The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has recognized International Science and Mathematical Olympiads (ISMOs) as scholarly competitions in science and mathematics among secondary school youths who are not more than 20 years old from numerous countries all over the world. The purpose of the competitions is to identify talented youths in science and mathematics from the whole world, who will be provided with opportunities to exchange knowledge and experiences with their counterparts from different countries.
The initiative in organizing ISMOs was taken by academics, who believed that every country is endowed with many talented youths – those representing the human resources vital to the development of their respective countries. If arrangements were made for their academic competitions, much in the same manner as competitions in the Olympic Games, their talents will be further built up to benefit national development over a long-term period.
The Socialist Republic of Romania was the first country to host such a scholarly event by inviting six East European countries to send their youths to the First International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) in 1959. The purpose was to seek out and support talented youths in mathematics, to promote the friendship among students and staff from the countries participating in the event, as well as to engage in exchanges of information, curriculums, and modes of teaching and learning mathematics. From this inaugural competition, many countries saw the value and benefit of such a scholarly activity; hence, the number of countries participating in the subsequent competitions increased every year. New subjects were also included in the competitions, as follows:
- International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) 1967
- International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) 1969
- International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) 1989
- International Biological Olympiad (IBO) 1990
- International Astronomy Olympiad (IAO) 1996
- International Geography Olympiad (IGO) 1996
- International Junior Science Olympiad (IJSO) 2004 (event for junior secondary school students)
- International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) 2007
- International Earth and Space Science Olympiad ((IESO) 2007
Background to the International Academic Olympiads in Thailand
It all started in 1988, when the IMO Committee sent a letter to Mr. Boonroeng Keosa-ard, the director of the Educational Resources Center of the Department of Non-Formal Education, Ministry of Education, inviting participation of students who were not more than 20 years old in the International Mathematical Olympiad. In the first year Thailand must participate in the event by sending representative as an observer; then, in the following year, it would be entitled to send students as participants in the competition. Mr. Boonroeng, who sat on the committee of the Science Society of Thailand under the Patronage of His Majesty the King, took the matter to Associate Professor Dr. Kamchad Mongkolkul, who was then the president of The Science Society of Thailand, for consultation. Following a further consultation with the president of the Mathematical Association of Thailand under the Patronage of His Majesty the King (Professor M.R. Pakapongsanit Sanitwong), who was willing to provide mathematical knowledge support, the Science Society of Thailand decided to send students to join the event. The Educational Resources Center supported the decision by granting a permission for Mrs. Ampawan Kangdan to travel, at her own expense, to observe the 29th International Mathematical Olympiad in Australia during 9-21 July 1988. The purpose was to gather information on the syllabus, the competition modes, patterns of question, marking scheme, as well as methods of finalizing the marks for medal awards.
As a result of this observation trip, in 1989 The Science Society of Thailand was invited to send students as participants to the 30th International Mathematical Olympiad in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). This would be the first time Thai students took part in this type of scholarly event. The Science Society of Thailand, which was arranging their participation in the competition, fully realized that the arrangement entailed high expenses. A campaign to mobilize support from the public as well as private sector was thus necessary. Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana (her royal title at that time) saw, on 9 MCOT TV, the president of the Science Society of Thailand giving an interview during the campaign and donated, with her own money, a sum of 50,000 baht. She also encouraged two of her friends to provide the Science Society of Thailand with an additional sum of 40,000 in support of the arrangement for Thai students to take part in the International Mathematical Olympiad in West Germany. This gracious kindness of Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra resulted in further substantial backing from the public and private sectors, particularly from the Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology (IPST). Dr. Chaleo Manilerd, who was at that time IPST director, transferred, with the Budget Bureau’s approval, a left-over sum of 500,000 baht from the salary category for use as expenses for the participation in the 30th International Mathematical Olympiad. He also agreed to the use of the IPST premises as the venue for training the students who would compete in this Olympiad.
There were 12 Thai students undergoing this first training. They came from three sources: nine of them from the Siam Cement Group Science Camp (SCG-Sci Camp Thailand), which was organized by the Science Society of Thailand in collaboration with the Educational Resources Center; one of them from the mathematical competition organized by the Mathematical Association of Thailand; and the last two of them from the IPST’s Development and Promotion for Science and Technology Talents Project (ASDPST). Following the completion of the training, Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra, graciously came to award all the students the training completion certificates on 12 May 1989. Six students were selected by the International Academic Olympiad Committee for competition at the 30th International Mathematical Olympiad. As a result of the competition, the Thai team won one bronze medal, and two honorable mention certificates.
After the completion of the competition, Associate Professor Dr. Kamchad Mongkolkul and the members of the International Academic Olympiad Committee were granted an audience with Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra, and presented to her a report on this scholarly event. She graciously suggested that the arrangement for the participation of Thai students in the international academic Olympiads be expanded to cover other academic fields and the selection of students for participation in such academic events be undertaken on a nationwide basis. She kindly accepted to provide her patronage and support. This royal initiative led to the formation of “Academic Olympiads Program”. The program committee was chaired by the president of the Science Society of Thailand and its other members included presidents of scholarly associations and other interested agencies with the IPST director serving as its secretary. The president of the Science Society of Thailand quickly followed this up with a request for support from the government of that time, which was headed by General Chatichai Choonhavan, and whose Minister of Education was General Mana Rattanakoses. The government recognized the importance of this project; it was thereby willing to provide it with support from the state budget. However, the Science Society of Thailand was a private organization; it could not directly benefit from the state budget. The Society thus asked for the support to be channeled through the IPST, an organization of similar academic interest, which was serving as secretary of the Academic Olympiads Program committee.
In 1989, Thailand sent six students to compete in the 30th IMO in Braunschweig in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), which was held on 16-24 July 1989. The Thai team won one bronze medal and received two honorable mention certificates.
In 1990, Thailand sent students to compete in two more academic events, namely physics and chemistry. Five students participated in the 21st IPhO in Groningen, the Netherlands, which was held on 5-13 July 1990. No Thai student won any award. At the same time four Thai students competed in the 22nd IChO in Paris, France, which was held on 8-17 July 1990. The Thai team won one bronze medal.
In 1991, Thailand sent students to compete in two more academic fields, i.e. informatics and biology. Three students participated in the Third ICI, which was held in Athens, Greece, on 19-25 May 1991. The Thai team won one silver medal and two bronze medals. Four students were sent to compete in the Second IBO, which was held in Makhachkala, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), on 1-7 July 1991. The Thai students won one silver medal and three bronze medals.
Every time Thai students were sent to compete in the international academic Olympiads Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra, donated 200,000 baht from the Princess Mother’s Charities Fund of Thailand to support the activities of the Academic Olympiads Program. In some years, the financial support amounted to more than 200,000 baht.
After the IPST had adopted this program as one of its main tasks, the president of the IPST Board replaced the president of the Science Society of Thailand as the program head.
Following the formation of the Promotion of Academic Olympiads and Development of Science Education Foundation (POSN) in 1999 to provide support for the Academic Olympiads Program, the Budget Bureau requested the POSN secretary-general and the IPST director to agree between them on how to manage the program. The purpose was to achieve efficiency in the management, cost-effective use of resources, and reduction of duplication of activity. The POSN would be responsible for inviting applications from students, selecting them through the POSN centers scattered all over the county, and organizing a national competition to recruit a number of highly talented students for intensive training by the IPST for final selection for participation in international academic Olympiads.