History-promotemath – SAMS

III. The Promotion of the Discipline of Mathematics

  • A. The image of Mathematics
  • B. The South African Mathematics Olympiad
  • C. South African Mathematics Foundation
  • D. International Review of Mathematics

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In 1979, John Webb wrote the editorial entitled ‘The public image of Mathematics’ for Notices [8; 11/3, 1979]:

When you open your daily newspaper, how likely are you to find an article about Mathematics? There will be coverage of the arts, science, technology, medicine and literature, but virtually no reference to the world of Mathematics. I don’t count those advertisements which use the subject as a bogey to promote educational aids, nor reports of some schoolboy (inevitably labelled a ‘Whizz-Kid’) who has memorized 10 000 digits of pi. Newspapers have regular columns on astronomy, but not on Mathematics, though there are far more mathematicians than astronomers in the country.

When Mathematics has in recent years hit the headlines, the publicity obtained has usually been adverse. ‘New Maths’ has been discredited in the public opinion, and well-deserved incredulity has been the lot of the claims of Catastrophe Theory. Public interest in Mathematics is at the lowest possible ebb. Even well-educated people who would never admit to not understanding the meaning of ‘schizophrenia’ or ‘opportunity-cost’ will boast of their ignorance of anything remotely mathematical with statements like “I can’t even balance my cheque book.” Mathematics is of so little interest to the man in the street that it never occurs to him to regret his ignorance of it. “It saddens me” says Paul Halmos “that educated people don’t even know that my subject exists. There is something they call Mathematics, but they neither know how the professionals use that word, nor can they conceive why anybody should do it.” It should sadden all of us. Public indifference to Mathematics is not helped by the attitude that the only approach to Mathematics is by way of formal courses. The hard intellectual line is not the answer, and leads to the accusation of mathematical arrogance. The approach obviously cannot be through a medium with which the public is unfamiliar (the formal textbook), but through radio, television, newspapers and magazines, using the style and language of these media. At the suggestion that he should write popular articles on his subject, the research mathematician will throw up his hands in horror. He will ask, glibly: “If popular science is science with the Mathematics taken out of it, what is popular Mathematics?” Indeed, the research mathematician is probably ill-equipped for the task. The solution lies rather in mathematicians developing closer relations with journalists and radio and television producers who specialize in science and technology. We have to tell them what is happening in the mathematical world in terms which they can understand and put over to their readers or viewers.

But perhaps it is the fate of the mathematician to enjoy a poor public image. Herodotus relates how the rope-stretchers of ancient Egypt measured land areas in order to assess taxes. Right from the beginning, it seems, we’ve been bracketed in the public mind with the Inland Revenue, and there’s a difficult image to improve!

In 1989, Prof John Webb was appointed as the Council’s consultant on media affairs and publicity. One of the motivations for this appointment was the poor image of Mathematics in the outside world, due largely to difficulties experienced by many at school. It had been the view of the IMU that active publicity efforts should be made by Mathematical Societies to obtain favourable media coverage, using techniques that have proved successful in publicising other unpopular causes [8; 21/3, 1989, (President’s Report)]. During the years 1989–90, SAMS found itself in changing times in South Africa. The need at the time that the Society was founded, was for the promotion of the increase and dissemination of mathematical knowledge and for the instruction of Mathematics at all levels. Even in the atmosphere of boycotts and sanctions, researchers enjoyed international reputations, and their contacts with other countries were increasing year by year. During those years, the universities could not produce enough mathematicians to fill the university positions and to provide a well-qualified upper echelon to the school-teaching profession. However, the social developments in the country at that time had resulted in a new urgency. The rapid increase in the number of school leavers created unique opportunities and challenges in Mathematics education in the universities. With those challenges ahead, it was necessary for the Society to be pro-active and to rethink its goals and to improve and maintain its image, rather than to merely wait for events to overtake the Society. SAMS decided to spell out what it was doing and should be doing by means of a Mission Statement covering goals for the time period after 1990 [8; 21/2, 1989]. See Appendix 8 for the latest version of the Mission Statement.

The paragraphs below consist of a selection of the main points of the Presidential Address ‘The Image of Mathematics’ by Professor AR Meijer at the 1991-AGM on the campus of the University of Pretoria:

…In fairness, and in accordance with our professional practices, one should state one’s axioms clearly. I will therefore state, unashamedly, that I believe that a first world environment is preferable to a third world one. No doubt most individuals from third world environments would agree; if my point of view is seen as unforgivably materialistic, the counter argument is surely that, with few exceptions, those who despise materialism are materially quite comfortably off, thank you. My second axiom is one of a striking lack of originality: South African society presents a curious, and possibly unique, mixture of first world and third world components. It seems to be an immediate consequence of these two axioms that in our society the existing first world component should be built up and built out.

Bearing in mind that the first world economies and lifestyles are indubitably based upon technology, in all its facets, it therefore follows that what South Africa needs is people who actually make things, people who can create the new technology and keep the existing technology going to establish acceptable living conditions and to create the necessary wealth to maintain and improve these living standards. Pursuing this argument one step further, it appears obvious that in order to maintain this technology and to train the necessary technologists we need an adequate supply of scientists to provide the necessary foundations for this technological structure. At the bottom of this structure we need to provide the necessary mathematical underpinnings, and especially sound mathematical education at all levels, since, as we all agree, and as indeed one is a little embarrassed to point out at a meeting of our Society, if technology is based upon the sciences, the science are equally firmly based upon our discipline…

…But in the short term my sketched ideal of a technologically developing society soundly based upon a foundation of mathematical and scientific knowledge does not easily seem attainable,… We are all aware of the appalling state of Mathematics and Science in (especially) Black education and I do not intend pursuing this matter further, nor do I wish to claim that the thought that the ideal of a technologically advancing first world society is far from being realized is in any sense a new one. For example, the ‘Education Renewal Strategy’ also known as the Garbers Report (1991) states: “A dire need exists for more people to follow vocationally oriented or vocational study programmes”. The point has been made on more than one occasion, among them at its last full meeting in January 1988 that the Joint Matriculation Board had a negative influence on education in South African through a too academic emphasis in the final school examination, an emphasis which percolated down through the entire system…

…It is worth noting, however, that Mathematics is frequently seen as a purely ‘academic’ discipline, or even as something worse. This antipathy goes well beyond the familiar “Oh, I was never any good at Mathematics at school” one hears at cocktail parties, said with less embarrassment than “Oh, I was never able to understand John Donne’s poems.” Where do we start?

…On the assumption that image building, like charity, begins at home, those of us attached to universities should, first of all, attempt converting our colleagues in the applied sciences. Thus we need to establish closer contact with, for example, the engineering departments, and convince them that we have something useful to offer them. To how many of us are the service courses we offer merely a way of keeping our ivory towers supplied with bread and margarine? And how many students see those courses as merely an intelligence test to be passed before being permitted to get on with “real” engineering? When last did your department sit down with other departments to find out what parts of your syllabuses are really useful to them and what parts are merely hangovers from a distant past? I am not pleading for a phoney “relevance” nor for a drop in mathematical rigour in our courses – I am merely suggesting that both sides, Mathematics department and user department, could benefit from a discussion as to what we can offer and what they need. Come to think of it, though: how many courses with mathematical content are offered by other departments on your campus, and why? Moving off campus, how much outside consulting is done by your department? Surely, if what we are doing is worthwhile, some of our expertise must be of use to the larger community? Can we convince the so-called hard-headed businessman that Mathematics is worth his support?…The public image of our subject is largely determined by the impression gained about it by the school pupil as he or she works his or her way through what are, perhaps through necessity, perfectly boring syllabi, and by the attitudes of his or her teachers. It is about the attitudes of the latter that I am most worried and I believe that it is to them that we must attend with the greatest urgency. “Do you visit your local schools and talk about Mathematics, its applications and teachings? …””Do you offer enrichment courses, voluntarily of course, for interested high school pupils and their teachers?…

I have, in the course of this talk, attempted to express the need – in fact, the urgent need – for us as members to get to grips with the problem of improving the image of Mathematics in the eyes of the public and particularly the young. The way to do so is not through following slogans like ‘people’s Mathematics’ or even ‘ethno Mathematics’ which go against the fact that the culture of the mathematical community is completely international, transcending all boundaries of language, race, religion, etc. Instead, the most important route lies through education and educators and I appeal to our membership to get more closely involved. This, in a time of reduced state expenditure on research and tertiary education and simultaneously increased demands on the universities to engage in activities which were not traditionally part of their brief, may not be a popular call. I believe, nevertheless, that it is essential that it be made…

In South Africa, credit for the improvement of the image of Mathematics must go to programmes and workshops launched by some individual universities, Olympiad Programmes (Section B below), and also to AMESA and SAMF (Section C below). The International Review Panel Report of the Review of Mathematical Sciences Research at South African Higher Education Institutions ([10]) has the following to say under the heading Issues to be Addressed:

Publicity & Promotion of the Mathematical Sciences

Improving the numbers of those studying mathematics, and the numbers wishing to enter mathematics teaching, also depends on the image and culture of mathematics within the general population of South Africa. Much of the population is not aware of the enormous role mathematics plays in modern day society, its role in innovation, its role in other professions, its role in the economy, and the need for mathematical skills in most careers. This is not restricted to basic level mathematics. The Panel heard from those outside universities of the value and need for graduates with advanced mathematical training. SAMF and some individual universities have promotion programmes and materials. Increased efforts need to be made to support such activity and explore ways of communicating the vitality, utility, and beauty of mathematics to a much wider audience — and especially to students in schools and their parents. Activities such as outreach programmes by universities aimed at improving the image of mathematics and highlighting career options; mathematics contests and mathematics exhibitions; open days and fairs focusing on mathematics aimed at conscientising the public; regional and international Olympiads, all provide a way communicating and popularising mathematics at various levels.

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(i) Introduction

The origin of the South African Mathematics Olympiad (SAMO) can be traced to a need identified by the SAMA, during the late 1950s, namely the urgency of rectifying certain deficiencies in the teaching of Mathematics at school. As was reported earlier in this paper (in Part II.B) that on 4 September 1959, the Secretary of the SAMA requested the then National Bureau for Educational and Social Research (NBESR) (the predecessor of the present Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC, established in 1968)) to conduct an in depth research on the position and quality of the teaching of Mathematics in secondary schools in South Africa, with a view to exposing specific deficiencies. This led to an investigation conducted by Dr AJ van Rooy (former Deputy President of the NBESR), and in his report that appeared in 1965 he recommended inter alia that countrywide competitions along the same lines as the Mathematics Olympiads in the Netherlands be organised among schools and individuals. In this way an interest in Mathematics would be encouraged. Even before this investigation, the late Prof Dirk van Rooy (then Head of Mathematics at the Potchefstroom University for CHE), with other mathematicians, endeavoured to start a project, comparable to the Hungarian Eötvös Competition, in South Africa. Dr AJ van Rooy, son of Prof Dirk van Rooy, continued to pursue the idea with the blessing of the Board of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (South African Academy of Science and Arts). During the annual meeting of the Akademie held at Potchefstroom in July 1965, Dr AJ van Rooy delivered an address on Mathematics teaching in South Africa, based on the findings of his investigation. On this occasion, he again advocated the organisation of countrywide Mathematics competitions. A committee was appointed to see what the Akademie could do to further the teaching of Mathematics. On 19 November 1965, the Council of the Akademie decided on an annual Mathematics Olympiad for high school pupils in South Africa. Since its inception in 1966, and for about two decades thereafter, the SAMO had been controlled by a committee of nine members: five were appointed by the Akademie, while the other four were appointed by the Committee of Heads of Education [4]. For the thirty years 1966-1996, the Olympiad had been an annual event consisting of two rounds. Approximately one hundred of the most successful candidates in the first round participated in the second round. A gold Dirk van Rooy medal was handed to the winner of the second round and nine silver medals to the runners-up. In order to help combat the high cost of the SAMO, the sponsorship of Old Mutual was obtained. The Old Mutual sponsored the SAMO until 2001 [7]. Harmony Gold Mining Company took over the sponsorship of the SAMO in 2002.

Since about 1989, the Council of SAMS had been supporting the idea that the Mathematics Olympiad should have a general round in which good but not brilliant students would be able to achieve a reasonable score, the motivation being that it would lead to much-needed publicity and the stimulation of mathematical interest [8; 21/3, 1989]. It was decided in 1990 that a junior competition should be introduced, and that the Akademie, SAMS and MASA should take responsibility for the organisational aspects of the SAMO. Since 1992, SAMO has been organised in three rounds, and the following SAMS members were involved: Profs I Broere, JH Webb and JC Engelbrecht. On 19 April 1996, the Council of the Akademie, on the recommendation of the SAMO Committee (that consisted of representatives of SAMS, AMESA and the Akademie), approved of the restructuring of the competitions of the SA Mathematics Olympiad and decided on the following aims and format of the Olympiad:

The Mathematics Olympiad is a national competition which is aimed at developing mathematical talent and a positive image of Mathematics amongst the youth of South Africa and to develop the Mathematics teaching corps in doing so. This will be achieved by:

  • stimulating an interest in Mathematics and problem solving by the nature of the questions
  • identifying talented students and engaging them in enrichment programmes
  • involving the educators at all levels in the Olympiad
  • involving the teaching community at all levels in the Olympiad
  • ensuring broad-based participation
  • using the results of the competitions to identify areas of need and to implement intervention programmes
  • developing the required skills amongst teachers so that they may use the Olympiad as a teaching resource, that they will encourage their students to participate, and that they will be able to provide for the needs of the mathematically talented.

The present format of the competition is:

The first round: this round is written in March and consists of a senior competition for students in Grades 10 to 12, and a junior competition for students in Grades 8 and 9. Each paper will be an hour long and consists of multiple choice questions. The National AMESA Competitions Committee submits the first round papers to the SAMO Committee. Each school is provided with the solutions. In this round, the teachers mark the answers.

The second round: students who attain 50% or higher in the first round qualify for the second round which is written in May. This time both groups write two-hour papers consisting of twenty multiple-choice questions, set by the SAMO Committee. The third round: the top 100 students in the senior second round and also the top 100 students in the junior second round qualify for the third round in September. There are separate papers for the juniors and seniors. The overall winner of the junior competition receives a Dawie du Toit gold medal and the nine runners-up each a Harmony silver medal. The overall winner of the senior competition receives a Dirk van Rooy gold medal and a cash prize and the nine runners-up each a Dirk van Rooy silver medal and cash prizes.

There is thus a committee for every round. During the period 1990 – 2004, the SAMO was organised by the Akademie in collaboration with Old Mutual, MASA/AMESA and SAMS. Since 2005, the SAMO is run by the Akademie as a distinct administrative unit, organised by the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) in cooperation with AMESA and SAMS. The South African Olympiad Committee is the organising committee of the South African Mathematics Olympiad and it consists of representatives of AMESA, SAMS, the Harmony Gold Mining Company, the Akademie, the SAMF, Mathematics educators at pre-tertiary and tertiary levels, and a secretariat provided by the SAMF.

(ii) The Mathematical Talent Search and IMO/PAMO Programmes

In September 1991, Prof John Webb submitted a document titled ‘South Africa and the International Mathematical Olympiad’ to the Council of SAMS and to the Foundation of Research Development (FRD). The purpose of this document was to propose that a South African team should be entered in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). The document contained some information on the history of the IMO, a Talent Search and a training programme to be launched, as well as a detailed budget of R100 000 for the period 1991–92. Various countries have conducted national mathematical contests for a long time. The Hungarian Eötvös Competition, which begun in 1894, is a famous example. In 1959, Rumania invited Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic and the USSR to participate in the first International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), a problem-solving contest for talented high school pupils. After a slow start the number of participating nations grew. Finland joined in 1965, Great Britain, France and Italy in 1967; and since then the number of participating nations grew rapidly, reaching 21 by 1977, 90 by 2006, 98 in 2007 and 97 in 2008.

The entry of South Africa into the IMO-arena in 1992, coincided with the sorting out and settling of some serious local organisational issues. Initially, the Akademie was concerned that SAMS, and not they, were financially supported by the FRD to embark on this venture of international competition. The Council of SAMS however felt (supported by the FRD) that the Society, particularly in view of its membership to the IMU, was the natural one through which this new development could and should take place. At the end, talks between SAMS, the FRD and the Akademie secured a good working relationship between these parties, and the Akademie continued with the running of the SAMO [8; 24/3, 1992, p.155]. The unfolding of the developments during the years 1991–94 needs to be recorded, in fairness to all parties involved.

On 22 March 1991 the Akademie decided to set about planning for international participation in real earnest, and on 4 April of that year, they submitted an application to the FRD for a possible sponsorship for the ‘international component of the Olympiad’, with John Webb as project leader. At that stage, Webb was a member of the Olympiad Committee of the Akademie [13(m)]. In April 1991, he was invited by the Swedish Committee for the 1991-IMO to attend the IMO as an observer. In a memorandum, dated 9 May 1991 to the SAMS Council, he recommended that SAMS, as an Affiliate Member of the IMU, should be the body under which auspices possible participation in the IMO should take place. Webb wrote: “No other organization in SA has the necessary international status, political acceptability or mathematical expertise. The SAMS should set up a subcommittee, the South African Committee for the IMO, to coordinate all aspects of selecting and preparing teams for participation in the IMO.” [13(m)]. The Council of SAMS accepted this recommendation on 13 May 1991, and requested Prof Webb to act as convener of this new Committee. The other members of this Committee were JC Engelbrecht (University of Pretroria), DP Laurie (PU for CHE), and as representative of MASA, P Pillay (UDW) [110]. The President of the FRD, Dr RR Arndt, lunched with the following members of the Akademie on 29 June 1991: DJ du Toit (Chairman, Old Mutual Mathematics Olympiad Committee), I Broere (Rand Afrikaans University) and DJC Geldenhuys (General Secretary of the Akademie) to discuss their application for a sponsorship. Dr Arndt made it clear on that occasion that funds would be made available to persons, and not organisations, that a recognised organisation should take responsibility for the project, and that equal opportunities should be created for all South Africans to participate at a national level in the competitions.

The members of the Akademie present at the lunch gave the assurance that a decision about which body would be responsible for the final application to the FRD would be taken soon: the Akademie, SAMS or MASA [13(m)]. On 1 October 1991, the General Secretary of the Akademie wrote to Arndt to thank him for the offer of support for participation in the IMO. He also mentioned in his letter that Prof Webb, their international team leader, had been requested to prepare a formal application for financial assistance, to be submitted to the FRD. After Prof Webb’s return from Sweden, he submitted a report, dated 24 September 1991, on the 1991-IMO and the possible future South African participation in the IMO, to the SAMS Council. This report was discussed by Council on 28 October 1991, and, on the grounds of the recommendation in the report, Council decided to apply to the FRD for the amount of R100 000 for the 1992-IMO in Moscow. On 6 November 1991, the Council of SAMS wrote to Dr Arndt of the FRD (i) to give him the assurance that SAMS and its sub-committe, the South African Committe for the IMO, undertake to coordinate all local matters regarding the IMO, and (ii) to apply formally for the R100 000. [13(m)]. The application was successful, and in December 1991, the FRD allocated the amount of R75 000 to Webb. The President of the FRD was informed by John Webb on 4 December 1991 that he will see to it that SAMS and its sub-committee will consult with all interest parties, in particular with the Akademie, to ensure that this project will function as a national initiative [13(m)]. Prof Webb kept his promise [13(m)].

In February 1992, Prof Webb resigned as member of the Olympiad Committee of the Akademie. The General Secretary of the Akademie was informed by Dr Arndt on 18 March 1992 that an amount had been allocated to Prof Webb and that the latter was in the process of putting a team together for coaching. On 26 March 1992, the President of the FRD wrote to Prof Wesley Kotzé, President of SAMS, and informed him of the complaint by the Akademie that they had not been sufficiently informed about the handling by SAMS of the international project. Prof Kotzé was requested to rectify the matter with the Akademie as soon as possible. In reaction to this request, Prof Kotzé wrote to Dr Louw Alberts, Chairman of the Akademie on 21 April 1992 and explained to him the eagerness of the SAMS to take the roles of patron body and of a natural liaise with the IMU regarding the IMO. Kotzé also acknowledged the huge contribution by the Akademie to Mathematics in South Africa, emphasising the fact that the SAMO, as organised by the Akademie, should be regarded as a necessary preliminary trial preceding international participation. In his reply dated 22 May 1992 to Kotzé, Dr Alberts, expressed his disgruntlement over the fact that the Akademie had been worked out of this new international initiative without receiving any credit for its role in the building up towards that achievement. Alberts was of the opinion that the future will pass judgement over the amount of damage that had been caused in this process.

Dr Peter van Eldik, Director: Tertiary Education Programmes/Acting Director of Schools Division of the FRD, chaired a meeting on 21 January 1993 at the FRD offices, where among others, the following were present: Dr L Alberts, Chairman of the Akademie, Prof Wesley Kotzé, President of SAMS, Prof John Webb, SAMS and 1992-IMO Team Leader, Mr Dawie du Toit, Chairman of the SA Mathematical Olympiad Committee of the Akademie, Prof Isak Broere, SAMS and Vice-Chairman of the SA Mathematical Olympiad Committee of the Akademie, Prof Johann Engelbrecht, SAMS representative in the Olympiad Committee of the Akademie, and Dr J Geldenhuys, General Secretary of the Akademie. The primary purpose of the meeting was to discuss the future of the South African participation in the IMO and especially the 1993-IMO, and the role of various organisations involved. Prof Webb presented his report as the Team Leader to the 1992-IMO, and Dr Van Eldik explained that the FRD got involved in the IMO because it believed in stimulating interest and excitement in Mathematics at school level. The FRD had also provided the infrastructural support by making R75 000 available for the IMO, as well as providing a member of staff to assist with the travel and other arrangements. An open hearted discussion followed regarding the ownership of the project, the positions of the various organisations involved, and misunderstandings were debated and resolved. It was unanimously decided that the various organisations would give their full support in future on a joint venture basis. It was decided to rename the present South African Committee for the IMO and that it would be known as ‘The South African Committee for the International Mathematical Olympiad’ (SACIMO). The selection of the team for 1993 would be left to John Webb, as the IMO has a different character from the local Olympiads. As before, the committee of the Akademie would continue to provide support and send him names of pupils discovered in the local Olympiads, and MASA would be requested to do the same. The FRD will contribute to the 1993-IMO through the structures of the SAMS. [13(m)]. The April 1993-Report of the Education Committee of SAMS to Council stated that the dispute between SAMS and the Akademie had been resolved by the meeting at the FRD.

The controlling body of the IMO is the Site Committee, appointed by the ICMI, in which South Africa is represented by the SAMS. When South Africa was invited to join the IMO in 1991, the SAMS, in May 1991, set up the first SACIMO, with Prof John Webb as convener. The other members of the committee were: Profs Johann Engelbrecht and Dirk Laurie (both SAMS), and Professor Poobhalan Pillay (MASA, and later, AMESA) [8; 24/3, 1992]. A plan of action was drawn up and discussed with a wide variety of interested parties, among others with the FRD and with the Chairman of the Old Mutual Mathematics Olympiad Committee of the Akademie, Mr Dawie du Toit. With the support of the FRD, a nationwide Mathematical Talent Search was launched in 1991 to identify and train candidates for the South Africa team. Information about the IMO and the Talent Search was included in every issue of the Mathematical Digest (a UCT publication) from July 1992 on. This huge challenge to select the best team for the IMO on such short notice, was seized with both hands as a means of generating interest in Mathematics and attracting the best students to the study of Mathematics. Personal invitations were sent out to prize-winners of a number of Mathematical Competitions and Olympiads around the country to take part in the Talent Search, the FRD drew up and distributed a poster about the IMO to all high schools in the country, press, radio and television coverage was obtained, and seminars and special Saturday afternoon programmes were organised at the Universities of Cape Town (Professor John Webb, Drs Christopher Gilmour, Jurie Conradie and Graeme West), Durban-Westville (Professors Poobhalan Pillay and Alko Meijer), and Pretoria (Professor Johann Engelbrecht) for interested learners. A list of Regional Organisers, representing all the major centres in South Africa, was compiled, and they were asked to send the Chairman the name of any talented pupil identified in their area.

The first Talent Search had not uncovered much talent, except in the Western Cape, where it was well-organised. The team of six boys that was announced after a training and selection weekend at the University of Cape Town in early April 1992, consisted of four from Cape Town, one from Pretoria and one from Stanger in Natal. Later in April 1992, South Africa received an official invitation from the Minister of Education of Russia (who had inherited the IMO from the defunct USSR) to send a team to the 33rd IMO to be held in Moscow in July of that year. Five of the six team members who went to the IMO in Moscow were medallists of the SAMO [8; 24/3, 1992].

In 1992, Prof John Webb was awarded the inaugural Paul Erdös Award from the ‘World Federation of National Mathematics Competitions’ at the Seventh Meeting of ICMI in Quebec. The 1992–93 Talent Search culminated in a four-day ‘mathematical camp’ in April 1993, to which the top twelve pupils in the Talent Search were invited. The camp, held in the Mon Villa Seminar Centre of the University of Stellenbosch, was run by Professor John Webb and Drs Graeme West (Cape Town) and Louis le Riche (Stellenbosch), with Professor Ivan Reilly (University of Auckland, Chairman of the New Zealand International Mathematical Olympiad Committee) as special guest of SAMS and SACIMO. Since 1993, the Talent Search has developed a broader purpose of encouraging mathematical activity at several ability levels, and a method of streaming had been introduced. The learners with serious shortcomings in their mathematical backgrounds are quietly diverted into an alternative stream of simpler problem sets appropriate to their ability in an effort to remedy their more glaring weaknesses. This is a very important feature of the Talent Search which tends to be overshadowed by the high-profile IMO. The Talent Search provides an excellent opportunity for identifying enthusiastic pupils in the Junior Secondary phase with latent mathematical ability which has been obscured by poor schooling, and encouraging them to continue studying Mathematics to develop their full potential. Another category of pupils are the ones who will no doubt obtain good Senior Certificate results, but who are below the standard of excellence required at an IMO. They are not excluded from the programme, but are sent lists of hints on how to solve the Talent Search problems.

The Talent Search has proved successful in identifying mathematical potential, but the need is still there to identify talented pupils earlier, preferably in Grade 9 already ([8; 25/3, 1993]) and, as was echoed repeatedly over the past fifteen years, a special effort must be made to uncover Black talent [8; 24/3, 1992]. The table below shows the performance of the South African teams at the IMO’s since 1992: Gold, Silver Bronze and Honourable Mention. The information was accessed from http://www.imo-official.org/results.aspx on 13 October 2008.



















Host Country



Hong Kong















SA Position


















Out of


















































The South African IMO results in the first two years were not good. The team for the IMO in Istanbul was announced in May 1993, and consisted of three pupils from Cape Town, one from Port Elizabeth and two from Pretoria. The 1993 Talent Search consisted of ten rounds of problems. In order to prepare for the 35th IMO that was to be held in July 1994 in Hong Kong, twenty-one of the 1993 front-runners in that year’s Talent Search were invited to attend a five-day Mathematical Summer Camp at the University of Stellenbosch Seminar Centre in December 1993. In Hong Kong, South Africa came 27th out of 69 countries, putting South Africa just two places behind Canada and Israel [8; 26/2, 1994]. In 1995, in Toronto, Canada, every member of a South African team won an award at an IMO: either a Bronze Medal or an Honourable Mention [8; 28/1, 1996]. The December 1995 Stellenbosch Camp was really two camps in one: a ‘Development Camp’ involved 10 Black learners from different parts of the country, all in Grade 9 or lower, and the IMO Camp, attended by 17 pupils.

The South African National Ministry of Education reacted somewhat negatively towards the invitation by the Argentinean Ministry of Culture and Education for South Africa to participate in IMO-97 in Mar del Plata. Particular concern was expressed about the ‘selection process, on who was elected and on participation of historically disadvantaged schools/learners’ [8; 30/1, 1999]. In 1998, in Taipei, the team again won a full house of awards: one Silver Medal, two Bronze Medals and three Honourable Mentions. The team was just two points behind France, and second only to Australia in the southern hemisphere. In 1999, in Bucharest, South Africa came ahead of a number of experienced campaigners such as Canada, the Czech Republic and France [8; 30/1, 1999]. In the 2000-IMO in Taejon, Korea, the South African team was ranked again 27th out of 82 countries (ranking higher than all Western European countries except Germany and the United Kingdom), and Professor John Webb was elected Secretary of the IMO Advisory Board [8; 31/2, 2000], [8; 32/1, 2001]. He got in that position re-elected in 2004 for another four years. Also in October 2000, Professor Webb was awarded the South African Mathematical Society Award for the Advancement of Mathematics. “His main contributions, over more than two decades, are his building and promoting of our IMO team, his Mathematical Digest, his Talent Search, and his UCT Mathematics Competition.” [8; 31/3, 2000]. The photograph below shows Prof John Webb with his Award.

                                                  B Hahn, JH Webb and BD Reddy (Photo: SAMS Notices 31/3, 2000)

In Athens in 2004, South Africa was ranked 33rd out of 85 countries, which was better than 20 of the 25 countries of the European Union; the team won three Silver Medals and one Bronze Medal, the best medal tally of any South African team since South Africa first took part in 1992. In 2005, in Merida, Mexico, and again in 2006 in Ljubjana, Slovenia the South African team slipped down to 62nd place, and even down further to 68th place out of 98 in Vietnam, but recovered to position 44 out of 97 in 2008. The present convener of the IMO-team is Professor Johan Meyer of the University of the Free State. Since 1994, with the Talent Search established and running well, South Africa has been holding its own. The team has won 32 medals up to the 2008-IMO (1 Gold, 8 Silver and 23 Bronze), and usually finishes in the top half of the international ranking, ahead of most Western European countries.

For the fifteen years 1992 – 2006, the South African Mathematical Talent Search was run from Cape Town by Professor John Webb, assisted by a secretary and a group of enthusiastic students, mostly veterans of either the South African Mathematical Olympiad or the IMO. Since 2007, the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) has taken over the financial responsibility as well as the organisational aspects of the Talent Search. Each year a full report on the IMO programme is published [8; 36/3, 2005]. Every issue of the Mathematical Digest features articles on the Talent Search, IPMO, PAMO and the IMO. The Stellenbosch Summer Camps, with as local organisers, Dr Louis le Riche (1992–2004) and Prof David Holgate (2005–) have become regular features in the preparation of IMO teams, and the 2008-camp was the 17th in succession.

The Pan African Mathematics Olympiad (PAMO) was launched by the African Mathematical Union (AMU) in 1987. It is still a relatively small event, with about ten countries taking part every year. South Africa has taken part every year since 2000, and has hosted the event in 2000 and again in 2002. In January 2000, the 10th PAMO was hosted by the University of the Western Cape and the University of Cape Town, and the South African team was sponsored by Old Mutual [8; 31/1, 2000]. In 2002, PAMO took place in Pretoria, while the Foundation for Education, Science and Technology (FEST), an agency of the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, accepted the responsibility for organizing and financing the event [8; 32/3, 2001], [8; 33/3, 2002]. FEST organised an Olympiad Indaba at the end of August, 2001. Since first taking part in the Pan African Mathematics Olympiad in 2000, South Africa has achieved very good results, winning 30 medals (10 Gold, 11 Silver and 9 Bronze), and has been ranked first six times, namely in 2000 (in South Africa), 2002 (in South Africa), 2003 (in Mozambique), 2006 (in Senegal), 2007 (in Nigeria) and 2008 (in Benin). The South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) was formerly known as FEST, but changed its name after being incorporated into the National Research Foundation (NRF) in December 2002. Since 2004, after a period of uncertainty, SAASTA agreed to support South Africa’s participation in PAMO (as a temporary arrangement) since they see participation in PAMO as a NEPAD project [8; 35/3, 2004]. The mandate of SAASTA is to advance public awareness, appreciation and engagement of science, engineering and technology in South Africa. The two Olympiads have very similar structures, with the main difference being that IMO teams have six members, while PAMO teams have four. Team members must be high school students, aged 19 or lower. Both Olympiads are contests for individuals, although unofficial team totals are always calculated to give a national ranking in the IMO. The ranking of PAMO teams is, however, official. The 2009-PAMO will be held in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’ Ivoire, shortly before the 2009-PACOM.

Looking back and ahead after the first Talent Search, Professor John Webb made the following recommendations in 1992 [8; 24/3, 1992]:

(1) The Talent Search must be broadened and deepened. More university mathematicians need to be involved. A special effort must be made to uncover Black talent. Ways must be found to involve school teachers in the Talent Search.

(2) The procedure of sending out successive problem sets to interested pupils worked well, but more pressure could be put on them to return problem sets promptly.

(3) There is a need for locally-produced and inexpensive short booklets on specific topics which are relevant to the IMO, but not covered by the school syllabus. A bigger training weekend is essential.

(4) The selection of the IMO team should be delayed until much later.

(5) It would be a good idea to provide funds for an Observer to accompany the team (consisting of the six pupils, the Team Leader and the Deputy Leader) to the next Olympiad. In this way more expertise in this area can be developed.

(6) Invite experienced IMO Team Leaders from overseas to South Africa to visit various centres to promote the IMO.

(7) Send an Observer to other events, such as the Pan African Mathematical Olympiad (PAMO).

The SAMS Council annually appointed, up to 2006, a committee to oversee the Talent Search and Olympiad programme, and for 16 successive years, Professor John Webb had been the Convener. Since 1992, the core of the Programme has been a nationwide Mathematical Talent Search. The Talent Search is a wide-ranging problem-solving programme, open to all; it is simultaneously a drive to promote interest in Mathematics in our schools, a Mathematics development programme for promising students and a first-stage training and selection process for the IMO. As part of an enrichment programme, a successful four-day camp for 8 mathematically talented pupils from the Cape Town black townships was held in conjunction with the Stellenbosch Camp in December 1995. Unfortunately, there was no follow-up camp for such students, and the consensus was that AMESA need to be consulted extensively should such camps are planned in the future [14(a)].

Considerable efforts have been made to publicise the Talent Search – articles have been published in science and Mathematics magazines such as Mathematical Digest, Epsilon, Wistukkie, Spectrum, Archimedes (1959 – 2003) and PYTHAGORAS (the research journal of AMESA). Colourful posters promoting the Talent Search were mailed to thousands of schools and distributed at conferences for Mathematics teachers. Top performers in local Mathematics competitions, the Interprovincial Mathematics Olympiad and the South African Mathematics Olympiad are encouraged by personal letters to join the Talent Search. High school pupils are sent a set of problems and invited to send their solutions in. The entries are marked and returned with model solutions, comments, a short pamphlet on some mathematical topic and a new set of problems. As for the years 1992–2007, the Mathematical Talent Search and IMO/PAMO Programme have established the following regular schedule of activities over the year:

It begins in January each year, and consists of 10 rounds of five problems each. In January, the opening round of the Talent Search is distributed with the entry forms for the South African Mathematics Olympiad, presently known as the Harmony Gold Mathematics Olympiad. This mailing covers more than 5000 high schools throughout South Africa. The opening round is also published in the January issue of Mathematical Digest, which is available free to 2000 high schools on request. The opening round contains five easy problems. Pupils are invited to submit solutions to the problems, and mail them in with a stamped self-addressed envelope. Their solutions are marked by student assistants and returned, with hints or model answers, suggestions for further reading, pamphlets on a range of topics outside the school syllabus, and the next round of problems. The subsequent Junior Rounds of problems are designed to give the newcomer to mathematical competitions some experience of problems that are common in Olympiads, but are not in the standard school syllabus. The Junior Round problems are set at a Grade 9 or 10 level, and are multiple-choice. Though elementary, the problems require a measure of insight and are designed to detect and stimulate mathematically promising pupils. Progress is self-paced. Participants are advised to read David Jacobs’ The Mathlete’s Training Guide, a manual for grade 9 and 10 pupils covering basic problem-solving techniques, and to subscribe to Mathematical Digest. The Talent Search is open to all, and is free. It allows children in rural areas to compete for camp invitations or a place in a national team on an equal footing with children in privileged urban schools. The Talent Search is advertised again in the April and July issues of Mathematical Digest. Reports on the Talent Search and South Africa’s PAMO and IMO achievements are carried in each issue. Individual students who are identified through regional or national competitions and Olympiads are sent personal letters of invitation to join the Talent Search. The Talent Search is also promoted in AMESA News (the newsletter of AMESA, whose membership consists mainly of Mathematics teachers) and in the Notices of the South African Mathematical Society .

Those participants who were clearly having little difficulty with the Junior Rounds are diverted into the Senior Rounds. The Senior Rounds are designed to develop problem-solving skills, giving pupils experience of many important areas of Mathematics that receive insufficient attention in the ordinary school syllabus. These include inequalities, advanced algebra and geometry, number theory and combinatorics. Important techniques of proof, such as mathematical induction and proof by contradiction are part of the programme. The Senior Rounds require fully written solutions, and are marked by students who are themselves veterans of the Talent Search programme and have represented South Africa at the IMO. Detailed comments on their solutions are sent to every participant in the Senior Rounds. The Junior Talent Search ends in September, and certificates are sent to all participants who have completed at least three rounds. The Senior Rounds continue for another month. In October, invitations are sent to about 50 of the front-runners in the Talent Search to attend a Mathematical Camp at the University of Stellenbosch, which takes place in the first week of the December summer vacation. The emphasis is on high achievers in Grades 8, 9 and 10. Achievements in local and national competitions and Olympiads, such as the UCT Mathematics Competition, the Interprovincial Mathematical Olympiad and the South African Mathematics Olympiad, are also taken into account in sending out invitations.

In 2004, for example, about two thousand participants sent in their solutions in the opening round of the Talent Search, the numbers dropped off sharply, with 67 completing round three, 23 completing round 4 and 9 completing round 5 of the Junior Talent Search. The Senior Talent Search was more successful, and at the beginning of October, 41 students had exhibited significant ability and commitment to earn invitations to attend the December 2004 camp at the University of Stellenbosch. The invitation to attend the Camp covers meals and accommodation, but not travel to and from the Camp. The programme covers a wide range of mathematical enrichment, with an emphasis on developing the problem-solving skills needed for success in Mathematics Olympiads. The week-long camp consists of an intensive programme of lectures, discussions and problem-solving contests. The pupils are divided into teams, each with its own coach. The coaches (university students who are IMO veterans) are invaluable role models, and attend the camp as volunteers. While the emphasis in the camp is on group activities, it is not difficult to detect individual excellence among the participants. Invitations to attend the camp are much sought-after, and it is unusual for an invitation to be turned down. The camps have proved to be highly stimulating events for promising young mathematicians. There is scope for widening the Stellenbosch Camp to include streams for teachers and pupils from disadvantaged schools. Though the camp infrastructure (residence and catering facilities) can handle an expansion of this nature, there would be a significantly more work in staffing the extra streams, with extra expense in accommodation (and travel costs) for such groups.

During January to March of the next year, the Stellenbosch campers continue to submit solutions to challenging monthly assignments in the next year. By this time they are tackling problems set in previous International Mathematical Olympiads. On the basis of their test results at Stellenbosch, and their progress in the assignments, between 15 and 20 pupils are invited to attend the IMO Selection Camp held at Rhodes University. The Rhodes Camp takes place in April. Based on their performance at the Stellenbosch Camp, between 12 and 20 pupils are invited to the Rhodes Camp. The pupils write an IMO-style problem paper every day, and are given lectures on high-level problem-solving. In May, the IMO team of six and the PAMO team of four, and one or two reserves, are announced. Selection is on merit alone, except for the rule that, once selected for an IMO team, a student is not considered for a PAMO team. They continue working on assignments. Finally, in July, the teams and reserves meet for a pre-Olympiad training Camp at a University in Gauteng. They leave directly for the IMO at the end of the camp. Thus, for every South African team, the IMO is the culmination of an 18-month programme which begins with the launch of the Mathematical Talent Search in January of the previous year.

The Talent Search does not consist simply of doing the tests. Participants who aspire to winning a medal in the South African Mathematics Olympiad, or a place in the South African teams for the International Mathematical Olympiad team or the Pan African Mathematics Olympiad, or simply want to extend their mathematical horizons, have access to a range of inexpensive publications that have been published over the years in the IMO programme. There are seven booklets in the South African Mathematical Society’s series of Mathematical Olympiad Training Notes. Each year a full record of the process of selecting and training an IMO team is produced [8; 36/3, 2005]. These volumes contain a wealth of Olympiad problems, with full solutions, and are recommended reading for all Olympiad hopefuls. These publications, including back numbers of Mathematical Digest, are made available at low prices to high schools from the University of Cape Town. Though there are overseas equivalents of these publications, they are never available in local bookshops, and would cost four to five times as much if ordered from overseas. Furthermore, the local IMO publications are a valuable source of enrichment material for Mathematics teachers.

Support for the Talent Search and IMO/PAMO Programme was provided from 1992 to 1994 by the Foundation for Research Development (R106 000 in 1994). In some circles, the South African IMO Programme was perceived as ‘elitist’, and it became clear that future funding of the IMO programme in its 1994-form was unlikely. However, the FRD indicated that future funding would be a possibility if the IMO Programme were part of a broader joint SAMS-AMESA national programme for Mathematical enrichment at school level [13(f); 28/03/1994]. The Programme was supported in 1995 by the University of Cape Town, and from 1996 to 2005 by Old Mutual (R150 000 per year), when it was known as the Old Mutual Mathematical Talent Search. During the years of their sponsorship, Old Mutual set aside a large portion of their sponsorship (R50 000 annually) to support regional programmes or workshops with a competition/Olympiad theme. Old Mutual laid emphasis on the need for projects in that section of their sponsorship to have a significant ‘development’ component [8; 29, 1997]. In 1999, 17 teachers from the Eastern Cape rural schools attended the regular Stellenbosch camp, with financial support from the DG Murray Trust, Investec and Anglo American Chairman’s Fund [8; 31/3, 2000]. Also, in January 2002, a Mathematical Camp for high school teachers was held in Durban, once again supported by a grant from the DG Murray Trust. This Camp was organised by Dr Sudan Hansraj (University of Natal), Professor Nic Heideman (Rhodes University) and Dr Sizwe Mabizela (University of Cape Town). Since 2006, SAASTA sponsors the Talent Search and IMO/PAMO Programme as a temporary arrangement until another sponsor can be found. The budget for the 2006-Talent Search was R400 000, excluding expenditure incurred specifically for the PAMO team, and SAASTA provided R300 000 of emergency funding for 2006 [8; 37/3, 2006]. The travel expenses for the 2007-IMO team to Vietnam were covered by the SAMF from their own reserves. The 2007-Stellenbosch Camp was sponsored by the University of Stellenbosch, as no other sponsor could be found, while the 2008-Stellenbosch Camp was sponsored by Harmony Gold and the Department of Science and Technology (DST), via the SAMF. The 2008-Camp was attended by 49 pupils (who were selected on their performances in the Talent Search and competitions), a ‘development’ group of nine (sponsored by the DST), five Zimbabwians and three Namibians.

For the first about thirty years since its establishment in 1966, the final round of the South African Mathematical Olympiad had been dominated by English speaking boys, mostly from the exclusive English language private schools. In the period 1966–83 there were 164 medallists in total, 154 boys and 10 girls. The home language of 73% of them was English, 18% Afrikaans, 1% English and Afrikaans, and 8% some other language, such as Chinese, Japanese, German or Zulu [4]. The reason, as was widely accepted, was that the teaching of Mathematics in those private schools encouraged problem solving, lateral thinking and enrichment, and not so much drilling to get good results in the Senior Certificate (Matriculation) examinations. The medals went to those pupils whose schools provided the right sort of background for problem solving. Today, all schools in the country are informed about the Talent Search, and all that is required from a participant is enthusiasm and the commitment to work through the problem-solving assignments. In 2004, ten students were selected through the Talent Search to represent South Africa. An IMO team of six went to Athens in July and a PAMO team of four went to Tunisia in August. The teams were chosen on merit. Five of the ten were girls, and three of the ten were not White. Eight of the ten won medals in the two Olympiads: three Silver Medals and one Bronze Medal at the IMO, and two Silver Medals and two Bronze Medals at the PAMO. These students also went on to take eight of the ten medals in the final round of the 2004 South African Mathematics Olympiad [8; 35/3, 2004]. Girls are always under-represented at the IMO. In 2004, for example, only 41 of the 486 school students were girls. South Africa was one of only two countries with three girls in their IMO team of six. In his Presidential Report at the 2006-AGM, the President mentioned that, in all Olympiad activities, there is still a problem with racial and gender representation [8; 37/3, 2006].

The IMO has never taken place on the African continent. In his 1996-Report on the IMO, Professor John Webb mentioned that South Africa certainly has the infrastructure to host an IMO The major challenges might be the financial aspects and the mathematical support and expertise, since an experienced Problems Committee, a Jury and about 50 Coordinators for assessing papers are needed. Such an occasion would provide a valuable opportunity to stimulate interest in Mathematics and promote excellence in Mathematics education in South Africa [8; 28/2, 1996]. At the 2005-AGM, it was reported that Old Mutual will no longer sponsor the IMO-programme after 2006, and that Prof John Webb no longer wishes to be in charge of the local IMO-programme. At the 2006-AGM, it was noted that that SAMS was no longer involved in any Olympiads. All Olympiad organisation and funding arrangements with respect to PAMO and IMO are now in the hands of the SAMF. There were no comments from the floor when this was announced [8; 37/3, 2006].

(iii) Interprovincial Mathematics Olympiad

The Interprovincial Mathematics Olympiad (IPMO) has been a regular annual event since 1990. A project of SAMS up to 2004, and now of SAMF (see Section B(ii) above and Section C below) it forms part of the programme to identify and stimulate mathematical promise in high school pupils. Selection for a provincial team is recognised by some schools as equivalent to provincial selection for athletics, cricket or rugby. Although the IPMO operates independently of the Talent Search and the SAMO, the interaction between these three projects is significant. Provincial teams are chosen using the results of the SAMO early rounds, and individual prowess in the IPMO is a factor influencing invitations to attend the Stellenbosch Camp. The ‘provinces’ taking part are hybrids of the four provinces of the past, the nine of the present, and sporting boundaries of both eras: Boland, Gauteng North, Gauteng South, Eastern Cape, Western Province, North-West Province, Free State and Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal Coast, KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, KwaZulu-Natal Piranhas, Border, Vaal Triangle, Limpopo and South Western Districts. Each province enters two teams of ten each: Junior (Grades 8 and 9) and Senior (Grades 10, 11 and 12), and may also enter B,C,D,… teams at each level. The competition takes place on a Saturday afternoon in September in various centres around the country. The teams write two papers: the first round is an individual event consisting of a one-hour multiple-choice problem paper, and the second round consists of ten quite difficult problems, to be solved by the team as a whole in 30 minutes. Papers are marked at once, and teams scores are phoned, faxed or e-mailed through to the IPMO National Organiser. When all scores are in, the rankings are sent back to the provinces at about 5 pm. There have been three national coordinators thus far, namely, Professors Johann Engelbrecht, Pieter Maritz and Peter Dankelmann. The strengths of some of the provincial teams over the years can be attributed to special programmes like, for example, the Nautilus Programme of the University of the Free State, the Mathematical Circle Project at the University of Cape Town and the fortnightly programme of Mathematics enrichment classes at the University of Stellenbosch. Up to 1998, the IPMO had been run on a shoestring budget, with local costs covered by the university, teacher’s centre or school hosting the provincial team. In 1999, for the first time, the IPMO received corporate sponsorship, with Telkom donating R5000 to be divided among the participating provinces. Telkom also sponsored the IPMO-2000 competition. The present IPMO-sponsorship by the Actuarial Society of South Africa commenced in September 2001, and each participating province is allocated a budget of up to R2000 from which it may pay local costs, and provide refreshments, t-shirts and certificates for the teams. Up to 2005, the sponsorship money was administered by the SAMS Treasurer, and thereafter by the SAMF. During 2007, the balance of the sponsorship money (R28 046) was transferred from SAMS to the SAMF-account [8; 38/3, 2007]. In 2007, the senior level was won by Boland A, while the junior level was won by KwaZulu-Natal Piranhas A. The 2008 senior level was won by KwaZulu-Natal Coast A, with Western Province A as winners of the junior level.

                                       Presidents WJ Kotzé, CH Brink, N Sauer and JJ Grobler, 1994 (SAMS Archives)

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The South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) is a section 21 company registered on 4 October 2004 to advance the Mathematics development and education of South African children and young people through improved quality teaching and learning of Mathematics as well as through public awareness activities. The main partners of the SAMF are AMESA and SAMS, sponsored by Harmony Gold Mining. A Board, consisting of representatives from SAMS, AMESA, SAASTA/NRF, the sponsor, DST and DoE supervise the activities [8; 35/2, 2004].

Background and Rationale:

South Africa faces many challenges, the main focus being that of economic development. An accelerated economic development should be spearheaded by appropriate technological innovations and advancement. For this to happen there is general consensus that the quality of teaching and learning Mathematics is central to any curriculum. The two professional societies for Mathematics in the country, SAMS and AMESA, together representing the Mathematics community in South Africa, acknowledge that there are common areas of operation in terms of Mathematics development and education in this country and hence the need to pool the resources of the two organisations to meet the challenges. The Foundation has identified areas of focus and challenges:

(i) few learners do Mathematics at FET (Further Education and Training) level;

(ii) the need for mathematical literacy;

(iii) poor public image of the state of Mathematics;

(iv) shortage of appropriately equipped teachers of Mathematics;

(v) lack of appreciation and acknowledgement of Mathematics as the basis for scientific and technological advancement;

(vi) the concern of stakeholders of the competency level of our learners in Mathematics.

The South African Mathematics Foundation has been formed to promote the common areas of operation of both AMESA and SAMS in terms of Mathematics development in South Africa, to provide logistical support where needed and to further develop the activities in which AMESA and SAMS are involved [11]. Both these two societies have so far been run by mathematicians or Mathematics educators in their spare time; university and other tertiary educators as well as secondary and primary school educators doing this job for the love of it. For an efficient coordination and administration of the listed activities an administrative support structure is needed. This will ensure that the combined skills, expertise and professional capabilities of the members of these two societies can be utilised in a professional manner. Through a national office for Mathematics in the country, it will be possible to exploit the infrastructure and expertise of both AMESA and SAMS and incorporate and extend a number of existing programmes. Participation in extramural activities will provide educators with the experience and confidence to approach curriculum changes with a positive attitude. It is likely that enrichment material will in turn develop into topics suitable for inclusion in school syllabuses. The central target market will be the Mathematics educators and future users of Mathematics. The autonomy of each organisation SAMS and AMESA is acknowledged and respected. The aim is to provide administrative and other logistical support where needed and to further develop the activities in which both organisations are involved.

Aims and Objectives:

(1) To create a mathematically enabling environment which provides opportunities for all learners to develop to their fullest potential;

(2) To inculcate a culture of Mathematics;

(3) To appreciate and acknowledge the critical role of Mathematics in the technological environment;

(4) To create a broad base for Mathematics participation by all stake-holders specifically including the learners and Mathematics educators;

(5) To create opportunities for global interaction and competitiveness;

(6) To popularise Mathematics among all South Africans and to assist in improving the public image of Mathematics in South Africa, acknowledging the critical role of Mathematics in the technological environment;

(7) To develop programmes that will contribute to the mathematical development of all South Africans;

(8) To impact positively on the standard of Mathematics teaching and learning;

(9) To promote research in Mathematics and Mathematics education;

(10) To enable educators to participate in co-curricular programmes in order to provide them with the necessary skills and confidence to meet the challenges of curriculum changes;

(11) To provide administrative and logistical support to AMESA and SAMS and to develop a central focus for the societies;

(12) To liaise with organisations and stakeholders with similar aims and objectives.

In May 2005, Dr Mathume Bopape was appointed as Executive Director of the SAMF, and Prof Johann Engelbrecht succeeded him on 1 April 2008. The present chairman of the SAMF Board is Vishnu Naidoo of AMESA. It was decided at the 2002-AGM that SAMS should respond to the proposed National Curriculum Statement (NCS) for Mathematics at Further Education and Training (FET) level. Furthermore, the 2002-AGM of SAMS expressed its

(i) concern that an already demoralised, under-qualified and shrinking body of teachers will be unable to cope with the new syllabus, so that instead of the envisaged increase in number of qualifications in FET Mathematics from 2006 onwards, our country will instead suffer a decrease, and

(ii) its concern over the fact that no clear examination standards are implied in the current FET NCS, and that indeed the Directorate for Examinations played no role in drawing up the proposed NCS for Mathematics [8; 33/3, 2002].

A ‘Response from the AGM of the South African Mathematical Society to the proposed National Curriculum Statement for Mathematics and Mathematical Literacy at the Further Education and Training Level’ was sent to the DoE in January 2003 [8; 34/1, 2003]. The Response contains lists of positive aspects, concerns, mathematical corrections and suggestions (such as that the decimal point should be used instead of a decimal comma, that a comma (and not a semicolon) should be used in ordered pairs, that the log function should receive attention in Grade 10 already, and so on). In this document, SAMS expressed its concern about a number of aspects, and offered to render assistance in the training of teachers and the setting of examinations [8; 34/1, 2003]. A workshop on the NCS was jointly organised in 2006 by DST, DoE, SAMS and SAMF, on the latter’s initiative. It seems likely that there will be opportunities created for SAMS members to apply for funding to run educator development workshops [8; 37/3, 2006]. The running of the SAMO was formally transferred from the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns to SAMF, and senior officials from the DST and DoE will serve on the Board of SAMF. An advisory board, consisting of representatives from SAMS, AMESA, SAASTA/NRF, Harmony Gold, the DST and the DoE will supervise the activities of SAMF.

National Mathematics Week:

The SAMF celebrated the Seventh National Mathematics Week from 4 to 8 September 2006 at the Fezile Dabi Education Resource Centre in Kroonstad, Free State. The Mathematics Week was first introduced during the World Mathematics Year 2000, with the support of the Department of Education. The South African Committee for the International Mathematical Union (IMU), through its member’s organisation, the Association for Mathematics Education of South Africa (AMESA) and the South Africa Mathematical Society (SAMS), declared the second week of every year as National Mathematics Week. AMESA has celebrated Mathematics Week with success every year since 2000. The key objectives are:

  • To highlight the beauty, utility and applicability of Mathematics.
  • To dispel the myth that Mathematics is difficult, cold, abstracts and only accessible to a selected few.
  • Focusing in Mathematics and Mathematics education with aim of making Mathematics more interesting, attractive, relevant, challenging, rewarding, and engaging to learners and the community at large.
  • To highlight the impact of Mathematics on people’s daily lives and emphasising the importance of Mathematics as a foundation for careers in science, technology and managerial jobs.
  • To popularise Mathematics and create opportunity for learners, parents and teachers to together share the excitement of Mathematics.
  • To identify and nurture mathematically talented youth, particularly African and girl learners.
  • To provide information and guidance on careers in Mathematics.
  • To contribute towards professional development of Mathematics educators in South African.
  • To promote the advancement of the Mathematics in South Africa.

In 2008, the SAMF issued a booklet with title Careers in Mathematics, with Ronél Oosthuizen as Editor, Ansie Harding as Advisor and Johann Engelbrecht as Coordinator.

Supplementary Programme at Dinaledi Schools:

At the Launch of the South African Mathematics Foundation on Monday, 25 September 2008, Mr Edward Mosuwe, Chief Director in the Department of Education (DoE) made a call to both the South African Mathematics Society (SAMS) and the Association for Mathematics Education of South Africa (AMESA) as well as interested mathematicians and Mathematics educators to join hands with the DoE in offering supplementary tuition to groups of Grade 12 Mathematics learners in Dinaledi Schools. The DoE aims to produce at least 50 000 learners with a pass (at least 50%) in Grade 12 Mathematics at the end of this year 2008. In an effort to achieve this feat, they have identified learners whose current average scores lie in the range 40 – 49% and, it is these students that SAMS members are being called upon to tutor for the period 01 September – 31 October 2008. It is hoped that with your sacrifice, these groups of students can be assisted to reach the 50% mark.

SAMS Workshops:

The 2008-Workshop, the third in a series of workshops funded by the DST and organised by SAMS with the assistance of SAMF, was held in August 2008. It was well attended, and focused on the topic: How much pure mathematics should be included in a mathematics teacher’s preliminary training? The DoE was represented, as well as representatives of the mathematics education community, and the scene has been set for real and meaningful collaboration in the future.

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The credibility of SAMS with the present government is increased through its involvement with the SAMF. It gives both directly and indirectly access to senior levels of government. For example, the Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Mosibudi Mangena, delivered an address to the 2004-Annual Congress of SAMS at the North West University, Potchefstroom Campus [8; 35/3, 2004], [8; 36/3, 2005]. In August 2005, the Deputy Minister of Education, Mr Enver Surty, held discussions with a delegation from SAMF, AMESA and SAMS. Government expressed its concern about the low success rate in first year Mathematics at tertiary level, and they would be interested in

(i) new ideas for improving success in first year Mathematics, and

(ii) providing additional funding for a well-motivated program [8; 36/2, 2005].

Later in 2005, the President of SAMS held further meetings with the Deputy Minister of Education, with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and with the Department of Education (DoE), about possible ways to improve Mathematics research in South Africa. Options discussed included:

(i) the setting up senior research fellowships whereby an academic is relieved of all undergraduate teaching and administrative duties for five years, so as to be able to concentrate on research and on masters and doctoral supervision, and

(ii) the establishment of some form of virtual Mathematics research institute with nodes in different universities throughout South Africa [8; 36/3, 2005].

In order to fund any new initiative, government needed objective reasons, and that would mean the appointment of a committee that investigates and produces a written report containing recommendations. The following motion was proposed and accepted at the 2005-AGM at Rhodes University:

The Council of SAMS is mandated to arrange international reviews of Mathematics research, and of the post graduate system [8; 37/3, 2006].

A meeting with the DST in July 2006 led to a National Workshop about this issue in August 2006. Purpose of the review:

  • to report on the status of research in mathematical sciences at South African Higher Education Institutes;
  • to assess the application and innovation linked to mathematical sciences research conducted in South Africa;
  • to recommend key issues for consideration in the development of a strategy to improve research in mathematical sciences in South Africa.

In April 2008, the SAMS members were notified by the SAMS President, Hlengani Siweya, that the review of mathematical sciences research had been commissioned by the DST. In October 2008, an amount of R795 603 had been allocated by the National Research Foundation (NRF) for the exercise. The Review Oversight Committee (ROC) comprised of:

Prof Nigel Bishop, University of South Africa (Chair of ROC) (SAMS);

Prof Nic Heideman, University of Cape Town (AMESA);

Dr Andrew Kaniki, National Research Foundation;

Mr Chief Mabizela, Department of Education;

Dr Peter Njuho, University of KwaZulu-Natal (SASA);

Prof Michael Sears, University of Witwatersrand (Industry/Academia);

Dr Gilbert Siko, Department of Science and Technology;

Ms Jean Skene, Department of Education.

The ROC appointed the following International Review Panel:

Prof Bill Barton, Head, Department of Mathematics, University of Auckland, New Zealand;

Prof Naresh Dadhich, Director, InterUniversity Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, India;

Prof Kathy Driver, Dean of Science, University of Cape Town South Africa;

Prof Diane Hildebrandt, School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa;

Prof Sunil Maharaj, School of Mathematical Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (Convenor of International Review Panel);

Prof John Odhiambo, Vice-Chancellor, Strathmore University, Kenya;

Prof Peter Sarnak, Eugene Higgins Professor of Mathematics, Princeton University, USA.

The NRF managed the review process, and the International Review Panel held interviews during the week 10–19 November 2008 [8;39/3, 2008]. They met individuals from the following bodies: Representatives from the NRF; Representatives from the Department of Science and Technology (DST); Acting Chief Executive Officer, National Advisory Council for Innovation (NACI); Deputy Director-General, Department of Education (DOE); Deputy Director, Statistics South Africa (SASA); President, Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR); Vice-President, Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf); Director, National Institute of Theoretical Physics (NITheP); Director, African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS); Director, South African Mathematical Foundation (SAMF); President, South African Mathematical Society (SAMS); President, Association of Mathematical Educators of South Africa (AMESA); University of Pretoria; University of South Africa; University of Limpopo; North-West University; University of the Witwatersrand; University of Johannesburg; University of Zululand; Durban University of Technology; University of KwaZulu-Natal; University of Cape Town; University of Western Cape; Stellenbosch University; Cape Peninsula University of Technology. The International Review Panel also made site visits to the following places: National Research Foundation, University of Pretoria, University of the Witwatersrand, University of Johannesburg, University of Zululand, Durban University of Technology, University of Cape Town, University of Western Cape.

The website for [10] is as follows: http://evaluation.nrf.ac.za/Content/Documents/review_msr_report.pdf

The International Review Panel Report ([10]) that was released by the DST in February 2009 made the following interrelated recommendations (given in summarised form here):

1 Capacity Development

There is an urgent need to develop capacity at postgraduate and new researcher levels to fill the generational gap. Young students must be attracted to the field, supported and mentored to continue in it, and given the means to produce relevant, internationally competitive research. The key to capacity development in the long-term is the establishment at all universities of professional environments that stimulate and nurture creativity in exciting and relevant mathematics.

2 Interconnectivity

In order to obtain reasonable coverage of different research areas, to exploit developing areas of research, and to ensure that high quality undergraduate education in the mathematical sciences is available across the country, cooperation between universities at both student and academic staff levels should be established. Cooperation among universities will benefit both large/strong departments and those smaller/weaker departments, or those that experience greater isolation. Both national and international interaction needs to be at higher levels than at present to break the geographical and academic isolation.

3. Strengthening Foundations

The development of Mathematics education in schools is a challenge which needs to be addressed for the future of research in all mathematical sciences. There is a huge pool of latent mathematical talent which remains untapped in rural South Africa. It must be marshalled into an effective intellectual force. Mathematics teachers are the key in this situation. They need to be motivated and given opportunities for continuing development. Research mathematicians and Mathematics educators all have an important role to play, without suggesting that they alone can (or should) solve the problem. A national structure needs to be established to bring secondary Mathematics teachers into contact with mathematicians and contemporary developments in Mathematics.

4. The Image of Mathematics

The importance of a sound foundational and research base in the mathematical sciences is absolutely critical for national development in science, commerce, and technology. Without these foundations attempts at establishing a knowledge-based society and achieving innovation and development are doomed to failure. Recognition of this relationship in society at large is an important step towards creating the mathematical base needed.

5 Statistics

The crisis in statistics must be urgently addressed if its existence into the future is to be assured. Top priority must be given to attracting and retaining a younger generation of statisticians.

6 National Centre of Mathematical Science

Research in the mathematical sciences has reached a threshold of capacity and expertise but urgently needs to move to a higher level. A vision and means by which this can be actualised is required. Such a vision must also address the areas of critical need and development identified above. We therefore recommend the establishment of a National Centre of Mathematical Science (NCOMS) to serve all South African universities. Such an institute would have the capacity to host focused programmes in the mathematical sciences, provide opportunities for academic staff and student connectivity and development, and allow cross-fertilisation and cooperation between Mathematics, Mathematics education, industry, and research institutions in related disciplines. The Centre would need to be independent of any particular university, but would exist to serve them all. It would draw expertise from the universities in South Africa as well as from abroad. The centre would focus on capacity development and high quality research.

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