Olympiad grows beyond expectation

Johannesburg, 11 Oct 2011

The Computer Applications Olympiad had double the anticipated number of schools participating this year.

Finalists came from six provinces to compete for the Cares trophy at the University of Cape Town.


The Computer Applications Olympiad (CAO) challenges the skills of learners in the use of computer office packages like Microsoft Office, Open Office and Libre Office. The competition is open to all full-time school learners in South Africa, but is aimed at high school learners.

The Computer Society of South Africa has been running a Programming Olympiad for 28 years. However, that competition did not cater for a new school subject, CAT (Computer Application Technology), introduced in recent years. Instead of programming, CAT students learn how to use office applications such as word processors, spreadsheets, databases, presentation tools and publishing tools. Unlike programming, CAT is offered in many disadvantaged schools, and is popular among both boys and girls.

The first Applications Olympiad took place in 2010. To the organisers' surprise, more than 6 000 learners from 118 schools entered. For 2011, they therefore expected about 10 000 learners from 200 schools. Instead, there were nearly 13 000 from close on 400 schools. Fortunately, sponsors UniForum SA and the Department of Science and Technology provided additional funding to cope with the growth.

In the round done at 393 schools, learners were asked to use their skills in extracting and manipulating information from data provided on a CD - using word processing, spreadsheets and a database. For the Finals 13, participants from six different provinces were brought to Cape Town. Their task was to create or manipulate various documents for an estate agency.


Gold medal winner and winner of the Cares Trophy was last year's silver medal winner, Helen Denny, from grade 12, at La Rochelle Girls High, in Paarl. Denny has had a computer at home since 1996, when she was four-years-old, and has had Internet access since primary school.

Denny loves Olympiads and other competitions. She is a regular competitor in the Maths Olympiad, the Science Olympiad, the English Olympiad, the Global Olympiad, the Accounting Olympiad, and many other competitions and Eisteddfods. Not surprising, she is the 2010 Dux of her school. Denny has enrolled at the Stellenbosch University to read for a BA LLB.

Silver medals went to Jaco Nortier, of Paarl Gymnasium, and Sean Wentzel, of Westerford High School.

Nortier is also a regular competitor in the Maths and English Olympiads. He is going to study for a BCom at Stellenbosch University.

Wentzel is not only a regular competitor in local Olympiads, but has also won three medals at international events. At the International Mathematics Olympiad, he won bronze in 2010, and silver in 2011. At the International Olympiad in Informatics (Programming), he won bronze in 2010. Unlike all the other winners, Wentzel does not take CAT at school. His skills are self-taught. Wentzel is going to study Computer Science and Mathematics at the University of Cape Town.

Wentzel missed the Applications Olympiad Awards function, as he was in Johannesburg to compete in the MinQuiz Competition. Westerford Principal, Rob le Roux, collected the award on his behalf.

Bronze medals went to Erns Labuschagn'e and Richard Saunders, both of Paarl Gymnasium, and Ren'e Engelbrecht, from the Ho"er Volkskool, Potchefstroom.


Guest speaker, Professor Jean-Paul van Belle, of the Information Systems Department at the University of Cape Town, spoke about the opportunities available to young people in ICT - which are more than ever before. He elaborated on several examples of students who had developed successful applications - such as IT multibillionaire Mark Shuttleworth. Many of them had started developing their successful products while still students.

The Computer Olympiad Manager drew attention to the fact that four of the six medal winners were from Paarl. He attributes this to the intense competition between schools. “This is a good example of how a competition like the Olympiad can improve education standards in an entire town.”

Provincial winners

The Computer Olympiad organisers used the occasion to announce the provincial winners for the previous round. Please click here.

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