That's a lot of pressure for a teen who may not have passed their matric exams or may not have done as well as they expected. File picture: Rogan Ward.

Durban - South Africa may have to withdraw as host of an international maths contest for high school pupils because it had been unable to drum up enough funding.

The country risked losing hosting the 55th annual International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) in 2014, which has been credited with promoting mathematical ability among pupils of developed countries.

The South African Mathematics Foundation said the country had “a responsibility” to fulfil its hosting obligations as it was the only country on the continent to be given the opportunity to host the competition.

The foundation co-ordinates maths olympiad programmes for pupils and teachers, including the South African Mathematical Olympiad, which had 60 000 entries this year, and at which Durban’s privately run Star College took top honours. Glenwood High School was also recognised as one of the best performing schools.

Recently, South Africa ranked bottom (out of 133 countries) in both maths and science education in the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Competitive Index.

The national Grade 12 pass rate for pure maths last year was 46.3 percent, a decline from 47.4 percent in 2010.

South Africa has competed in the international olympiad 21 times since 1992 and achieved a medal haul of one gold and nine silvers, with its team of six pupils ranking 53rd out of 100 this year, according to information on the Olympiad website.

“While it is recognised that certain smaller or less developed countries do not have the capacity to offer to host the event, South Africa is seen as a country that can, and should, host the IMO,” Professor Johann Engelbrecht, executive director of the foundation, said.

“Holding a high-profile event such as the IMO in South Africa will bring mathematics into the public eye and highlight the importance of mathematics education in South Africa’s economic and technological development”.

John Webb, a retired maths professor from the University of Cape Town and head of the local organising committee, said host countries such as Germany and the Netherlands had 80 percent of their budget covered by their governments.

But Engelbrecht added that South Africans could not rely on government funding alone, and was looking to industry, “especially those who rely on the skills of mathematicians”, for support. - The Mercury