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Students busily prepare for up to 30 international math competitions

Even students in second and third grades have obtained many medals from international mathematics competitions.


Vietnamese students win 2 gold medals at IMSO 2021


N, a parent in Hanoi, while attending a parents’ meeting, heard that her son’s class in previous years had won nearly 100 medals at international competitions, though there were only 30 students.

“Some students won nearly 20 medals of different kinds and I didn’t know how many competitions they registered to attend,” she said.

After one academic year, N’s son won several medals and his name was among 10 percent of excellent students at international math competitions.

N said she no longer was surprised about the number of medals students can have, because attending international competitions is common.

“Most parents allow their children to attend international competitions when teachers introduce the competitions. The fees are inconsiderable, just VND300,000-500,000, and children can compete ‘for fun’,” she said.

The fees are higher if students enter second or third rounds of competitions. If they can go abroad to attend the final round, the cost to prepare for the competition is up to VND30-50 million.

On social media one can hear about second and third graders who own ‘mountains’ of medals from international math and science competitions. The medals won by students are listed in schools’ reports about their achievements.

A fourth grader in Thanh Hoa has been given exercises designed for students in the 15th week of study. The teacher explained that the exercises about the division with two digits were not compulsory and that students asked for them.

She said her students are winners of many international prizes at competitions and they want to test their capability.

International competitions


At many competitions, the organization boards intentionally offer a lot of prizes to attract students. In general, the fees for students attending the next rounds of competitions are higher than the previous ones. The more students who attend the competitions, the bigger the profit.


The head of an education sub-department in Hanoi said that there are too many, about 30, regional and international mathematics competitions.

The competitions include ITMC, Australian Mathematics Competition – AMC, American Mathematics Competitions – AMC, WMTC, WMI, IMSO, International Teenagers Mathematics Olympiad – ITMO, PhIMO, IKMC, IMAS, SEAMO, IMC, APMOPS, ASMO, AMO, SASMO and TIMO.

Almost all of them collect fees and set limits on the number of attendees. Meanwhile, to attend other competitions, a student has to pay VND200,000-550,000. Some competitions attract tens of thousands of students at different education levels. The number of students winning prizes at some competitions can be up to 60 percent.

There are some competitions where questions are raised in English and the content does not match the curricula in Vietnam, so students are sent by their parents to private tutoring classes to practice for the competition.

N said the children of her friends are always busy on weekends because they need to prepare for international math exams. She also knows parents who take their children from Bac Ninh and Hai Duong to Hanoi to attend extra classes.

N said some of the competitions are prestigious. But many others are not. However, teachers will not answer parents’ questions about which competitions are good, because this is a ‘sensitive matter’. In many cases, the organizers of the competitions have close relations with teachers or schools.

However, parents with experience on this matter can name the prestigious international competitions, such as APMOPS, IMSO, ITMO, IMC and AMC. In Vietnam, VMTC and MYTS are the ones highly appreciated.

A mathematics lecturer, while saying that attending competitions can bring great benefits to children, noted that many competitions are problematic.

“The most dangerous thing is that the questions are not appraised,” he said. “I read the questions at a competition and realized that they were unacceptable. There were even wrong questions or wrongly interpreted questions, because the hired interpreters did not have deep knowledge about mathematics.”

An analyst said competitions of these kinds have mushroomed recently because they bring profit to organizers. They not only can earn money from the competition, but also from classes that help students prepare for the competitions.

He said that at many competitions, the organization boards intentionally offer a lot of prizes to attract students. In general, the fees for students attending the next rounds of competitions are higher than the previous ones. The more students who attend the competitions, the bigger the profit.

However, he said that if parents spend time learning about competitions, they will learn more and will be able to help their children avoid these “ugly competitions”. 

Dong Ha - Thoi Vu

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