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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Chinese Girl Sparks Debate After Entering Global Math Contest Finals

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Jiang Ping, a 17-year-old student in China, has sparked debate on mathematics and education after she was shortlisted for the 2024 Alibaba Global Mathematics Competition finals.

Ranking 12th out of a total of 801 finalists, Jiang is the only female in the top 30 on the list released by DAMO Academy, a research and development branch of Alibaba Group. She is also the first secondary vocational school student to enter the finals since the competition was launched in 2018.

Jiang is currently studying fashion design at Jiangsu Lianshui Secondary Vocational School. In China, secondary vocational schools are usually attended by middle school graduates with lower scores on the high school enrollment examination, leading to stigma being attached to schools that train technicians and skilled workers.

Jiang’s ranking, announced last week, has garnered nationwide attention as she outperformed other finalists who come from prestigious schools such as Peking University, Tsinghua University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University.

Some wonder why a student so gifted in math chose to study in a secondary vocational school, while others reflect on the current education system’s drawbacks in developing students’ interests and talents. Xiong Bingqi, director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, said more chances should be created for students who excel in a particular subject, instead of evaluating all talents with a total score.

“Jiang Ping scored 621 on the high school enrollment examination in 2022, which was higher than the admission threshold of high schools in Lianshui County,” said Wang Wenlin, Party secretary of the Jiangsu Lianshui Secondary Vocational School.

Wang added that Jiang chose to study at the school because she was interested in its fashion design major, and her elder sister and two best friends also study at the school.

While people marvel at Jiang’s math talents, some envy her luck of meeting a teacher who could discover her unique capabilities. Wang Runqiu, a math teacher at the vocational school, has been Jiang’s mentor in her math studies. Wang graduated from Jiangsu University in 2020 with a master’s degree in mathematics, and he is also a finalist in the competition, ranking 125th.

Wang said he noticed Jiang because she was very attentive in class and was keen on solving challenging problems. Wang asked Jiang whether she was interested in learning advanced mathematics and the girl began her journey of reading books on mathematical analysis and partial differential equations.

Jiang would ask Wang for help when she encountered difficult problems since learning advanced math herself was difficult at first. When she first learned about the Alibaba math competition, Jiang had little confidence in herself, but she wanted to try.

“I have encountered many setbacks in the process of learning math, and if I had met a guide, maybe my life would have been different. So, I want to do everything I can to help my students and let them know that there are other possibilities in the future,” said Wang.

However, while the public was quick to label Jiang a “genius,” some began to question her exam score due to the open-book examination in the preliminary. Participants are allowed to use programming software to answer questions. Now the public is anxious to know how she does on the final exam, which will be held on Saturday.

The final is a closed-book exam, and no reference to any material or use of computing software is allowed.

“The final is much more difficult than the preliminary. If Jiang doesn’t get the result we expect in the final, I hope we won’t criticize her too much. I hope she can enjoy the competition and [do] her best,” said Wang.

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