A visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia was a trip of a lifetime for 11-year-old Ivan Christian Maharaj, and the reward an even greater surprise.
He was the first-place winner in the category elementary B at an international mental mathematics competition, Universal Concept of Mental Arithmetic System (UCMAS) held on December 8.
Maharaj has been a part of UCMAS, a programme that combines modern techniques and traditional learning with the use of the abacus, to perform complex mathematical calculations. He has been attending one of the local chapters at the Phillipine Centre, 6 SS Erin Road, San Fernando since he was nine.
Maharaj goes from Mendez Village, Siparia once a week for a two-hour training session, after which he heads back home to complete his schoolwork and Secondary Entrance Examination (SEA) preparation. He will write the exam this year.
After being in the programme for two years Maharaj was asked to participate in the local competition.
He was not sure if he would be any good but worked really hard and was thrilled he made it so far, he told Newsday Kids at Palmiste Park, San Fernando last Tuesday.
“The competition was easy, because of the hard work I put in. I was not frightened. I thought it was normal and good,” he said.
The international competition was divided into two categories. The first involved answering 200 questions in eight minutes and the other part included listening and mental calculations.
Maharaj, a standard five student at Penal/Quinam Government Primary School, said he would like to be a pilot and hopes the skills he learns can assist him in attaining his dream.
“It has helped a lot with improving my concentration, something I would need when flying a plane. The skills in math will also help me in my academics and to pass my exams to enable me to fulfill my dream.”
His mother, Tracy Gonzales, said he is very determined and practices math problems using the recommended techniques. In preparation for the international competition she said he understood what was required of him to excel.
“We told him he had to focus after doing well in the competition in Trinidad. We did not have to force him to do anything,” she said.
His father, Pat Maharaj, was shocked at how well he was able to prioritise and manage his time.
“Ivan had to practice every day with the abacus and that was a challenge. He is a kid after all and there were days, he just wanted to watch television and play,” he said.
Gonzales added the family always knew that her son, from a very young age, had a special talent.
“Ivan never passed a bookstore. He was always keen of learning and was engaging in everything he set out to do. We are proud of him and hope he achieves so much more," she said.
Maharaj is the last of three children and his mother said his other siblings were also enrolled in the programme.
“But as SEA came around they told us it was too much to manage and they withdrew from it," she said. “Ivan on the other hand, did not. He welcomed the challenge and always found the time, energy and drive to do this, his schoolwork and also be a child.”
Maharaj told Newsday Kids he enjoyed working with the other children at the centre and would recommend the programme to anyone who likes mathematics.
“It is a lot fun and you get to travel to other countries. I enjoyed going to a new country and meeting new people. Although we were there for a competition, we learnt a lot of new things," he said.
“I was not scared of going up against children from all over the world. I hope to enter (this) year and this time win.”