Eighteen-year-old Luca Escopelli is among hundreds of young Brazilian students that travelled to Rio receive a gold medal at a special ceremony at ICM 2018 this afternoon.   This is the sixth time Luca, from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, has won gold for math excellence in the innovative OBMEP (Brazilian Maths Olympiad for Public Schools), the largest school competition in the world, which simultaneously tests the math proficiency of more than 8% of Brazil’s population.

 

Last year, more than 18 million youngsters attempted the first round of the test (more than the population of Chile!), applied by IMPA, the Brazilian Pure and Applied Math Institute, in 99.6% of municipalities across the nation, in partnership with the Brazilian Mathematics Society.

 

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OBMEP Coordinator, and Deputy Director of IMPA, Claudio Ladrim, explained that 6,500 medalists are invited every year to participate in lessons at local universities, and receive a Scientific Initiation scholarship (PIC) from CNPq of R$100 per month. “They are taught by professors of the university, problems and subjects that they are not taught in school. At the same time we try to stimulate them to continue their studies at university,” he said.

 

Luca participated in PIC over several years, and says this helped him attain a scholarship at the private school where he is currently studying. He hopes to study Computer Engineering at ITA Aeronautical Institute.   PIC works, he says, “because there are often lots of students at school that are not interested in math, and the teachers have to spend a lot of time running after them.” In a classroom with like-minded students, the classes “flow better”, he said.

 

PIC teaching methodologies are different from traditional school classes, explained Fabíola Loterio (18) from the state of Espírito Santo, who won her third gold medal this year, along with her triplet sisters.   The three now study math together at the Federal University of Espírito Santo. In her early PIC days, Fabíola found it difficult to adjust to a different way of learning math, “but once I became accustomed to it, I began to fall more and more in love with math. At school, we always focused on formulas, without understanding the concepts.”

 

The Brazilian Maths Olympiad for Public Schools (OBMEP in Portuguese) was conceived in 2005, to identify students with a capacity for math, with the objective of helping these adolescents (from 6th grade of elementary school to the senior year in high school) to develop their potential in math, using logic and creativity, rather than traditional formulas.

 

Since it’s inception in 2005, OBMEP has tested students in all of Brazil’s public schools, and last year private schools were also including in testing. 13% of this year’s gold medals were awarded to youngsters from the private education sector. Medals will be awarded at 15:30h today.