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Posted April 15, 2008

Thousands will write UW mathematics competitions this week

WATERLOO - More than 27,000 students from hundreds of high schools across Canada and around the world will test their skills in mathematics this week, participating in one of four international competitions run by the University of Waterloo. These students are competing for a pure love of mathematics -- and the chance to see how their skills compare with their peers.

UW's Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) administers the contests to help students develop their skills and knowledge. The centre, which offers the country's largest youth outreach program in mathematics and computer science, provides enrichment activities, including global contests and school visits.

"These contests are an excellent way to feed students' love for and interest in mathematics and provide a way of competing with other students," says Thomas F. Coleman, dean of the faculty of mathematics at UW. "They encourage a large number of students to think outside the box and use the curriculum skills that they have learned to solve unusual problems."

"I firmly believe that all students benefit from becoming involved in mathematics competitions," adds James K. Nakamoto, a high school math teacher in Vancouver. "The average student is often surprised that he can successfully tackle many, supposedly difficult, contest problems. The range of problems also challenges the better students, and meeting each challenge gives them a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment."

Four of the centre's math contests -- Fryer, Galois, Hypatia and Euclid for Grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 students, respectively -- will be written on April 15 and 16.

Students are required to produce full-written solutions, emphasizing mathematical content and the process of writing and explaining solutions. Their papers are then marked by volunteer high school teachers and university professors.

The Euclid contest, the most senior test, will be written on April 15. It is designed for Grade 12 students, but there are many younger students who write it. The Euclid competition scores are considered when students apply for admission and scholarships to study mathematics at UW.

"Skills in mathematics and computer science are crucial to so many areas of society," says Ian VanderBurgh, director of the CEMC. "Our centre works to raise the profile of and interest in these subjects in the hopes that more students will pursue further study and careers in mathematics and computer science."

The contests are being held at a time of mounting public concern about the decline in interest of young people in the fields of mathematics and computer science at universities across North America.

The most recent Statistics Canada figures show that the number of students enrolled in undergraduate programs in mathematics, computer science and information sciences dropped by 8.7 per cent between the 2000-01 and 2004-05 academic years. The significant decline occurred while total undergraduate enrolment soared by 21.6 per cent over the same period.

More than 25,000 high school students across Canada, along with about 2,600 students from the United States, China and several other countries, write the math contests every spring.

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