South Korean students have consistently performed well in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), but controversy over private education and under-recognition of their achievements in university entrance exams has been ongoing. Nevertheless, the performance of young math prodigies bodes well for the future of math in South Korea.

The International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) is an international competition that brings together mathematically gifted students from around the world to compete in mathematical talent, and is an important event that emphasizes the importance of mathematics and its educational value. Mathematics is one of the important disciplines that develops problem-solving skills based on logical thinking, and there are various programs around the world to identify mathematically talented students at an early age and maximize their abilities. The most representative of these is the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). Since its inception in Romania in 1959, the IMO has become one of the world’s most prestigious honors for young people who love mathematics, held annually in different countries around the world. The competition requires more than just problem-solving skills, but also creative thinking and deep mathematical inquiry.

# History and purpose of the International Mathematical Olympiad

The International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) is an annual competition that travels from country to country to promote the early identification and development of mathematically gifted students, international friendship and cultural exchange among mathematicians and mathematically gifted students from around the world, and the exchange of information on mathematics education. The competition was first organized in Romania in 1959, with seven countries participating in the first edition. Since then, it has been held every year, and especially since the mid-1970s, Western countries such as the United States have also started to participate, and it has grown into a representative competition for gifted math students around the world. South Korea began participating in the Australian competition in 1988, and in 2000, South Korea hosted the competition in Daejeon, South Korea.

# Who can participate and how the competition works

The competition is open to young people under the age of 20 who have not attended university and is held annually in July. Each country’s delegation consists of up to six students, and a single student can participate multiple times over the course of several years. For example, Kim Dong-ryul from South Korea made waves when he competed in the IMO three years in a row while attending Seoul Science High School, winning gold medals in each of them. The competition is held over two days, with questions from various areas of mathematics, including algebra, geometry, number theory, and combinatorics. There are six problems, three per day, and they are very challenging. A subset of the problems submitted by each country is selected by the host country’s problem committee, and the final set of six problems is chosen.

The IMO questions are not just computational problems, but ones that require creative and complex thinking. The questions themselves aren’t very long, but the process of solving them requires you to come up with a lot of ideas and can take hours to solve. Although there are only three questions per day, the test lasts a whopping four and a half hours over two days. This requires contestants to think deeply and develop a thorough logical progression in their problem-solving, and the resulting solutions often span several A4 sheets. This type of competition encourages creativity and problem-solving while exploring math in depth.

# IMO’s scoring system and medal criteria

The questions are worth 7 points per question, for a total of 42 points out of a possible 42. Each participant is awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal based on their performance, with the top 1/12th of the field receiving a gold medal, 1/6th receiving a silver medal, and 1/4th receiving a bronze medal. This means that roughly half of the participants will receive a medal. In addition, students who do not receive a medal will receive an honorary award if they receive a perfect score (7) on a question.

South Korea has made a name for itself on the international stage in recent years with consistently excellent results. Most notably, South Korean students won three gold, two silver, and one bronze medals at the 2023 International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), finishing third overall. These achievements not only demonstrate the outstanding mathematical skills of Korean students, but also the country’s systematic educational support and globally competitive learning environment. It is expected that South Korea will continue to be a strong player on the international math stage in the future.

# IMO’s significance and controversy

Despite these achievements, however, controversies surrounding the IMO persist. First of all, the IMO has been criticized for encouraging private education in South Korea. It is not uncommon for students to receive expensive private tutoring to prepare for the competition, raising concerns that this could lead to a widening education gap. It has also been pointed out that IMO scores are underrepresented in university entrance exams. It’s been argued that students with strong mathematical talent are not recognized for their achievements in university admissions.

However, despite these criticisms, the IMO is still a competition that inspires big dreams and challenges for many students. Rather than just aiming for a medal, students who participate in the competition feel a deep passion for math and a sense of accomplishment, which they use to build a better future. In particular, IMO winners continue to pursue research and academic activities even after entering university, contributing to the global recognition of Korea’s mathematical capabilities. Some experts expect that Korea will have a Fields Prize winner in the near future, which will bring great pride to the Korean math community.

Today, South Korea is consistently performing well in the IMO, and its young math prodigies are at the forefront. The young Korean talents who are making their mark on the international math scene are expected to brighten the future of math in Korea.

# ತೀರ್ಮಾನ

The International Mathematical Olympiad is not just a competition of mathematical talent, but a place where mathematicians and young people from all over the world interact with each other and grow together. The IMO is an important venue to discover talented people who will lead the future of mathematics early and expand their possibilities, and its importance is expected to grow in the future. Korea is also expected to continue to solidify its position as a math powerhouse, with many talented mathematicians playing an active role on the international stage.