A systematic approach

Team of Belarus State University won gold at International mathematics contest in Bulgaria
Belarusian students outmatched over 40 leading universities from 29 countries, including Princeton, Oxford, Manchester, Bonn and Bremen. In two days 300 young mathematicians had to find answers to 12 jobs 20 points each, in 5 hours. Nikita Selinger, 4th year student at applied mathematics and computer science department of BSU, was the absolute winner. His fellow students Victoria Lebed and Sergei Markovsky won the Grand Prix. All six team members won gold medals. There was no university in the 12-year history of the contest, which would gain such brilliant result. Hungary team leader said to Yuri Syroid, associated professor and Belarusian team coach: "Since you began to participate in the contest, I assign following objective to my students: the primary is to outmatch the Belarusians, and you will be the best in the world then." Alexander Radkov, Minister of education, awarded contest winners and stated that such clear-cut victory was not a sensation but a result of systematic work with gifted youth, which started in secondary school. And six gold medal witness the fact that this system is effective.

Today′s success of BSU students is of no surprise. Pavel Alekseevich MANDRIK, Dean of applied mathematics and computer science department, vice-principal for educational innovations and information technologies at BSU, told us how to plan a victory in intellectual contest.

— It is impossible to study mathematics in two or three years, just taking a school graduate and prepare him for the contest. Jobs offered to contestants are extremely diverse. Mathematical and functional analysis, linear algebra, theory of combinations, theory of functionsЎ­ There′s no way to drill in all those because math is not a specific subject to study and memorize, it is rather an abstract language. And one needs to be able to speak and think it like your native language, to think mathematical abstractions and functions. Thus, we start working with our potential students as early as in their 5th year at school, both intramural (in school for young mathematicians at university department) and extra-mural (sending jobs to all regional schools). This is not exam preparation, or coaching for testing, but deep studies of mathematics. About 3 thousand pupils gain knowledge at the department each year. We already know all our applicants beforehand. We have known Nikita Selinger since his 9th year at school. Victoria Lebed attented BSU Lyceum and was exempt from entrance examinations as a winner of math contest. This year 50 contest winners were enrolled without examinations. We have known all of them since school years.

— Is there a special curriculum for contest winners?

— There were various alternatives, and finally we decided that gifted students cannot be taught under uniform program. There should be individualized approach to each student. Sometimes we assign them personally and allow free attendance. But they mustn′t be grouped separately, for our objective is not only work with talented youth but maintain high level of education at the department in general. It very hard to study here. In return, each fourth graduate has a diploma with excellence.

— How do contest winners do after the university? Do you follow their further life?

— For instance, Ivan Losev, winner of International mathematics contest 2003, is completing his postgraduate course at Moscow State University. Alexander Usnich, another gold winner, studies at Institute of Mathematics of National Academy of sciense of Belarus and is planning to enter magistracy, works in close cooperation with Ecole Normal math school near Paris. Nikita Selinger keeps in touch with University of Bremen.

Maria Kucherova
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