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Story | Education
23 December 2019

Gifted QF students compete in world mathematics team championship in South Korea


The best math students from three Qatar Foundation schools teamed up to represent the nation in the global contest.

In September, 54 students from Qatar Foundation schools gathered to take an exam that tested their competency in math. “I didn’t even know what it was for,” says Aasiya Khan, a Grade 9 student at Qatar Academy Doha. “My teacher just told me to take it, so I did.”

When the test started, the students immediately realized that the questions in this exam were very different from those they would solve in their typical math class. Knowing the formulas and studying the textbook was not enough; they needed to think beyond that.

There was need for such a stern examination of their math ability, because the students who stood out secured a unique opportunity to represent Qatar in the World Mathematics Team Championship (WMTC) in South Korea.

Students from QAD and various QF schools participated in WMTC this year.

Of the 54 students that took the test, the 12 who accrued the highest scores in their relevant categories and showed the most potential to excel in a global math competition with this level of challenge were awarded the trip to the Far East from November 29-December 3, under the guidance and supervision of Qatar Academy Doha (QAD) math teacher Zeina Jawad, and Jason Maraku, a teacher for gifted students at the school, which comes under Qatar Foundation’s Pre-University Education (PUE).

Aimed at challenging students to approach math in a different way, the WMTC is an internationally-recognized mathematics event that takes place in a different country each year. School students from all over the world participate in teams of six, with prizes for individuals and teams who achieve the highest scores. This year, over 700 students from 16 different countries participated in the contest in Incheon.

And while this is the third year that QAD students participated, it was the first year in which students from various QF schools were eligible to apply, with young learners from Qatar Academy Al Khor (QAK) and Qatar Academy for Science & Technology (QAST) also joining the trip.

Recalling the original test, QAD Grade 11 student Arnav Kapoor says: “It was really, really difficult - we had seen nothing like that in our regular school math.”

We had to think outside of the box, and sometimes put our own variables into the question or find a relationship between two equations. It’s different every single time, and it really pushes you to think.

Khalifa Al Jehani

Fellow QAD student Khalifa Al Jehani agrees. “The math we do at school is kind of linear,” he says. “We follow only one, two, or three methods at most. But here, we got a question and we had to analyze it and find the best way to approach it.

“We had to think outside of the box, and sometimes put our own variables into the question or find a relationship between two equations. It’s different every single time, and it really pushes you to think.”

To train for the WMTC, the selected students met at QAD twice a week over a two-month period. Zelealem Yilma, Assistant Teaching Professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, volunteered his time to train the students to be able to tackle the questions they would face in the championship, saying: “They’re very motivated – they have a lot of energy and are very happy to solve these problems. It’s been a pleasure just to come to the school and witness that.”

“Because of the training, we were able to get used to these kinds of questions,” says Arnav. “Our approach to them completely changed: we don’t try to solve immediately like we used to; we first look for what the question requires and try to find shortcuts to the answer.”

Before long, the students learned they needed to search for the correct method, rather than the correct answer, when faced with math challenges. “It’s a completely different way of thinking, especially since it’s so far gone from what we look at in terms of school mathematics,” says Saif Al Suwaidi, a Grade 12 student at QAD. “It’s focused more on finding innovative and more efficient ways of tackling different kinds of problems.”

At the competition, all the international students are housed in adjacent hotels, creating a perfect set of circumstances for people with similar interests to network and interact beyond just the competition. “I think it’s really cool having people come from all over the world. You hear a lot of different languages and see a lot of different people, and all of them are here for the same math competition,” says Aasiya.

“We’re different grade levels, different ages, different nationalities, and different schools, but we still came together very nicely.”

And according to Prkriti Tandon, a Grade 12 student at QAD, “Travelling with other people, no matter who they are, really brings you closer. I think it’s because we’re in a different environment and we’re always together no matter where we go. In a strange way, it’s such a nice thing.”

Not only does it bring people together, but it also challenges them in new ways and gives people a sense of personal fulfillment

Prkriti Tandon

Maraku believes the opportunities for collaboration that being part of WMTC are fantastic, saying: “There are a lot of things going on, like math circles and gifted associations from various parts of the world. So many doors can potentially be opened by fostering these kinds of events for the students.”

The quality of the Qatar students’ teamwork showed over the course of the competition, as they relished being challenged to take their skills to the next level. “Usually, math is really easy for me – it just comes to me naturally,” said Arnav.

“But to be in an environment like this competition, where it doesn’t just come to me and when I have to think about it a lot and apply myself to the best of my abilities, is very exciting.”

In spite of the demanding nature of the competition, the Qatar Foundation students rose up to the challenge, and two students received special honors: Grade 12 QAD student Oroni Hasan received a bronze medal, which placed her in the top 30 percent of the contestants; and Grade 9 QAD student Jassim Al Thani received a merit award, which placed him in the top 40 percent.

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Over 700 students from 16 different countries participated in this year’s WMTC in Incheon.

“Win or lose, the experience is really important,” says Prkriti. “Not only does it bring people together, but it also challenges them in new ways and gives people a sense of personal fulfillment. I’m thankful that QF offers these kinds of experiences for people of all kinds of talents, from sports to academics.”

During the WMTC, Cynthia Bolton, Head of Gifted Education, PUE, presented a pitch to host the competition in Qatar in 2021, which will now be reviewed by the WMTC committee and a decision will be announced shortly.

“I’d say we have a pretty good chance,” says Bolton. “We have a lot of things going for us. I really think that Qatar Foundation is the perfect place to host this kind of competition.”

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