Vladimir Kiryukhin is a chairman two times over, presiding over proceedings both on a Russian and international level. He is Chairman of the Central Subject-Methodical Committee of the All-Russia Olympiad in Informatics, as well as Chairman of the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI). This duty is allocated to the IOI International Committee member from the host country of that year. In 2016 Russia will play host, and in August guests and participants of the 28th IOI will be welcomed to Kazan.
- Vladimir Kiryukhin, in August Kazan will play host to the 28th International Olympiad in Informatics. How has the Olympiad changed, and what are the qualities required to succeed?
- Of course, the IOI is constantly transforming, as the fields of informatics and IT are themselves evolving at a high speed. This in turn affects both the questions asked and the equipment used in the competition.
The first Olympiad consisted of just one round, and in that round only one task was set. Following Olympiads switched to a two-round format, and this is the structure we see in International Olympiads today.
The number of tasks in each round has also changed as the Olympiads have progressed. At first there was only one task set per round, but each task was multilayered. Then the numbers of tasks per round was increased to three, and at one point even to four, but in recent times we seem to have settled on three.
The tasks have become more complex in terms of the solution they require. Naturally, by modern standards the tasks in the first Olympiads tasks were relatively simple – the complexity of the questions is always increasing.
The way in which the tasks are assessed has also changed. Earlier, each solution was graded by means of tests: a solution would receive points for every test it successfully passed. These days each task is divided into sub-sections, and each of these is either assessed by individual tests or ‘all at once’, i.e. points are awarded to the contestant only in the case that the given answer successfully passes all the tests it is subjected to.
Compared to the first International Olympiad which took place in Bulgaria in 1989, the way that the tasks are checked and the technology used in the competition have both changed dramatically. Everything in the first Olympiads was tested manually and an awful lot was riding on the person doing the checking, but nowadays the automatic checking system ensures everything is objective. All the participants’ computers are connected to one overarching network, and complex software is being developed to check all the task solutions, starting from the batches of tests and ending with fully-checked programs for each task.
Other changes include the programming language, programming system and software which the contestants are allowed to use during the competition rounds. Most recent changes include the addition of Java, which participants may now make use of when solving tasks at the Olympiad.
Taking these changes into consideration, the competencies demanded of contestants have also changed somewhat. They are expected to use more complex elements of IT when solving the Olympiad tasks, and to possess a command of the more modern information technologies now used at International Olympiads in Informatics.”
- What, in your opinion, distinguishes those children who go on to win from those who do not progress beyond the national stage? Do they have any stand-out characteristics?
- These days traditional training is not enough to successfully compete at an Olympiad. Children require creative, unconventional preparation, even from a young age. In the last 7 years, the contestants taking the top three positions were those who entered their first Olympiad in the 5th class. These children, already taken with IT, tell us what we need to do. They have decided their career path early and work towards victory with a surprising persistence. The teacher’s job is to develop teaching methods for IT to help these extraordinary children to maximise their potential.
These days an important part of preparation is impressing upon Olympiad participants a culture of hard work and healthy lifestyle. The ability to draw up an individual work plan while understanding the importance of health, and also to encourage the children to explore artistic and creative outlets – these are some of the most important elements when developing IT talent. The creative process of a developer formulating a complicated algorithm is no different to that of a composer, artist or writer. A well-developed imagination, the ability to see the whole of the task, a probing, analytical mind and the ability to critically assess your own progress all play an enormous role in writing a creative algorithmic solution. I believe younger trainers should devote some serious attention to this area when developing IT talent, and search for new teaching methods not only from teachers and psychologists within the IT community, but also in creative societies of linguists, artists and composers. Creative talent in IT is a kindred spirit of creativity in these areas. We have already begun to introduce this approach into our work with Russian schoolchildren, and have noticed that the students who are the most active participants in Olympiads are also those students who show a natural aptitude for languages, simultaneously study at music schools, sing in a choir, write poetry or draw. It’s a new and interesting area in working with gifted children in the field of IT. We strongly recommend schools with a focus on computer science and mathematics pay this some attention.”
- The competition lasts for five hours on both days. And each day, contestants have to solve three tasks. It places great strain on a participant and requires an extreme level of concentration. Who helps them keep in the right frame of mind? Are there ever nervous breakdowns? And what advice can you give to those students who will compete at the National Olympiad in April, before heading on to the world stage in Kazan?
- The competition will require all a participant’s strength. They must not be distracted before the competition – they are all different personalities, each with their own methods of concentration. The mentor’s role is to ensure participants are able to stay in this zone as much as possible, so that they can use everything they have learnt once at the competition, and are able to give the best possible accounts of themselves. These teams of 4 are the best there are, and the International Olympiad is the highlight of the Olympic year. The belief that the trainers and team-leaders have in these children – this is the main way they will take part in the International Olympiad.
What can we term a ‘breakdown’? I don’t think there are such things in an intellectual competition. Breakdowns would be possible, however, if for example a participant falls ill, because a breakdown is a lack of strength. I would say that if a contestant loses faith in his abilities for some reason – then there is a chance of a breakdown. At this point it is up to those around him – the team-leaders and mentors – to dispel such doubts and help return them to a state where they can best display their talent.
We always tell the children that the Olympiad is just one experience, and after that lies the world of science, creativity, and the chance to gift the world wonderful new technologies and play a part in the most innovative discoveries. This is the path ahead of our Olympiad participants, and the Olympiad itself is but a single step on that path, a chance to demonstrate their creative potential and attract the attention of the global scientific community. Just by itself, participation in the Olympiad, and of course a medal, are a great personal achievement, and the making of a future scientist.
- Mr Kiryukhin, what’s the secret to the success of the countries at the top of the gold-medal ranking list at the International Olympiad in Informatics?
- Since the first International Olympiad there have been two clear front-runners – China and Russia (including results from the USSR). In total, Chinese students have won 107 medals, of which 72 were gold, and Russians (and the USSR) have 104 medals, of which 55 were gold. After China and Russia there is a sizeable gap in medals table to Poland (97 medals, 34 gold), Romania (95 medals, 28 gold), Bulgaria (93 medals, 23 gold), Korea Republic (92 medals, 33 gold) and the USA (90 medals, 42 gold).
China and Russia have also won the greatest number of Olympiads, that is Olympiads where they have been declared world champion. China has 7 titles while Russia has 5, and since 2008 Russia has been more successful than China, according to this indicator.
It’s also interesting to compare the countries with more than 70 medals, of which 70% or more are gold or silver. China also leads this count (88.78%), followed by Russia (87.5%), the USA (83.33%), Iran (75%) and Romania (73.68%).
It should come as no surprise that countries with a focus on the IT sector and which actively seek out gifted students and develop their skills are the countries which routinely get the best results at international olympiads. The Chinese system of developing raw talent has long been known, and their results at international competitions (and not just in informatics) speak for themselves.
As far as our country is concerned, Russia is the only place in the world to hold events to discover and nurture gifted students on such a scale as the All-Russia Olympiad, which includes across the various subjects upwards of 5.5 million participants from the 5th to 11th classes from all over the Russian Federation.
Results of all the International Olympiads can be viewed here.
About the Olympiad
The International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) is an annual informatics competition for schoolchildren. It first took place in Bulgaria in 1989. The IOI has a flag with a logo, an official website ioinformatics.org and a scientific journal included in the international database of peer-reviewed literature Scopus. An IOI theoretical and practical conference is also traditionally held during the Olympiad.
This year the IOI will be held in Russia. The competition will run from 12 to 19 August in Kazan. The organisers of the Olympiad are the Ministry of Education and Science RF and the Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications RF, the Ministry Information and Communication of the Republic of Tatarstan, and Kazan Federal University.