The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fadeout, pupils’ flair for figures
- Not a single local student in math olympiad squad

Are our students losing their flair for figures'

Some mathematics teachers have begun to examine the question seriously following the failure — for the first time in “nearly seven years” — of any student from Calcutta or the rest of Bengal to find a place in the Indian squad for the International Mathematical Olympiad.

Officials from the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) said on Monday that none of the 30 students had managed to clear the national-level test held in Mumbai to pick the best mathematics brains for the national squad.

“The performance of Calcutta students is generally impressive. But we were surprised to note this time that no one from Calcutta, or for that matter any other part of Bengal, cleared the national test,” said Haimanti Sarbadhikari, ISI teacher and regional coordinator of the olympiad.

The mathematical olympiad is held every year by the International Mathematics Union, a body of renowned mathematicians, to promote learning of the subject around the world.

Officials tasked to organise the state-level competition said on Monday that unlike in the past few years, students from the city were disqualified at the preliminary levels of the competition.

A number of students have in the recent past not only cleared the state and national hurdles but also made it to the national squad. Two students from the city have even starred in gold and silver-winning teams.

The “sudden dip” in the students’ performance has left mathematics teachers concerned.

Some blamed the absence of proper facilities to offer the required training and guidance to students.

“The Mathematical Olympiad is a very prestigious event and our students have been doing very well ever since the competition was introduced in the late 1980s,” said Amal Bhowmick, a senior teacher of South Point School.

“Unfortunately, even though some very brilliant students of our institution had participated this time, they were probably not able to qualify as there is a lack of proper initiative from our end to provide adequate guidance to them,” admitted Bhowmick.

The students, according to the rules of the competition, need to apply personally — but with a recommendation from their school.

“Given the fact that Calcutta students are by and large good at mathematics, there is a need for a state-level body to ensure that all those who are keen to participate in the olympiad get proper training and guidance,” added a mathematics teacher of Gokhale Memorial school.

Indian Statistical Institute officials, meanwhile, are planning to start an exercise to find out the factors responsible for the downward trend noticed in the performance of students this time round.

Sashi Mohan Srivastava, a faculty member involved with the olympiad, felt that the “poor performance” of students could even be an “accidental development”.

In the first round, 350 students are selected from various schools across the state. From among them, 30 are selected to appear for a national-level competition. This translates into 750-plus students.

The top 30 make it to the final screening round, where six are ultimately selected to represent the country.

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