Young maths whiz learned his sums buying stocks

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 October, 2010, 12:00am

Mervyn Tong Ho-wang cut his teeth in the stock market when he was in Primary Three. That was when his father gave him HK$64,000 to buy Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing shares at HK$129.90.

The share price is over HK$150 today, but the 10-year-old knows that's only part of the story of his investment. 'It's much lower than the peak before the economic crisis hit,' the Primary Five student said. 'It sold for HK$268.60 per share then.'

His recall of such data doesn't surprise his lawyer father, Anthony Tong Tat-hay, who says the maths prodigy - who has just become the youngest student to attempt a maths test for secondary school students - showed exceptional talent with numbers from the age of two. 'He has very high sensitivity to numbers,' Tong said, recalling how Mervin could remember the numbers on a lamp post when he was a toddler.

The boy was among students receiving awards yesterday for their accomplishments in the third annual World Class Tests in Mathematics and Problem Solving run by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The event drew 2,273 secondary and primary entrants in the 8-11 and 12-14 age groups.

Mervyn scored distinctions in mathematics and problem solving. 'I took the primary one last year. But it was too easy,' he said.

In the younger age group, there was a marked drop in the percentage of top performers this year compared to last year, mathematics department associate professor Wong Man-yu said. Just over a third scored a distinction in mathematics, compared with 54 per cent the year before. In problem solving, 40 per cent scored distinctions, down from 52 per cent.

The older group scored similarly to last year with 41 per cent notching up distinctions in maths (39 per cent the year before), and 31 per cent doing well in problem solving, the same as last year.

Wong said students performed the worst in algebra. 'The algebra section has two components - one giving answers and the other explaining the rationale behind the answers,' she said. 'While candidates could provide correct answers, they had great difficulty in explaining how they came to the answers. Using words to explain mathematical thoughts is a high-level skill that local students have yet to master.'