Science competitions are key to identifying and recognizing talented teenagers. As they prepare to solve tough problems, participants hone their skills and integrate into a community of like-minded youngsters. For those who manage to excel in international competitions, their performance can open the doors to life-changing opportunities such as scholarships to study at some of the world’s best universities.
However, in many countries across Africa, talented teenagers do not have a chance to participate in either national or international competitions. Ethiopia, for instance, never sent a team to the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) – the most prestigious of the high school competitions – nor did it hold a national high school science competitions.
As a group of dedicated volunteers set out to organize Ethiopia’s First Mathematical Olympiad, they soon faced an unexpected problem: the sheer enthusiasm and number of teenagers who wanted to participate. Accommodating close a thousand of participants led to logistical challenges -ranging from printing papers to marking- which were eventually overcome to a combination of tenacity and hard work.
Ethiopia’s First Mathematical Olympiad took place on the site of Addis Ababa University on 19-20th November, 2022. They were 937 participants between grades 9 and 12. In the first stage, participants worked to answer 15 multiple choice questions of varying levels of difficulty covering algebra, geometry, combinatorics and number theory. The 38 top scorers progressed to the final stage with 5 open questions. The top 7 students were awarded certificates and an iPad each during the awards ceremony on Thursday, 24th November, 2022.
There is no shortage of talent or enthusiasm for mathematics and science in Ethiopia. A country of Ethiopia’s population – 115 million – is bound to have many gifted children. The competition attracted many participants despite not being featured in local media. Another East African country, Rwanda, started participating in the IMO in 2021 only and has already garnered an honourable mention (recognizing a participant who solves an IMO problem perfectly).
Organizing and scaling up mathematics and science competitions in Ethiopia and East Africa requires resources. Volunteers have generously given their time to set up and organize the first Ethiopian mathematics Olympiad. However, the organization of such competition also involves financial costs - even the cost of printing paper is a consideration in a low-income country. Even modest financial aid can go a long way in identifying and nurturing talent.