Young minds fire up for national maths contest

A math competition in Dubai aims to strengthen children's memory and problem-solving abilities.

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DUBAI // Armed with only an abacus and a few pencils, more than 1,500 youngsters have pitted their mathematics skills against the clock.

The annual National Abacus and Mental Arithmetic Competition is in its eighth year, and aims to help develop children's memory and problem-solving abilities.

The event, held on Friday, was run by the Universal Concept of Mental Arithmetic System (UCMAS), an international organisation that runs after-school classes to improve concentration skills.

"Basically, what we try to teach children is that they are all geniuses," said Soundari Raj, the managing director of UCMAS in the Emirates.

"Once children realise their potential and understand how smart they really are, that seeps into every aspect of their life and schooling."

The event, at Al Nasr Leisureland, was open to children aged between five and 16 from across the country.

They were seated at tables with an abacus and a few pencils to work out the questions.

Each child was given two large question sheets. The younger children had a total of 150 questions and the older ones 200. They then had eight minutes to answer as many questions as they could.

"It went really well and I enjoyed taking part in the competition," said Shahid Ibrahim, 8, from Delhi Private School in Dubai. "It was good because I was with my friends here and we all enjoyed it."

For Trisha Vijay, 7, her daily practice had paid off.

"I managed to answer 79 questions and they were really easy for me," said Trisha, from Abu Dhabi. "I did about half of the questions in my head and the other half with the abacus because they were a little bit more difficult."

Sai Sidharth Sriram, 8, from Dubai, is an old hand at the competition, having won it in 2008 and 2009.

"I've been taking the after-school class with UCMAS since 2007 and it's really helped me at school," Sai said.

"I do about half an hour a day to improve my speed and concentration, and this time I got about 66 questions answered."

The parents of children who attend the after-school classes say they have seen big improvements in their work.

"My daughter is the youngest in her peer group and was very self-conscious, but since she's been taking these classes she's really come out of her shell," said Dina Abdul Azziz, an Egyptian, whose daughter, 9, and son, 12, took part.

"Her concentration has really improved and that has helped her confidence. She's much more confident about answering questions in class and even does talks in assemblies."