Rising above the storm

Thabo Mashegoane (left) and Pearl Pasi (right)

On the day the storm closed Western Cape schools, one Paarl teacher made a plan to let her top learner take part in the qualifying round of a national computer Applications Olympiad. For an hour on the unexpected ‘day off’, Marlene Dreyer used her home as an exam venue. She supervised as Mia de Villiers tackled 25 tough tasks using Word, Excel, Access, and the internet. This effort got Mia into the national Applications Olympiad Finals four weeks later. Competing against 12 other finalists, Mia proceeded to win the gold medal. She described the day-long test as ‘challenging’ and the Olympiad as ‘an overall good experience’. Mia is in Grade 11 at Paarl Girls’ High School and plans to study Actuarial Science. She has provincial colours for mountain biking and might spend her prize money on cycling equipment or save it.

‘The girls did so well’ was the delighted comment from Moira de Roche of  the Institute of IT Professionals (IITPSA), the sponsor of this Applications Olympiad. Three of the six medal winners were from Girls’ Schools. Heather Wimberley (Gr 10) from Brescia House in Sandton won silver and had ‘fun learning new skills’. She is also an outdoors person and a member of the Orienteering National Youth Squad. Danielle Victor (Gr 10) from Collegiate Girls’ High in Port Elizabeth won bronze, and has an interest in studying Pharmacy. The IITPSA offers a full bursary to attract particularly female learners to study at tertiary level in the ICT field.

The other Silver medallist, and also from Gauteng, was Shan O’Neil (Gr 11) of Hoërskool Randburg. He said it was ‘a very fun test’ but wished he ‘had 2 more hours’. Like gold winner, Mia, he is also takes both computer subjects, CAT and IT (Information Technology). He wishes to ‘become a professional programmer’ and ‘study overseas’.

The bronze medal winner from Stellenbosch

Milan Smedley (Gr 12) from Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch earned a bronze medal from the ‘unique experience’ of the Applications Olympiad. In line with his favourite subject being History, he only ‘listens to music from 1940 – 1990’ and may ‘make certain exceptions for good recent songs’. Milan plans to study to become a film director.

Finalist from KZN only in Gr 9

Although the contest focuses on Computer Applications Technology, a school subject for Grades 10 to 12, there was one Gr 9 learner who beat more than 17 000 entrants to get into the Finals. Tapiwa Chikwanda (Michaelhouse, Balgowan) says he’s been doing word processing since Gr 1, and learning other applications at his primary school in Gauteng. Of the Olympiad he wrote ‘quite difficult though I can attribute it to my lack of formal CAT knowledge’.

Free State Star brings Bronze Olympiad medal to Bethlehem:

Johannes van Graan, Head Boy at Hoërskool Witteberg, won a bronze medal. ‘Although it was really difficult… I learned a lot from the Olympiad’. Johannes plays 1st team rugby, participates in Mathematics, Science and World Knowledge Olympiads, and plans to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Pretoria.

Guest Speaker Sihle Tshabalala

Awards Dinner guest speaker was Sihle Tshabalala. He challenged the finalists to hustle, to take risks, and to network. Tshabalala is an ex-offender who decided in prison to spend his life helping others to avoid the mistakes he had made. Since leaving prison he taught himself how to code and has founded training initiatives for marginalised youth in coding, digital marketing and entrepreneurship.

Computer Olympiads

The Applications Olympiad is an annual contest of two rounds at schools in the second term, followed by a one-day Final in the winter school holiday. Although it is based on the school subject Computer Applications Technology (CAT) it introduces new elements each year, such as pivot tables (2016) and dashboards (2017).

Computer Olympiad manager, Michael Cameron says “Participation is free and full solutions sent to schools enable CAT teachers to grow their own skill. They recognise that a given problem can be solved in many different ways. Dedicated volunteers source the required data. These seasoned former teachers also draft and test the questions.”

The key person for the Olympiad is an enthusiastic CAT teacher. The teacher’s role is to organise the learners and venue, and to download the data files. For online entries where broadband is adequate, learners take part online and their answers are marked by the computer and their results sent back to the school. There were 4 631 participants for whom results were received this year. The Olympiad office printed and posted 2 350 certificates to schools for the top 50% of the participants.

Cameron encourages schools to see the potential of the Olympiad to strengthen flexible thinking. ‘The Applications Olympiad tests skills in using word, spreadsheet and database applications and to think in fresh ways.’

Applications Olympiad Finalists (the top 13 out of 4631 participants)

Name/Surname Medal Gender Grade School  


Mia de Villiers Gold F 11 Paarl Girls’ High WC
Heather Wimberley Silver F 10 Brescia House GT
Shan O’Neil Silver M 11 Randburg High GT
Johannes van Graan Bronze M 12 Witteberg High FS
Milan Smedley Bronze M 12 Paul Roos Gymnasium WC
Danielle Victor Bronze F 12 Collegiate Girls’ High EC
RUNNERS-UP (alphabetical)
Tapiwa Chikwanda M 9 Michaelhouse KZ
Ian Edwards M 12 Bryanston High School GT
Sarah Galvin F 12 York High WC
Donna-Leigh Greyling F 12 Clarendon High School for Girls EC
Warwick Griffin M 11 Grey High EC
Marni Kleingeld F 12 Waterkloof High GT
Sean Petersen M 11 Bergvliet High WC