Joanne Futselaar recently wrote the second round of the South African Mathematics Olympiad as part of the top 11 000 learners in the elite competition, and the first blind learner to participate in the Olympiad. Picture: Supplied.
Joanne Futselaar recently wrote the second round of the South African Mathematics Olympiad as part of the top 11 000 learners in the elite competition, and the first blind learner to participate in the Olympiad. Picture: Supplied.

Joburg teen becomes first blind pupil to participate in SA Maths Olympiad

By Khaya Koko Time of article published Sep 14, 2020

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Visualisation of geometry questions might be a challenge for 15-year-old Joanne Futselaar, but the teenager is to consider tackling the South African Mathematics Olympiad (Samo) again next year.

On Thursday, Joanne wrote the second round of the Samo as part of the top 11 000 learners in the elite competition, and the first blind learner to participate in the Olympiad.

She had made it into the top 11 000 out of 90 000 learners in the first Samo round, where her paper was translated into Braille for the gruelling tests.

The Grade 9 learner at St Mary’s in Waverley, Joburg, was born with the genetic condition leber congenital amaurosis, which resulted in her retinas not developing properly.

Her family were notified she would be blind when she was only three months old.

However, that did not stop the ambitious girl from excelling at a mainstream school.

She told The Star on Friday that her second Samo paper was difficult because of the geometry questions, which required her to visualise diagrams.

“The second paper was a lot harder than the first round because the first round had multiple-choice questions.

“And the geometry section of the second round was difficult because I really struggle with diagrams. It is difficult for me to visualise (diagrams) because, even though they have Braille copy, it is still more difficult,” Joanne explained.

“I had a facilitator at school and he basically made the lines so I could feel them,” she added.

She remained upbeat after the second round even though she felt that she would not make the third round on account of her geometry struggles.

“I will definitely think about it (entering the maths Olympiad again). But there are a lot of geometry questions and I really struggle with that,” Joanne said.

Her proud mother Janine Futselaar enthused at how her daughter received numerous academic and sporting awards, including placing third overall academically in Grade 7 at Rivonia Primary School, and receiving a rosette for horse riding.

“She has been brought up to cope in a sighted world. She is always keen to try new things such as paragliding, rock climbing, skateboarding and riding a bike.

“Jo also loves roller coasters, jumping off the 5m diving board regularly at school, white-water rafting, zip-lining and ice-skating. She has an amazing zest and enthusiasm for life,” Janine said.

The Star

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