programme.

"It was the first time at the competition for most of the schools," said the SDU's Ferial Parker. "One or two had taken part before, but this was the first time that we got all 20 schools involved."

Engineering group Aurecon donated R20,000 towards transport for the Khayelitsha learners. Capitec, the competition's main sponsor, contributed R100,000. In addition, Casio supplies calculators and watches as prizes for Gold Award winners, while Oxford University Press will award about 100 books as school prizes.

View more photos on Flickr.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.