Monday 23 July 2012

Olympic fever should extend to math contests

Olympic fever should extend to math contests
By Andres Oppenheimer The Miami Herald

What’s most interesting about the 100-country International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) that took place last week in Mar del Plata, Argentina, was not that Asian students won the top prizes — they often do — but the fact that the event went virtually unnoticed in our part of the world.

While the July 4-16 math tournament got widespread media coverage in Singapore, South Korea, China and other Asian countries, it drew little attention in U.S. and Latin American media.

Our TV networks are already sending teams of reporters to cover javelin throws, archery and synchronized swimming competitions at the upcoming London Olympics, but few — if any — sent a correspondent to the Mar del Plata math tournament.

For the record, the 53rd annual IMO tournament of high school students was won by the six-member team of South Korea, which won six gold medals, followed by the teams of China (2nd), the United States (3rd), Russia (4th), Canada (5th), Thailand (6th) and Singapore (7th).

Among the Latin American countries, the best team was that of Peru, which ranked 16th, followed by Brazil (19th), Mexico (31st), Colombia (46th), Costa Rica (46th), Argentina (54th), Chile (59th), Venezuela (91st) and Cuba (95th).

Individually, the top prize was won by Lim Jeck, 17, of Singapore, who won a gold medal with a perfect score and became an instant media star in his home country.

Argentina, this year’s IMO host country, is a case study of how little attention is paid to education in many Latin American countries.

Most Argentine newspapers published only a few paragraphs about the math competition, if any, and most of it was buried in their society or culture pages. Neither President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, nor the country’s education minister, nor any other top-level government official attended the event’s inauguration.

At a time when many international studies show that well-trained teachers are the single most important tool to improve countries’ education standards, garbage collectors and truck drivers in Argentina make much more money than teachers.

As I learned during a visit to Argentina a few weeks ago, truck drivers in that country make 2.8 times the minimum wage, garbage collectors 2.6 times the minimum wage, and teachers 1.3 times the minimum wage. A teacher working double shifts makes 2.59 times the minimum wage, still less than a truck driver or garbage collector.

Largely because of Argentina’s failure to evaluate its teachers and offer merit pay to the best qualified ones, education standards have plummeted in recent years.

The country, once among Latin America’s best educated ones, today ranks near the bottom in the international standardized PISA test of 15-year-old students, significantly behind Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, Colombia and other countries in the region.

In Mexico, while teachers make more than garbage collectors and truck drivers, a government crusade to improve education standards suffered a major blow earlier this month when only 30 percent of teachers attended a national teacher evaluation test. Earlier government plans to start a merit pay system for good teachers are now in limbo.

In case you are wondering whether there’s any relation between match and science education and countries’ economic growth, there is.

This year’s IMO winner South Korea, which was much poorer than virtually all Latin American countries only fifty years ago, last year registered 13,500 international patents for new inventions, whereas all Latin American countries together only 500, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

In recent days, following President Barack Obama’s announcement that he plans to create an elite teachers corps that will pay professors of math and science an extra $20,000 a year, many Latin American educators stressed that without economic incentives and greater academic requirements, it will be hard to attract good teachers for Latin American schools.

My opinion: In the growing East vs. West battle for the best academic standards, we in the media share a large of responsibility for not putting education at the top of the public agenda.

There is nothing wrong with massive press coverage of the London Olympics. But when we focus our entire attention on sports competitions and virtually ignore math tournaments, we create only one kind of role models, and fail to glorify those who are the most likely to make the scientific discoveries that can improve our living standards or conquer diseases. It’s time to glorify Olympic math champions, just as we glorify Olympic swimmers.

Read more here:

Sunday 22 July 2012

Puzzles a thrill for maths whizz

The Sunday Times 22 July 2012
by Matthias Chew

Click for a larger image
Thanks Matthias (who can write so well!) for the report and professional photographer, Yaohui, for trying his best to make Lim Jeck smile but failed :)

Puzzles a thrill for maths whizz, by Matthias Chew

Love for numbers runs in the family for S'pore boy who topped international contest.

The obsession with mind-bending conundrums came early. A favourite childhood activity for Singaporean student Lim Jeck, who won the International Mathematical Olympiad last week, was to create puzzles for others to solve.

A peek into a jotter book belonging to the then 10-year-old reveals drawings of intricate mazes, ranging from squiggly lines to the three-dimensional. Now 17, his interest in unravelling puzzles has not abated. His favourite maths topics - geometry and combinatorics, which is the study of permutations and combinations - are relatively light on theories and formulae. To excel in those areas, one needs a logical mind and problem-solving skills.

His bent in navigating spatial and logical challenges helped propel Jeck to the top of the Olympiad in Argentina a week ago, beating 547 other pre-university students from 100 countries. He is the first Singaporean to do so. In the process, the National University of Singapore (NUS) High School student attained a perfect score, also a first for a Singaporean, and the only one in this year's contest, which attracts the brightest young mathematical minds from around the globe. But he is not done. He is aiming to compete again at next year's Olympiad, which will be the last he qualifies for, as he is due to graduate from NUS High next year as well.

The thought of repeating his feat does not faze him. Said Jeck: "I have one year to prepare for that and I will be ready for the challenge." With the contest setting the hardest questions in the last two years in both his pet topics, it played to the Year 5 student's strengths. Jeck came close last year, but missed out on a perfect score by a mere two points 'because I was not careful'. The result? He was second overall. Even then, it was the best showing by any Singaporean, till his first place finish this year.

An interview with the Lim family at their Stirling Road condominium yesterday revealed a gifted teenager who prefers computer games to cramming for tests. "He doesn't study too hard, but somehow manages to do well," said his mother, Madam Ng Bee Yong, 47, who runs an IT software firm with Jeck's father, Mr Lim Beng Cheng, 51. She said his As come in maths, physics, chemistry and computing, but he gets Bs and the occasional C for languages.

Jeck, however, is reticent in person, and it was his older sister, Min, who revealed that his other hobbies are reading and watching anime, and solving jigsaw puzzles. He was more forthcoming on e-mail. Asked who he would credit for developing his talent in maths, he singled out his family. "Without their guidance and support I wouldn't have come so far." His sisters, Min, 18, who is in JC 2 at Raffles Institution, and Li, 13, in Secondary 1 at NUS High, are both also mathematically inclined. The siblings are a fixture at local maths competitions, and Min also represented Singapore at the China Girls Maths Olympiad last year.

But like many boys his age, Jeck's mind these days is not on maths so much as the online game Minecraft. The multi-player game allows players to build structures, and Jeck exploits the game's lack of limits to create complex puzzles for his friends to manoeuvre out of. Indeed, playing Minecraft was the first thing Jeck did when he arrived home from Argentina on Wednesday.

While he has yet to decide where and what to study at university, one thing has not changed from when he was a little boy. He said he "would like to make maths, as well as computing, my career".

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Hair For Hope

Before (Lim Min with 12S06I classmates (boys) Gao Ming, Jen-U, Nicholas, Brandon, (girls) Deborah, Ming Zhen, Jane and Alex) 

Before (Lim Min with good friends Tian Yu and Jia Hui)


With Supporters
Lim Min has raised a total of S$655 for the Children's Cancer Foundation. Well done, Lim Min!

The following persons have each donated S$50 or more:
Bee Hong, Sudha, Ms Ma, Daisey, Bee Yong, Lim Jeck, Lim Li

I think Mrs Lim Lai Cheng, the principal of RI, has generously donated another S$100 for each girl who has her hair shaved. There are 18 girls in total, which means she would have donated $1,800 to Children's Cancer Foundation. :)

Thanks to everyone who donated!

S'porean Boy's Perfect Score

The Straits Times 18 July 2012
by Matthias Chew

Click for a larger image

Perfect win for S'pore boy in maths contest, by Matthias Chew 

NUS High School student Lim Jeck, 17, beat 547 others to clinch the top spot in this year's International Mathematical Olympiad. His perfect score of 42 was a first for a Singaporean, and the only one in this year's competition.

Lim Jeck has become the first Singaporean to clinch the top spot in a prestigious mathematics competition. The 17-year-old beat 547 other youngsters to rank first in this year's edition of the International Mathematical Olympiad in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

In the week-long contest which ended on Sunday, pre-university students attempted to solve six questions, each worth up to seven points. The top 9 per cent were awarded gold medals. Jeck's perfect score of 42 was a first for a Singaporean, and the only one in this year's competition. He pipped South Korea's Kim Dong Ryul, who scored 40, and Bobby Shen of the United States, who scored 39.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) High School student's win meant he went one better than last year, when he finished second. Then 16, he qualified for a gold medal along with three other teammates. The four-gold haul was Singapore's best showing to date, and the six-man team placed third overall. But this year, the Republic slipped to seventh out of 100 countries, with Jeck the only gold medallist. NUS High's Ling Yan Hao, and Raffles Institution's (RI) Ryan Kor and Lee You Jun took silver, while Lawrence Li from RI and Ang Yan Sheng from NUS High took bronze. South Korea came in first, with all six team members taking gold. China placed second while the US came in third. Singapore started taking part in the 53-year-old competition in 1988. Before last year, it had won gold only once, in 1996.

The Straits Times was unable to reach Jeck yesterday, as the Republic's team was in the midst of travelling home. They are expected to arrive in Singapore this afternoon. Jeck's father, businessman Lim Beng Cheng, told The Straits Times that this was the fourth time his son had taken part in the competition. He won bronze at his first attempt in 2009, when he was just 14, and silver in 2010. Medals are typically given only to the top 50 per cent of competitors each year.

Jeck discovered his love for maths in primary school, by solving maths problems posted by others on the Internet, said his father. He added: "We didn't train him at all, and none of our children have tuition." Besides Jeck, Mr Lim has two daughters - Lim Min, 18, who attends RI and Lim Li, 13, who attends NUS High. Mr Lim also praised NUS High for helping his son "build a very strong maths foundation". He added: "Jeck's next step is to start some maths research, but because he is still very young, we will move on very slowly and not put stress on him."

From Lee Hsien Loong's Facebook  :P

Dear Prime Minister Sir, Thank You Very Much!  我们太受宠若惊了。

Monday 16 July 2012

IMO 2012 Results Out!

Finally, the IMO 2012 results were released!

Korea is ranked first (Total score 209, 6 Gold), followed by China (Total score 195, 5 Gold 1 Bronze) and USA (Total score 194, 5 Gold 1 Silver).

Singapore is ranked 7th (Total score 154, 1 Gold, 3 Silver, 2 Bronze).

Country Results. Total 100 countries. Full listing is here
 Lim Jeck is the only contestant who gets a perfect score of 42, and he is ranked World #1  :)

Individual Results. Total 548 contestants. Full listing is here
Results of Singapore Team.
Cut-off Point for Gold: Silver: Bronze is 28: 21: 14

Statistics. Notice only 8 contestants solved P3 completely, and 10 solved P6 completely.
Lim Jeck's IMO results - from 2009 to 2012. From rank #208 to #76, to #2, then to World #1!
He can take part again next year (Year 6/Grade 12, age 17).
Awesome, Lim Jeck. We are so proud of you :)

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Photos of 53rd IMO - Before Competition Starts

Team Singapore!

Warming up before the real contest starts

Contestants fixing 24,000 pc puzzle 

24,000-pc puzzle

Getting Ready - bags for contestants, observers and leaders
IMO 2012 cubes in the Hotel's Recreation Hall.
This photo has made it into Picture of the Day in IMO News Issue 4, 11 July.
At the Beach

Outside the NH Gran Hotel Provincial, where the contestants and observers stay
IOI 2012?!

Photos are taken from IMO2012 facebook and Mr Teo's facebook albums 

Saturday 7 July 2012

The Math Olympian

"The Math Olympian" novel by Richard Hoshino is an interesting read. It is about how a young girl, Bethany, who commits herself to pursuing the seemingly crazy and unrealistic goal of representing her country (Canada) at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), and through that decision, discovers the importance of believing in herself.

I think serious Math Olympiad students and coaches will be able to identify with what the protagonist in the novel has gone through, in pursuing her dream to be a Math Olympian.

The novel is a work-in-progress. You can read the prologue and first three chapters here. (Warning: it has real Math Olympiad problems, the uninitiated (in Math Olympiad) may or may not find it challenging to follow closely to the plot of the story)

I would recommend aspiring Math Olympians to read the novel. You should be able to gain some useful insights into problem solving techniques.

Richard Hoshino was a guide for IMO Team Japan in 1995, contestant for IMO Team Canada in 1996, deputy leader observer in 2001, and deputy leader in 2003.

Off to Mar del Plata, Argentina

From left: (teachers) Mr Ng Boon Leong, Mr Thomas Teo, (contestants) Lim Jeck, Yan Hao, Yan Sheng, You Jun, Lawrence Li, Ryan Kor, (trainers/observer B) Jia-Han, Daniel Low 
The Singapore delegation (with the exception of Prof Wong, who had left a few days earlier to attend Jury meeting) to the IMO 2012 has departed on Emirates carrier from Singapore at 2 am this morning (7 July, Saturday). It is a long flight (>30 hours) for them, and they have to change flight at Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and then transit at Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). They should be reaching Argentina at about 7.30 pm (Singapore time 8 July, Sunday, 6.30 am).

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Programme for 53rd IMO

The programme is as follows:
7 July - Singapore - Dubai (UAE) - Bueno Aires, Argentina
8 July - Arrival
9 July - Opening Ceremony
10 to 11 July - Competition Day 1 and 2
12 to 14 July - Coordinatin/Final Jury Meeting/Excursion
15 July - Closing Ceremony
16 July - Departure Day
16 July - Bueno Aires, Argentina - Dubai - Singapore (on 18 July)

Argentina's standard time zone is GMT -3 hours i.e. 11 hours behind Singapore's time. IMO 2012 results should be published online on 14 July (15 July Singapore time), after Final Jury Meeting.

Sunday 1 July 2012

2012 China Girls' Math Olympiad Singapore (NUS High) Team

Congratulations to the following girls for being selected for the 11th China Girls' Mathematical Olympiad (CGMO) which will be held in Guangzhou, Guangdong China, from 8 to 12 August 2012:

NUS High School Team
Tan Pin Lin, Year 5
Jazlene Ong, Year 5
Surya Mathialagan, Year 3
Toh Wei Qi, Year 4

The other team from Singapore is the Raffles Institution & Raffles Girls Team. Selection for this team has not been finalised.

All the best to both Singapore Teams! Hope Singapore can better last year's results of 1 Gold, 2 Silver and 4 Bronze.

Update on 7 July:
The other CGMO team from Singapore is the Raffles Girls Team, comprising Zhang Boyu, Louisa Huang, Zhang Huijie and Teo Si-Yan; all are Sec 4 (Year 4) students.