A story of "Kangaroo of Mathematics"

30 years AKSF

Article by Meike Akveld and Gregor Dolinar.

The Birth of Kangaroo (1991-1994)

Making mathematics attractive to learners is a challenge. Everywhere in the world professionals who teach mathematics and who realize its importance for other fields of knowledge and for everyday life, aim to increase the enthusiasm for learning mathematics. In that setting, mathematicians in Australia came up with the idea to organize a competition that underlines the joy of mathematics and encourages mathematical problem-solving. A multiple-choice competition was created, which has been taking place in Australia since 1978. Only a few years later, already 80% of the schools were involved in the so-called Australian Mathematics Competition.

At the same time, both in France and all over the world, a widely supported movement emerged towards the popularization of mathematics. The idea of a multiple-choice competition then sprouted from two French teachers, André Deledicq and Jean Pierre Boudine, who visited their Australian colleagues Peter O’Holloran and Peter Taylor and witnessed their competition. In 1990, they decided to start a challenge in France under the name Kangourou des Mathématiques in order to pay tribute to their Australian colleagues. The particularity of this challenge was the desire for massive distribution of documentation, offering a gift to each participant (books, small games, fun objects, scientific and cultural trips). The first Kangaroo challenge took place on May 15th, 1991. Since it was immediately very successful, shortly afterwards they spread the idea in Europe.

In May 1993, three teams of teachers from Romania, Poland and Bulgaria participated in Kangaroo together with France. After that, Kangourou des Mathématiques invited mathematicians and organizers of mathematical competitions from several European countries. All of them were impressed by the increasing number of participants in the Kangaroo challenge in France: 120 000 in 1991, 300 000 in 1992, half a million in 1993. In seven countries – Belarus, Hungary, The Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Spain – teams of teachers decided to also organize the contest in 1994. It was a great success in all of these countries. An international competition promoting the dissemination of basic mathematical culture was born.

The Kangaroo Family (1994-1999)

In June 1994, teachers from 10 countries met in Strasbourg (France) and founded the association Kangourou Sans Frontières (Kangaroo Without Borders) with statutes registered in Paris on January 17th, 1995. André Deledicq was elected President of the association. The idea of turning the Kangaroo challenge into a joint event for as many countries as possible, the intensive preparation thereof, including financial support in the early years, is first and foremost the merit of the French Kangaroo organizers and in particular of André Deledicq, Rachel Hebenstreit and Claude Deschamps.

The Board in the early days of the association Kangourou Sans Frontières

In 1995, the problems of the next challenge were for the first time discussed in international working groups. These groups met in Paris (France), Eindhoven (The Netherlands) and Toruń (Poland). It was decided that the problem sets in all participating countries were to be essentially the same and that the challenge should take place on the same day. In 1996, more than one million students from 17 countries took part in Kangaroo – 620 000 of them from France. As from 1996 the contest was offered in 5 categories: Écolier (about 8 to 10-year-olds), Benjamin (10 to 12-year-olds), Cadet (12 to 14- year-olds), Junior (14 to 16-year-olds), and Student (16 to 19-year-olds).

In December 1996 all working groups gathered in Toruń (Poland). It was the first meeting of this kind. Nevertheless, it was called the 4th Annual Meeting, counting in the three aforementioned meetings in 1995. During this meeting, the participating countries agreed on several rules and guidelines, and included those in the By-laws and Internal Regulations. Corresponding to the languages that were spoken at the meeting, two languages – English and French – became the official languages of the association Kangourou Sans Frontières.

In the following years, many other countries applied for participation in the Kangaroo challenge. In 1997, at the 5th Annual Meeting in Budapest (Hungary), representatives of 20 countries already attended. In 1998, the following representatives were on the Board of the association together with André Deledicq: Francisco Bellot Rosado (Spain), Claude Deschamps (France), Paweł Jarek (Poland), Gregor Dolinar (Slovenia), and Jan Donkers (The Netherlands). In 1999, at the 7th meeting in Valladolid (Spain), Mexico was the first non-European country to become a member of the association Kangourou Sans Frontières.

At the Annual Meetings, each member presented how it organized the contest. There was an active exchange of ideas as to advertising, organizational issues, prizes, design of certificates, events to celebrate the most successful participants as well as good practice in working with ministries, national institutions and sponsors. Lots of materials were exchanged. National and international mathematical summer camps were developed allowing young people from different countries to connect. During and in between the Annual Meetings a warm atmosphere grew, with a lot of mutual cooperation and support. The “Kangaroo family” came into being.

The Kangaroo family at the 7th Annual Meeting in Valladolid (Spain)

The Expansion of Kangaroo (2000-2010)

In the first decade of the 21st century, Kangaroo expanded rapidly. The number of participating countries doubled from about 25 to 50. The number of participants tripled from about 2 million to 6 million pupils. Taking into account the main goal of the association, the worldwide dissemination of basic mathematical culture, this expansion was very favourable. On the other hand, this also led to a number of organizational challenges.

Consequently, the organization of the Annual Meeting and its financing were left to the host country, with a limited participation fee from the participants. Countries hosting the meeting of the previous, the current, and the upcoming year became ex officio members of the Board.

Growing digitalization supported the more efficient selection of the problems. At the 17th Annual Meeting in Minsk (Belarus) in 2009, for the first time, all the problem proposals were available in a database. Immediately afterwards, Matjaž Željko (Slovenia) built an internal website and a database for supporting the selection process, including rating before the meeting and the work during the meeting. This database has become an indispensable tool for maintaining the quality of the challenge.

In 2003 Kazakhstan was the first country of the Asian continent to become a member of the Kangaroo family. A few years later, Kangaroo welcomed Tunesia as the first African country.

For his important contribution of the Kangaroo challenge to mathematics education and for his great personal commitment, André Deledicq received the Erdös Prize, a biennial prize awarded by the World Federation of National Mathematics Competitions, during the International Symposium for Mathematics Teaching, held in Copenhagen in July 2004.

André Deledicq receiving the Erdös Prize from Professor Hyman Bass, in Copenhagen on July 6, 2004.

The Further Professionalization of Kangaroo (2011-present)

In 2010 Gregor Dolinar (Slovenia) was elected the second president of the association Kangourou Sans Frontières. The General Assembly approved the new president’s proposal to appoint André Deledicq as the Honorary President of the association.

The worldwide popularity of Kangaroo continued to grow in the second decade of the 21st century. The number of participants remained rather stable around 6 million, but the number of participating countries increased by 50% during that period. The challenges related to the growing number of national Kangaroo organizations required the further professionalization of Kangaroo.

Different procedures were refined or became more formal. For example, the admission procedure for new members started taking place in several steps and applicants were vetted rigorously. In 2013, curricula for each category were introduced. In 2017, modernized By-laws and Internal Regulations were approved. Since 2018, the members are no longer persons, but legal entities.

In 2012, a sixth working group was created: since then the Pré-écolier group has been working on the selection of problems for the youngest participants (6 to 8-year-olds). Almost immediately after the start of this category, nearly one million children from over 50 countries took part in the Pré-écolier category.

Since the 19th Annual Meeting in Bled (Slovenia) in 2011, those countries with the largest numbers of selected problems are awarded a small prize. So are those countries with the highest success rate (the highest percentage of selected problems in relation to proposed problems). As intended, this small competition contributes to the quality of the problems.

In 2019 Meike Akveld (Switzerland) was elected the third president of the association Kangourou Sans Frontières.

The participants of the 27th Annual Meeting in Chicago (United States)