Maths stars shine in IT

Johannesburg, 09 Sept 2011

Learners who do well in maths took most of the medals at the Computer Programming Olympiad finals this past weekend. In the hotly contested final round of the Standard Bank Computer Olympiad, all the medals and prize money went to boys who are also stars in other Olympiads.

At an awards dinner at Kelvin Grove, on Monday, the six winners of the 2011 Computer Programming Olympiad received their medals in front of their peers, parents, principals and teachers. Guest speaker was Donald Grant, MEC for Education for the Western Cape. In the audience were several academic leaders, and Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille.

Grant praised Olympiads for encouraging excellence not only in IT, but also in other subjects. He explained that it is the WCED's goal to have the fastest possible Internet service at all of its schools for free, or at significantly reduced costs.

The finalists represented five of South Africa's nine provinces. To be a finalist, they had to beat more than 31 000 participants from 459 schools in the first round, and 3 000 entries from 187 centres in the second round.


Overall winner, Vaughan Newton, of grade 12 at Bishops, was taking part in his third Computer Programming Olympiad final, having won silver in 2010, and having been a runner-up in 2009. Newton was a member of the South African team that took part in the International Olympiad in Informatics, in Thailand, this year. Competing against participants from 80 countries, he won a bronze medal there.

Newton is an unassuming, quiet young man, who looks more like a rugby forward than a computer enthusiast. He regularly competes in the Maths Olympiad and, of course, in international online programming competitions to hone his skills. After his tertiary studies, he hopes to establish a start-up company in ICT.

Among the prizes Newton won were the prestigious Standard Bank Trophy, R42 000 in prize money - including the R30 000 Python award, and R5 000 for his school.

He and the two silver medal winners also received access to “Books 24/7”, allowing them to use more than 11 000 books online - a very relevant and useful prize for the online generation.


Mark Shuttleworth, the IT billionaire, donated R100 000 of the prize money in his personal capacity, on condition that the recipients use the computer language Python to participate. All the medal winners did.

Python is the language that Shuttleworth used to write the software that made him a multi-billionaire. To encourage others to have the same opportunity he had, Shuttleworth made the prize money available for Python users. Python has become very popular in recent years, and Python developers are in high demand. The University of Cape Town and other universities are now using Python as the first language students will use during computer science degree courses.


Silver awards and R25 000 in prize money each were given to Stephen Barnes, a grade 11 learner at Pearson High School, in Port Elizabeth, and Sean Wentzel, a grade 12 learner at Westerford High School.

Both of them are regular Maths Olympiad participants. Barnes also came first in the Science Olympiad in 2009, while Wentzel not only won the Computer Programming Olympiad in 2010, but also achieved bronze at the International Olympiad in Informatics that year, and silver at the International Maths Olympiad this year.


Bronze awards and R13 000 in prize money each went to grade 12 learners Yaseen Hamdulay of Wynberg Boys' High, Ashraf Moolla of Rondebosch Boys' High, and Robert Spencer, a grade 11 learner at Westerford High. Both Moolla and Spencer are regular participants in Maths Olympiads.

It is Moolla's second bronze medal at the Computer Olympiad. He is following in the footsteps of his brothers, Saadiq (silver 2007, bronze 2006) and Haroon (bronze 2008, silver 2007). However, he beats his brothers in being the first in the family to win a Python prize.

Remarked Computer Olympiad Manager, Peter Waker: “Since 2006, there has only been one year when there was no Moolla boy among the medal winners. A very remarkable family.”


The other competitors in the final round received student membership of the CSSA and other gifts. They were:

Christiaan Kruger, grade 12, Duineveld High, Upington
Mose Kwon, grade 12, Pretoria Boys' High, Pretoria
Bertus Malan, grade 12, Pretoria Boys' High, Pretoria
Christiaan M"uller, grade 12, Paul Roos Gymnasium, Stellenbosch
Dylan Nelson, grade 11, Benoni High, Benoni
Guy Paterson-Jones, grade 10, Bishops, Cape Town
Dineo Sathekge, grade 12, CBC Mt Edmund, Pretoria
Ann Wait, grade 11, Nico Malan High, Humansdorp
Grant Zietsman, grade 11, Pretoria Boys' High, Pretoria

Remarked Waker: “Pretoria Boys' High did very well, having three finalists from the same school. This is only the third time in the 28-year history of the Olympiad that a school has more than two finalists - the other two occasions being Rondebosch Boys' High in 2007 and 2008.”


For the first time in a number of years, two girls took part in the finals: Dineo Sathekge from CBC Mt Edmund, in Pretoria, and Ann Wait from Nico Malan High, in Humansdorp, in the Eastern Cape.

Asked what they thought of the competition, Sathekge jokingly remarked: “If the boys had been real gentlemen, they would have let the girls come first.” Wait, who is only in grade 11, and can therefore compete again in 2012, promised in true Arnie style: “I'll be back.”


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