College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Maths Boffins Battle it out Despite COVID-19 Restrictions

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Emeritus Professor at UKZN Poobhalan Pillay did not let COVID-19 restrictions prevent him from coaching KwaZulu-Natal’s up-and-coming mathematics boffins.

When lockdown prevented him from holding classes in person for mathematically talented school pupils, he moved the Siyanqoba Mathematics Olympiad training programme online.

On 17 October, the young mathematicians met physically for the first time since March at the annual team competition of the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF). The national competition attracted top maths learners from across South Africa. UKZN’s Siyanqoba programme entered two 10-member junior teams and two senior teams.

The senior “UKZN” team was placed fifth out of 55 teams and the “AMESA” team 16th, while the junior “UKZN” team finished 8th out of 58 teams and the “AMESA” team 18th.

‘I think our teams did fairly well if you take into account what a hectic year this has been,’ said Pillay.

Whilst Pillay trained the junior teams, Mr Aaron Naidu was senior coach. Naidu, himself a product of the Siyanqoba Mathematics training programme, is a two-time SAMF competition winner who has represented South Africa at two International Mathematics Olympiads and is currently studying towards a Bachelor of Science degree at UKZN, majoring in Data Science.

Since 2011, the Siyanqoba programme, co-ordinated by Pillay, has assisted high school students to achieve success in the South African Mathematics Olympiads (SAMO). ‘Hundreds of learners have benefited from the programme,’ he said.

UKZN is one of 10 centres, which train interested high school pupils to solve challenging mathematical problems.

Words and photograph: Sally Frost