Nurturing the genius within | Daily News

Nurturing the genius within

Ask a group of children what their most dreaded subjects are, and a majority of them will immediately respond with either maths or science. These are two of the least favourite subjects for many, and for all the seemingly right reasons.

The rigidity of the formal education system tends to suppress the natural curiosity that children have in them by prioritising memorisation of concepts over actual understanding. This is a grave problem in today’s landscape wherein digital advancements are reigning over the world and progressing each minute, thus resulting in a need-gap for professionals in these domains.

Education has to be approached in a healthy, engaging, and fun manner for children, and they need to genuinely love the learning experience to attain actual understanding of the subject matter. Learning to love math and science is essential to spark the imagination and creativity needed to approach problems with ease and logic, which is a necessary skill in one’s professional as well as personal life. Keeping this in mind, the International Science and Mathematics Olympiad (IMSO) is held each year to with the aim of bringing the most gifted secondary and higher secondary students of the world together in a friendly competition of the highest level. They provide a stimulus to begin a career in science or mathematics, to undertake a lifelong journey into the realms of exciting intellectual challenges.

Samithu Athsara Fernando has been taking part in such international events since 2019. The grade eight student of Ananda College, Colombo, has developed a fascination for science because it is powered by the curiosity of mankind.

He took part in the International Mathematics and Science Olympiad (IMSO) held in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2019 and emerged as the first runner up at the event by clinching a gold medal. In 2019-2020, he participated in the Hong-Kong International Science Olympiad (HKISO) and managed to secure the runner up title again by bagging another gold medal. He became the overall champion at the Vanda Science Global Finals in 2020 and the second runner up at the same competition in 2021.

“I learnt how to interact with children from across the world by taking part in such events. It is heartening to witness how they work together in peace. The biggest challenge I faced was keeping up-to-date for such events because science is a fast evolving area. New discoveries and data turn up each passing day so you need to really work hard to keep up with the information. Sri Lanka’s education system is lags behind in this area as we process the same data every year. We need to upgrade our subjects annually if we wish to keep up with the rest of the world,” Samithu stressed.

Samithu’s first local competition was ‘Hiru Nena Kirula’ which he took part in 2017. He had taken part in the Olympiad competition after sitting for a selection test at Ananda College. He went through the district, and provincial competitions and topped the all-island rankings. Teachers from the Ministry of Education trained Samithu and other top scorers for over three months. Soon a notice about the Hong Kong International Mathematics Olympiad (HKIMO) and the Hong Kong International Science Olympiad (HKISO) competitions held by the Sri Lanka Olympiad Mathematics Foundation was shared among the students. Samithu took part in the HKISO and excelled in the event.

“I had two written papers on the first day at IMSO. I had to do the practical on day two. More than 700 contestants took part in this competition representing 24 countries. Since the primary section is till grade five and the secondary section starts from grade six in Sri Lanka, all the contestants from the other countries were around two years older than us. We took part in a cultural gala and were taken on a tour around Vietnam. That was very memorable,” Samithu recalled adding that he had been aiming for a gold medal at the competition from the start. Since he managed to achieve his goal, a ‘super satisfied’ Samithu had developed a thirst to take part in similar events.

“My school was very supportive to me. Our Sectional Head let me use the laboratory. A school teacher helped me do the experiments. Many of the staff helped me - specially my class teacher. I borrowed books from the school library too. When I returned to Sri Lanka after writing the IMSO exam, my school principle sirs came to the airport and warmly welcomed me,” Samithu mused.

He revealed that both the global rounds of HKISO and Vanda Olympiad were held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He stressed that though many imagine that online competitions are easier than those in which the contestants are actually present in the examination venue, it is actually the other way round.

“They record the screen, and also video from two cameras facing you from the front and the side. In HKISO there was an MCQ paper. In Vanda Science Olympiad there was a MCQ paper and a group activity,” he explained.

Becoming the overall champion of Vanda Science Global Finals 2020 is an achievement he is proud of as he had to face a lot of difficulties since he had been new to the online platform.

Besides science Samithu is also passionate about astronomy, mathematics and technology. His ambition is to become an astronomer.

“I hope to build a NASA in Sri Lanka,” he added with a smiled.

Samithu comes from a family of four. His father, Sandun Fernando, is a professional Angampora artiste, fight director and a garment pattern technologist. His mother, Radeesha Fernando, is a housewife. He has one brother, Damithu Fernando, who is a renowned child actor.

His message to other children is to make use of opportunities and never stop questioning. After all, if you never stop asking questions you’ll always get a path to something bigger.

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