Though past years have proven difficult, the United States finally claimed victory over its latest obstacle. The 21 year battle came to a close in a Chiang Mai, Thailand, with the U.S. team being crowned the International Mathematical Olympiad. Overcoming what has long been an impossible hurdle, these intrepid students proved that math is not the achilles heel of America any longer.
Labeled the “hardest competition” by those brave enough to enter, this academic decathlon tests mastery of a myriad of complicated mathematical procedures. Led by Po-Shen Loh of Carnegie Mellon, the professor and his team were the first to take the championship since 1994, beating out longtime dominators China and Korea.
The victory came as a shock due to American school systems being universally panned as below average. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has rated the United States’ K-12 education system as below par, with a meager 16% of their members believing it to be above average. U.S. students score higher on national math tests than they have in the past several decades, but fall in the middle ground when compared to international scores. Theories run the range from a general lack of interest in math as a subject, to the outdated means of presenting it to students, whereas some simply feel it’s a lack of heroes to look up to. Grant Imahara of Mythbusters says “In the field we need rockstars. In the 60s astronauts were rockstars. Everyone wanted to be an astronaut.”
Whatever the reasons, this victory is one for the record books. Welcome proof that while scores may be down, the United States is never out of the fight. Though the education system can still use an overhaul in the way it’s presented to students, potential mathletes have an achievable goal to reach, and heroes worthy of their attention.