SOTY 21/22: Scientist & Mathematician runner-up discusses why maths is a crucial tool for solving social issues

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  • Wong Ka-yu from Diocesan Girls’ School says Olympiad mathematics showed her how the subject is applicable to everyday life
  • The 17-year-old is the first runner-up in the Scientist & Mathematician category of this year’s Student of the Year (SOTY) awards
Angel Woo |
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Wong Ka-yu is a Form Six student at Diocesan Girls’ School. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Wong Ka-yu enjoyed memorising the multiplication table with her mother when she was just two years old.

“I was very content. To me, reciting the multiplication table was just like playing games,” said Ka-yu, 17, a Form Six student from Diocesan Girls’ School, who was first runner-up in the Scientist & Mathematician category of this year’s Student of the Year (SOTY) awards.

Since the little girl had already shown a great interest in numbers during her preschool years, her mother decided to send her to maths classes when she was in kindergarten.

While most kids were reluctant to do the exercises, Ka-yu enjoyed figuring out the answers. Instead, she treated the maths questions as a game.

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After she entered primary school, her teacher asked her to join maths Olympiad classes. Maths Olympiads are generally about problem solving, Ka-yu said. This is usually different to “maths” as most secondary school students know it and she gained knowledge that was not included in textbooks.

“It is very boring if you are only solving maths equations. Olympiad mathematics showed that you can apply the methods in your everyday life,” she said. “For example, you can use maths when doing robotics or physics. Maths is the foundation of science.”

Ka-yu, who took part in the International Mathematical Modelling Challenge, was asked about the most efficient way to conduct Covid-19 compulsory testing for citizens. She then realised maths could be an important tool to solve social problems.

Wong Ka-yu (from left) with the category judge Albert Wong and fellow runner-up, Lee Pak-nin. Photo: SCMP

She has been conducting Zoom classes for underprivileged children since Form Four, but many of her students were unwilling to do maths. “Whenever my students were doing maths, some of them would turn off their cameras and mics. It was really sad to see they were running away from maths,” she said.

Ka-yu said she could not bear seeing these children lose their interest in maths, so she began to think of other ways to teach her students.

“I tried to instil maths concepts into games and hoped they could enjoy it more instead of hating it … After a few more lessons, they became more engaged in maths. Seeing the change in them gave me a sense of accomplishment,” she shared.

Ka-yu said learning mathematics had trained her logical thinking and analytical skills that are applicable in different fields.

The SOTY Awards is organised by the South China Morning Post and sponsored by The Hong Kong Jockey Club.

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