The Benefits of the European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad

The European Girls Mathematical Olympiad, or EGMO, is an annual competition similar to the IMO (International Mathematical Olympiad) but with only female participants. It was set up to encourage more girls to have an interest in mathematics. However, so far there has been no correlation between a country’s participation in EGMO and the number of girls on their IMO team. (http://www.egmo2018.org/blog/some-statistics-for-girls-at-imo-2017/)

The IMO is heavily male-dominated. At IMO 2017, 10.1% of the participants were female – hence almost 90% of the people there were male. There were 115 teams with a grand total of 619 competitors. That works out at about 556 males, an average of about 4.8 males per team(note: not every country brings a full team of 6 people).  The EGMO teams consist of the top four females, and on average the IMO teams consist of the top five males.

So, has the EGMO been a failure? So far it has not made an impact on gender balance at IMO. However, getting on the IMO team is not the be all and end all, the only marker of success in mathematics. Many people go on to have a successful career in mathematics without going to the IMO. The reason we need the EGMO is not to prepare girls to get on the IMO team. According to the website from EGMO 2016 in Romania, ‘[EGMO] was initiated with the purpose and desire to stimulate and motivate girls and young women to pursue their passion for mathematics’. EGMO provides friends with similar interests, role models and inspiration. Many of the girls I met at EGMO didn’t get on their country’s IMO team, but they did develop a love of mathematics.

Olympiad maths as a whole is immensely beneficial. Solving challenging problems, having to think outside the box, be creative and most importantly, persevere. It ignites a passion for mathematics in young people – for many it is their first experience of maths that isn’t boring and easy. Friends for life are made at classes, camps and competitions. It ignites a passion for maths and problem solving in many. EGMO brings all of these benefits to hundreds of young women every year.

Personally, I know that my experience at EGMO had a profound effect on my life. I really liked maths beforehand, but EGMO really sparked my love and passion for maths. This wasn’t just from the training and the competition itself, it was from spending a week surrounded by amazing people who all loved maths. We spent a week having the most fascinating conversations about mathematics. I have done far more maths since EGMO 2018 than I did before. Another thing is confidence- before EGMO I was convinced I would get 0 points there. While I didn’t do particularly well, I soared far above my expectations. The friendships I made at EGMO are lasting – this blog is one of the results of the friendships made at EGMO 2018!

Tianyiwa, who was also at EGMO 2018, agrees:

‘That was the first time I ever went on a maths olympiad, so I gained a lot of new experiences. I learnt the structure of maths olympiad contests, and it helped me get a true perspective into the difficulty of maths olympiad. And of course most importantly, the friendship! I met the most amazing people in EGMO from all around the world, and developed amazing friendships with my teammates. It made me more curious in maths, thanks to the mind-blowing questions our teachers threw at us in long train rides and on breakfast tables. For example, the question ”What is an area?” shook our very foundations of our understanding; The explorations we made into 4D geometry were also such a magical experience. EGMO opened up endless opportunities as well, just to list a few: We later formed a study group where we post interesting questions and study together; We got in touch with gold medalists around the world; We got invited to take part in interesting conferences… and in my personal case the curiosity on 4D geometry persisted long after the EGMO trip and later on this led to a maths project on higher dimensional geometry… and it is the first maths project I have done and through it I learnt so much once again about higher dimensions.’

Of course, in an ideal world we wouldn’t have the EGMO. However, we have to face the reality that there is a massive gender imbalance in maths and that needs to be addressed. I believe that the EGMO is one of the necessary steps to address this gender imbalance. Mathematics and other subjects such as science benefit from these young women developing interests in maths – many of these women are very talented and by not encouraging them the world would be missing out on some fantastic mathematicians and problem solvers. The EGMO has had a big influence on many young women and plays an important role in introducing more women to the beauty of maths and problem solving. I hope in ten years time we don’t need it, but for the present it has many benefits.

-Laura

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