Second-year student in Data Science Mr Aaron Naidu has added yet another achievement to his growing list of accolades after being in a three-way tie for first place in the South African Tertiary Mathematics Olympiad (SATMO) – the second time he has won the contest, with his first victory recoded while he was still in high school!
Held online for the second year, the annual competition requires students to put their problem-solving skills to the test by answering 20 questions in two hours, giving thoughtful and creative solutions to the problems presented.
Naidu, who finished second in the 2020 SATMO, tied for first place this year with Mr Ralph McDougall of Stellenbosch University and Mr Tim Schlesinger of the University of Cape Town.
Naidu is something of an Olympiad maven – he was the top student in the South African Mathematics Olympiad (SAMO) a record three times and finished in the top five on six consecutive occasions. In 2019 he received silver medals in South Africa’s Computer Programming and Physics Olympiads as well as a bronze medal at the International Mathematics Olympiad. In 2020, he was one of two South Africans who won bronze awards at the International Olympiad in Informatics.
The top matriculant in KwaZulu-Natal and second in the country in 2019, Naidu’s association with UKZN began before he enrolled as a student – and was also linked to his Olympiad ambitions – as he participated in Emeritus Professor Poobhalan Pillay’s Siyanqoba Regional Olympiad Training Programme for six years.
Participating in Olympiads has not become tedious for Naidu, who is competitive by nature and relishes the chance to prove his capabilities.
‘All good Olympiad questions have an element of novelty in their solutions, which is what makes Olympiads so much more enjoyable to write than regular tests,’ he said.
His Olympiad experience has provided him with an edge in his studies as he has focused on understanding and applying his knowledge, rather than simply memorising formulae.
‘Having this mind-set while studying is extremely valuable since once you are in the habit of understanding your study material well enough to be able to answer Olympiad questions based on it, understanding it well enough to be able to take regular tests becomes a piece of cake,’ he said.
The Eden College old boy is passionate about mathematics and plans to use his studies to pursue a career that integrates his love of mathematics, informatics and data science. He chose to study at UKZN to remain near his close-knit family in Durban and also because of the reputation of the University’s programmes in data science.
‘So far I am really enjoying my studies. I’ve learned lots of new and interesting things and am excited for the rest of my educational journey here,’ said Naidu.
A keen chess player, Naidu has been able to continue to play the game online throughout the pandemic, but has missed being able to compete in table tennis, which he also enjoys.
Words: Christine Cuénod