More than 600 Cambodian students will be participating in the final round of this year’s World Mathematics Invitational (WMI) competition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where they will square off against youngsters from dozens of other countries.
The 627 local students that will be joining the prestigious event come from 50 public and private schools across the country, says WMI coordinator Hong Seangbong. They were selected from a pool of 1,400 candidates after coming out on top during the preliminary round.
Seangbong, who works with Global Education Network Cambodia and Western International School, says Cambodians tend to perform well in the math contest.
“The first time we joined the competition was in 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. We brought 55 students and 21 of them won in different categories,” he says.
Last year, 100 students were sent to Fukuoka, Japan, for the contest, with 50 of them receiving awards in different categories, Seangbong told The Post.
This will be the third year Cambodia partakes in the event, which will be held in Kuala Lumpur in July.
“Global Education Network Cambodia is now providing intensive math tutoring to the students that will join the final round. They are being coached by professional math teachers from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport,” he says.
Western International School director Te Laurent says he has always strived to instill a love for mathematics in young students. Seeing young pupils interacting with other math whizzes from around the world in the previous contests was a moment of “great pride”, he says.
“We won the Star of the World twice. In 2018 in South Korea, one of our grade-6 students won the award. In 2019, our student, Narith Kanharath, took the title home. She outperformed more than a thousand competitors from 23 countries around the world,” Laurent says.
Competitions like WMI can be very positive for Cambodian students, helping them broaden their worldview and exposing them to new cultures, he says.
WMI was founded by Taiwan and now counts 23 member states. Every year, the competition is held in a different country. “One day, it will be Cambodia’s turn,” he says.
Western International School holds the preliminary round. Every year, the school organises a math competition and successful participants are invited to represent the nation in WMI’s final found, Laurent explains.
“We’ll continue promoting and popularising mathematics in our country because, as educators, we know many Cambodian students have great potential. Even me – I am an outstanding math student.”
WMI 2019 winner Kanharath describes her experience as “exciting” and the result as “unexpected” as she never thought she had what it takes to bring the trophy home.
“I was competing against 1,400 students in last year’s final round. I was nervous, but I practiced a lot, and, with the help of my teachers, I was well-prepared for the competition,” the 17-year-old recalls.
“We all sat in a big hall and started to work on our math problems. There was no one there to help you – you could only rely on yourself,” Kanharath says.
She acknowledges that she decided to join the competition to test her skills.
“I wanted to see how far I could go. After successfully completing the preliminary round, I was curious to see what else I could do.”
Along the way, Kanharath received unconditional support from her parents and teachers, who had great faith in her skills.
Upon her return to the Kingdom, she was offered a scholarship at Western International School.
“We offered her a full scholarship for the next academic year [grade 12]. If she chooses to pursue a Bachelor’s degree at Western University, we will also offer her a scholarship as well,” says Laurent.
“Our policy is this: The more outstanding you are, the less you should pay for your education. Kanharath is an outstanding student, so she shouldn’t have to worry about tuition fees,” he says.
Laurent says more needs to be done to support students pursuing academic careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
“Parents are suggesting that the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport supports this type of competition,” he says. For students that want to participate in WMI, the school covers a small percentage of the cost, but the rest needs to be shouldered by the student’s family, including airfare, food and accommodation.
“The parents would like some support from the education ministry to finance the cost of joining these competitions,” Laurent says.
Kanharath, who is now in her last year of high school, has a word of advice for fellow students.
“Please study hard and believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to join competitions in whatever field you excel in. Join as many competitions as you can.”