The Maths Whizzkid

We fail when we have thousands of children living in uneducated, low-income families.

Every now and then the media give us some good or encouraging news. One such recent example was that concerning an eight-year-old Gozitan schoolboy who came top of the class in a global mathematics competition, despite admitting that he didn’t always enjoy the subject. Leon Azzopardi beat almost 25,000 other children in his age group and was the youngest Maltese winner in the SUPERTMATIK International Math Competition.

SUPERTMATIK is a maths card game that students can either play one-on-one, against a computer, or in timed trials, with the latter used for the recent competition. In each of the three rounds of the competition, students were shown 15 cards, one after the other, and asked to solve one of the 10 maths questions on each card selected at random.

The Year Three whizzkid completed a mental arithmetic challenge in 32.9 seconds, beating a previous world record ̶ also set by a Gozitan student. The youngster started training for the competition in November, practising daily at school with his teacher and at home with his parents.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, the Għarb primary school student said he was “happy and excited” to win the competition. “I didn’t always enjoy maths but now I feel better about it,” he said.

Leon was the youngest student from Malta to achieve first place, but three other Maltese competitors also secured the top place in their respective age categories: Giuseppi Falzon, also from Għarb primary, Wayne Bartolo, from Żebbuġ primary, and Amber Gauci, from Maria Regina College, in Naxxar. In fact, Malta came first among all the countries that took part, with Spain and Portugal placing second and third respectively. Maltese students dominated with 38 of the 90 top places awarded in all age groups.

It appears that the youngster comes from an academic family ̶ his mother is a medical scientist and his father is a principal in the Education department. Although Leon has been described as a good all-round student, his parents had never realised he had such a strong ability in maths but had always encouraged him to do his best. His achievement is all the more commendable because practising for the test in a household with two sisters aged five and two must have been a challenge!

So, my reaction is, “Leon, you’re supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” I cannot but also congratulate Leon’s teacher at Għarb primary, Donald Gauci, for motivating his students so well. No doubt, Mr Gauci would be further motivated if he were to be paid better.

Meanwhile, this story confirms a couple of things: one, that if students are motivated, they can excel even when subjects are not that exciting; two, that where children are raised in an educated and higher-income family they tend to do well in education. And that is why we fail when we have thousands of children living in uneducated, low-income families.

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