x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sharjah prodigy takes on Aussie 'human calculator'

More than 100 students in Sharjah joined their counterparts throughout the UAE and around the world for a 48-hour competition as part of World Maths Day this week.

Sharjah, 1st March 2011.  Caleb Lee (11 years old and in Grade 6) shows his speed in solving simple mathematical problems, during the World Math Day, held at Australian International School.  (Jeffrey E Biteng / The National)
Sharjah, 1st March 2011. Caleb Lee (11 years old and in Grade 6) shows his speed in solving simple mathematical problems, during the World Math Day, held at Australian International School. (Jeffrey E Biteng / The National)

DUBAI // He can calculate 8 x 7 and enter the result on a computer in less than a second. Caleb Lee is no ordinary 11-year-old.

Caleb, a pupil at the Australian International School (AIS) in Sharjah, was chosen as the Middle East's ambassador for the 48-hour World Maths Day competition this week.

"I practise for at least three hours every day," said Caleb. "I just really like maths, really badly."

Caleb came second in the world in the 11-13 age category last year, losing out to "Kaya G", 13, the maths prodigy from Australia who referred to himself as a "human calculator" in a video posted on YouTube. Kaya won again this year, and Blair Ramsay, a teacher at AIS who pioneered the tournament, said the champion was "almost unbeatable".

"When you watch Caleb play, he's phenomenal himself," said Mr Ramsay. "But he's still a step behind this guy."

Caleb faced even stiffer competition this time around. The number of global participants in the event, held across a number of different time zones on Tuesday and Wednesday, more than doubled to 2.6 million from 1.13 million last year.

In the end Caleb's world ranking fell to 13th. He was among 105 pupils at AIS, and 37,400 across the UAE, taking part in the event.

For their efforts, the AIS group came second in the world in two different age categories, 8-10 and 11-13. The principal, Annette Wilson, said the children slept over at the school on Tuesday and Wednesday nights to take part in the competition. They were supervised by teachers and parents, who filled several tables with food they had prepared.

"I'm always proud to be principal of this school," said Ms Wilson, an Australian herself. "It's heartwarming to see that sense of community behind occasions like this."

The competition, which has been running for four years, requires pupils to answer as many simple arithmetic questions as they can in one minute.

They then have to take 100 tests of varying complexity. Their individual scores and class averages are calculated and are placed on a live leader board, where they can see how they rate against competitors from around the world.

Considering the stiff competition, Caleb should be proud of his finish, said Ms Wilson. "He's a clever boy," she said. "If he doesn't end up prime minister of somewhere one day I'll be surprised."

mcroucher@thenational.ae