Officially the subject “Information Technology” only starts in grade 10, but two learners gave themselves a head start and made the finals of the Programming Olympiad. Usually learners in grade 10, who have only had a few months of programming tuition, do not make it to the Programming Olympiad Finals.
Peter Waker, Manager of the Standard Bank Programming Olympiad explains “For a grade 10 learner to make it to the Finals they must have started programming on their own before they reached grade 10. Essentially these learners are self-taught.” Darren Roos of the Pretoria Chinese School confirms this. “I started programming when I was in grade 6. I have learned much at the Final Round and cannot wait to share it with my friends.”
His school principal Liséttè Noonan is impressed by Darren’s enthusiasm “I am presently looking at how we can introduce an advanced program on IT.”
Reuben Steenekamp from Reddam House Constantia in Cape Town has a similar history. His father explains “Reuben was very keen on programming from primary school days. When he reached the limit of what he could teach himself we were lucky enough to find a group at the University of Cape Town that he could join.”
The Standard Bank Programming Olympiad is an annual event that this year attracted 4,848 entries. The First Round is held at schools all over Southern Africa. The top performers in that round are invited to Cape Town for the Final Round. The finalists for 2012 came from the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
The Finals are held over two days. On each of these days the participants has to write the programs that would solve three problems. Their solutions are tested with different datasets and were expected to provide the answers within as little as half a second.
Robert Spencer, a grade 12 learner at Westerford High in Rondebosch earned the Gold award, the Standard Bank trophy, R37,000 for himself and R5,000 for his school by having the highest score in the 2012 Standard Bank Programming Olympiad. This is the third time Robert has taken part in the competition. He won a Bronze medal last year.
A learner from Pearson High in the Eastern Cape, Stephen Barnes (grade 12), earned Silver. The other Silver medal went to Paul le Roux, a grade 12 learner at Parel Vallei High School in Somerset West.
Bronze awards went to Janneman Gericke a grade 12 learner at De Kuilen High, Guy Paterson-Jones in grade 11 at the Diocesan College (Bishops) in Rondebosch and Shaylan Lalloo in grade 11 at Pearson High in Port Elizabeth.
IT billionaire, Mark Shuttleworth, provided a total of R100,000 in prize money for learners using the computer language Python. Python is the language Mark used to write the software that made him his billions, and he wants other young South Africans to have the same opportunity. Most of the finalists, and all but one of the medal winners, used Python. The last Python prize of R10,000 went to the highest ranking runner-up, Grant Zietsman of Pretoria Boys’ High.
Peter Waker commented “What is really remarkable is that none of these learners use Python at school. For the competition a few used Java which is taught in some provinces, but most chose to learn a second language.”
Let’s hope that both of the Grade 10 learners go from strength to strength to be in a good position to win medals at the 2014 International Olympiad in Informatics.
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(Moira de Roche is a trustee of the South African Computer Olympiad trust)