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Foster talented individuals through International Science Olympiads

The Yomiuri ShimbunStudents representing Japan have done well again at this year’s International Science Olympiads, at which high school pupils and equivalent-level students from various countries use their intellect to compete in a variety of scientific fields. Excellent individuals should be fostered extensively.

Students from more than 100 countries compete at the Olympiads every summer in events categorized by subject. As a science competition for high school students, it is the largest of its kinds in the world. About 30 students representing Japan have taken part in events each year over the past 10 years.

This year, all the high school students who represented Japan and competed in the areas of mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics and informatics won medals awarded to outstanding competitors. Those students who demonstrated their ability should be praised.

The Olympiads challenge the ability of participants to delve deeply into problems to understand their essence and to think logically. Representative students are given guidance by university lecturers at training camps in Japan to prepare for the competition. Besides taking examinations, competitors are given opportunities to deepen exchanges with counterparts from other countries during the Olympiads.

Being in friendly rivalry with peers interested in the same area of science and coming into contact with outstanding students from other countries must be an invaluable experience.

The number of Japanese high school students who compete in the Olympiads has been on the rise year after year, totaling more than 20,000. Those students who carry out their studies in earnest, with an eye on taking part in the Olympiads, can possibly serve as the pillars that will support Japan in becoming a scientific and technological powerhouse in the future.

Support needed

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry provides subsidies totaling about ¥300 million to cover such expenses as that for developing students’ abilities. But such tasks as producing exams to identify strong students and accompanying candidates to the Olympiads have been undertaken on a voluntary basis by university teachers, among others. A comprehensive support system is essential to further promote the competition.

It is also important to steadily develop the abilities of the special individuals discovered through the competition. The roles to be assumed by universities are great.

At such universities as the University of Tokyo and Keio University, results achieved at domestic Science Olympiads are taken into account during the screening of applications made on the basis of recommendations or via the admission office entrance exam. Many students who have taken part in the Olympiads go on to study specialized fields at university.

Universities, for their part, are required to provide such students with educational programs commensurate with their excellent abilities, for instance, by having them, even at the stage of undergraduate courses, take part in postgraduate research.

A number of former Olympiad participants from overseas have won the Fields Medal, considered to be the Nobel Prize of mathematics. In Japan, former participants of the Olympiads have become researchers at universities or companies involved in international joint research projects.

Several former participants of the International Olympiad in Informatics are working at Japanese start-ups dealing with the development and application of artificial intelligence. In a joint project with a leading automaker, some are engaged in the development of an automated driving system. Others are grappling with research involving robots that are being developed to assist in domestic tasks.

Expanding the avenues where talented young individuals specializing in science-related areas of study can demonstrate their abilities could lead to the resuscitation of Japan’s sluggish scientific and technological capabilities and would also beef up the nation’s economic power.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 26, 2019) Speech



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