As we progress into a world of characterised uncertainties amid the Covid-19 pandemic, bad news is free flowing through the world like wildfire. However, the news of four young female mathematicians from Bangladesh who bagged silver and bronze at the prestigious 10th annual European Girls' Mathematics Olympiad (EGMO) on 12 April came as a respite.
This year, for the very first time, team Bangladesh, consisting of four school students - Nujhat Ahmed Disha from Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Rayan Bintay Mostafa from Natore Government Girls' High School, Arifa Alam from Tikatuli Kamrunnesa Government Girls' High School, Dhaka, and Safa Tasnim from Government PN Girls High School, Rajshahi, participated in this Olympiad.
To commemorate Disha, Rayan, Arifa, and Safa's triumphant journey, MakerLab of EMK Center hosted an experience sharing session via Zoom on the evening of 28 April, where the four junior mathematicians answered questions about the olympiad and spoke in detail about their experience of participating in EGMO. This program was organized under the #SheCanSTEM campaign of EMK Center, which is initiated to inspire young female students for STEM education and career.
The panel also comprised of mathematician Prof. Mahbubul Alam Majumdar, Professor and Dean, School of Data and Sciences, Computer Science and Engineering at BRACU and ASM Mainuddin Monem, the Deputy Managing Director of Abdul Monem Limited.
During the Zoom session, Prof. Mahbub highly praised young mathematicians Disha, Rayan, Arifa, and Safa who proved their brilliance to the world. He also spoke in detail about the lack of opportunities for female students in Bangladesh. "In spite of lacking both academic and social opportunities compared to male participants, most female students pursuing mathematics or other STEM fields are doing exceptionally well in Bangladesh," Prof. Mahbubul said.
STEM is one of the fields in most lucrative fields in the world where research and practicality come hand in hand but seriously lacks female participation. Among a crowd of a staggering 81 percent males, only 19 percent females pursue STEM-related careers. In Bangladesh, the disparity between the two genders is even more visible.
It has only been around 61 years since BUET allowed female students to study STEM-related subjects in the country's most eminent engineering school. Marie Skłodowska Curie, the world's most renowned physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity, was stubbornly refused admission into Russian universities simply because she was a woman.
Contrastingly, the four female EGMO trailblazers single-handedly took Bangladesh to the hall of fame by bagging silver and bronze for the first time this year at the prestigious mathematics olympiad.
"I started my olympiad career by participating in the regional olympiad. On my first regional olympiad, I couldn't perform too well but that motivated me to participate in more Olympiad so I could perform better. After a few years of participating in the regional olympiad, I moved toward larger olympiads and finally EGMO," Arifa said as the first participant speaker of the evening.
One of the other participants, Rayan shared that she sat for the regional tests with practically no preparation. "I used to go to my cousin's house a day before the tests and he used to teach me whatever he could in a night. I attended the test the next day with minimal preparation."
This informative session focused on explaining to the session participants what mathematics olympiads are and the significance of participating in EGMO. The session also addressed the dos and don'ts of preparing for the olympiads.
There is no doubt that coming this far in an international olympiad is a tough expedition. Safa vouched for that, saying, "It was definitely challenging and I was nervous as well. I don't think I performed as well as I wanted to at EGMO."
"I sat for the EGMO tests from India as my mother is receiving treatment here. There were obstacles but I tried my best to overcome each one of them," Disha said, who is currently in India.
Most session participants asked questions about how to participate in the regional olympiad, which books to study to get better at mathematical problem solving and qualifications to be able to participate in international olympiads.
Nujhat Ahmed Disha and Rayan Bintay Mostafa spoke in detail about their mathematics olympiad journey so far which led them to bagging silver and bronze from the prestigious EGMO.
ASM Mainuddin Monem commended the girls on their brilliant performance despite situations not always being in their favour. He expressed his pride over the girls without hesitation while announcing that he will be handing out prizes from Abdul Monem limited to the victorious olympiads.
The session also included insights from Ipshita Bonhi Upoma, the leader of Team Bangladesh, a lecturer at Brac University, and the Academic Coordinator at BdMO, who also delivered the closing remarks alongside Prof. Mahbubul Alam Majumdar.
Atiab Jobayer, co-founder of Gonitzoggo, also shared his best suggestions with the future olympiad participants.
Starting in 2012, the European Girls' Mathematical Olympiad (EGMO) is an international mathematical competition held in different countries every year. The EGMO is regarded as the largest mathematical competition for girls. 213 girls from 55 countries participated in the olympiad this year. Rigorous mathematical problem solving tests were conducted for two consecutive days and the participants had to solve three problems each day.