by MTHULISI SIBANDA
JOHANNESBURG – AT only 18 and still in high school, South African mathematics prodigy, Ralph McDougall, has the world at his feet.
Such is his brilliance that the Cape-Town born scholar recently was joint top in the South African Tertiary Mathematics Olympiad (SATMO), finishing alongside five second- and third-year university students.
McDougall also won this year’s University of Cape Town Maths competition.
The teenager has displayed his outstanding ability on the international stage, finishing fourth in Africa at the recently-concluded International Olympiad in Informatics held in Japan. It is the biggest programming Olympiad focused on schoolchildren around the world.
“I’ve made it to the final round of the Olympiad (top 15 in the country) since grade 8. My teacher at the time, Mrs Licia van der Vyver, encouraged me to do it and encouraged me to keep at it,” the Curro Durbanville scholar said.
McDougall recalled he had always done well in Maths at school.
“It was probably since Grade 5 or 6 that I’ve consciously tried to practice as much as possible and go beyond the school syllabus,” he said.
McDougall has always enjoyed coming up with creative solutions to difficult problems.
“It’s really satisfying when you’ve been working on a hard problem for several hours and then finally make the vital break-through to solve it,” he said.
Maryke McDougall, his mother, said her son had been gifted with a high aptitude for Maths, which was evident from nursery school age.
“We are very proud of his achievements and are really pleased when hard work is rewarded by doing well in competitions but also getting fantastic opportunities to travel very widely across the world to represent our country doing the subjects he is passionate about,” she said.
In addition to a good support system at home, McDougall receives immense support at school, while his teacher allows him to work at his own level in Maths classes.
“The school has also accommodated me for all of the weeks I’ve been out of school for Maths by moving tests or by letting me submit projects over email while I’m away,” he said.
McDougall said his former teacher, Maria Schmidt, who taught him Maths from Grade 7 to 10, helped to nurture his talent.
Schmidt, who is Curro Curriculum Management and Delivery: Manager High Schools and Mathematics Specialist, said she realised at an early stage in teaching McDougall that he interacted differently with the mathematical environment.
“I also realised that Ralph finished normal problems within seconds, not even writing down the strategies and without using traditional algorithms. He grasped mathematical concepts with ease. I recognised that this boy has an inquisitive mind that never stops discovering and asking questions,” Schmidt said.
She said her student had always been humble.
“I realised that as a highly talented person he never thought he knew it all. His talent was extraordinary, but so was his teachability. He has a teachable attitude and therefore becomes a talent-plus learner.”
Dirk van Zyl, Curro Durbanville’s Executive Head, said they were honoured having McDougall in their school system.
“His talent and dedication in life has been an inspiration for his fellow peers and teachers. We certainly look forward to keeping an eye on him and his exciting future endeavours,” van Zyl said.
McDougall plans to study electronic engineering at the University of Stellenbosch in 2019.
– CAJ News