Mathematics has long been perceived a difficult subject for many Ghanaian students, with its complex formulae and application methods.
But a mathematics prodigy has emerged in Ghana – seventeen-year-old Roni Adom Edwin, who won a bronze medal at the 2020 International Mathematical Olympiad; the highest scoring student from Africa.
I have come to meet him and his team mate, Valerie Ackon during a leisure break at the plush Marriot hotel in Accra.
It’s been a few weeks since Roni made Ghana proud by winning the bronze medal at the championship which is held annually in different countries.
“I started in 2016, but did not begin preparing and training for the Olympiad until 2017. This was after I took part in the Ghana Olympiad,” a shy-looking Roni told me.
He said, “I did not qualify the first time I partook in the Ghana phase and between then and 2018, I had more time to better myself and prepare for the International competition.”
Roni’s unassuming posture appears deceptive.
I see a calm and composed young man, adorn in a Kente-like shirt; an apparel I will soon gather, was the team code.
But behind the calm disposition of the seventeen-year-old, is one of the brightest Maths brains around.
The seventeen-year-old became only the Fourth West African to win a medal in the competition, also emerging the highest scoring student from Africa.
“I got an honorable mention at my first try and then worked hard to better myself,” Roni noted.
This year’s edition – the sixty first in a series, was different due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions.
But that in some way afforded Roni more time to prepare, he told 3news.com.
“The IMO was postponed to September this year – that also helped me because I had some more time to prepare and I had more training from my mentors.
Being a rigorous competition, it obviously requires some of the brightest mathematical brains in the world to participate.
The Ghana International School student was up for it this year – of course with a plan!
“I knew that the problem one is the easiest; I anticipated it was going to be a geometry question and it was. I was able to score full points on that.”
Even though problem two was algebra; one of my favorites I did not score full points.
I scored full points for number theory problem and then partial credit for another, that’s how I won the bronze medal,” Roni said with a smile.
Reactions after winning bronze
As you would expect, a raft of congratulatory messages and well wishes have already come.
Roni’s parents, Dr. Ama Edwin and Dr. Frank Edwin are proud of their son; they believe this is just a spring to propel the teenager to greater heights.
He could afford a good cheer and a fancy dance; when the announcement was made.
The principal of his school and some of his mates have reached out to him; and he feels good about it.
Roni, is one of a five-member Ghanaian team that represented the country at the IMO this year.
He hopes to get better by winning a silver or gold sometime.
His teammate, the only female representative from Ghana, Valerie Ackon is proud to have also received partial credits for solving some of the questions in the competition.
It was a new territory for her, and for a first timer, a great start.
She told 3news.com, “to be honest I did not expect to score a point in any of the problems at the IMO, because it was my first time and I was anxious even though I had gone through enough preparation.”
Valerie was one of Fifty-Six girls represented at the championship out of over Six Hundred participants worldwide.
“The 2020 IMO had only Fifty-Six of us. It is a competition for boys; ten to one (10:1) ratios of boys to girls, more like the National Science and Maths Quiz but I still managed to make it.”
The Wesley Girls High School student, in her second year had to give up a lot to make this happen.
“Because of the Covid-19 pandemic everything was online and I had to juggle with school work. I had to skip prep and supper because of the class times.”
But through it all, she is happy she took the step and confident of winning a medal soon.
At a time many young girls are battling a phobia for Mathematics, the Wesley Girls high school student is challenging herself.
“It was the first time I saw a Maths problem and could not solve it; because maths is a subject I love.
I sat before a Maths paper and it did not look like anything I had seen before. Then I knew I had to take it up as a challenge to improve,” Valerie told 3news.
She was discovered by the MISE foundation, an academic enrichment programme for young mathematicians in Ghana, through a painstaking process fully sponsored by the US Embassy in Accra with support from enterprise group.
She wants young girls to aspire to the top; to break barriers and challenge the status quo.
“I encourage other girls interested in Maths like me to take this up. It is an interesting opportunity to meet many people from different backgrounds to learn more.
Through this, you would discover that what you know is not enough; a call to strive for excellence.”
Ghana’s coaches optimistic of greater success for team members
Ghana’s coaches Yi Han, Josh Alman and Trenton Osborn are impressed with the performance of the team at the championship.
They are optimistic Roni, Valerie and the others will rise to greater things.
Yi Han said, “more than 100 countries have participated in the IMO; that’s more than ninety (90%) of the world’s population.”
“Many people who have taken part in the IMO and represented their countries at the international championship have gone on to become famous mathematicians and scientists, we have no doubt our students will go on to accomplish many more great things for Ghana and the world,” Yi maintained.
It’s been days since the announcement and Roni and Valerie are basking in the moment, and inspiring other young people to take up the challenge.
Other members of the Ghanaian team who participated in the 2020 International Mathematical Olympiad at St. Petersburg, Russia include Keith Torpey, East Airport International School, Sylvester Arizi, Adisadel College and Prince Debrah, Presby Boys Legon.
About the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO)
The International Mathematical Olympiad is the World Championship Mathematics Competition for High School students and is held annually in a different country.
The first IMO was held in 1959 in Romania. Ghana’s first participation was in 2014 in South Africa.
The MISE Foundation is the organization authorized by the International IMO Board to select and train talented Ghanaian High school mathematicians for the program.
Structure of the Ghana selection program
Round 1 – Problem Solving Tournament (A nationwide math competition for high school students)
Round 2 – A National Training Camp for the top 12 scorers on the Round 1 exam.
Round 3 – Team Selection Exam –to determine who represents Ghana at the International Mathematical Olympiad.
Round 4 – The best and brightest high school mathematicians from the Round 3 (Team selection Exam) will be selected to represent Ghana at the IMO.
Medaling at the International Math Olympiad is extremely difficult and takes years of dedication and commitment to train and develop outstanding mathematicians who can compete at the world stage.
Funding training programmes
Since 2016, The US Embassy in Accra has partnered with MISE Foundation to fund the Math Olympiad training program for top high school mathematicians in Ghana.
Roni is a direct beneficiary of all these training programs which has now resulted in Ghana’s first medal win.
In the 2020 math Olympiad season, the Embassy increased its support by granting over 3000 students from 39 public schools across the country the opportunity to participate in team selection programs as well as advanced problem solving training by leading US Mathematicians.