Mathematically gifted, Danielle Kleyn’s future is burning bright. She’s looking forward to her 2020 matric year at Parel Vallei High in Somerset West.
But her enthusiasm for the year ahead comes as no surprise. Her passion and talent for maths has already seen her crowned as “Queen of Mathematics” twice at the Pan African Mathematics Olympiad (Pamo) and she’s been first in her grade academically for the last four years.
“Girl power” comes to mind when speaking to Danielle. She’s a humble, yet quietly powerful force who has already proven herself the only female national medallist in the 2019 South African Mathematics Olympiad (Samo), being placed in the top 10 of the senior division.
The competition is organised by the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) and makes a positive contribution to the critical skills development of the country.
According to Professor Kerstin Jordaan, executive director of SAMF, mathematics is a field in which women tend to be under-represented globally, yet this year the Samo presented a more diverse set of winners than ever before.
Danielle has always excelled at maths. She has competed in the third and final round of the top 100 juniors and top 100 seniors, and has won the University of Pretoria Maths Competition in her grade group since Grade 8.
She has also been in the top 10 of her grade group for the University of Cape Town’s Maths Competition since Grade 9 and received its top girl award in Grade 9 and 11.
Her name is also known in wider circles, having represented South Africa at the 2018 and last year’s Pamo.
Her excellent results made her one of only three girls in the country to receive SA colours for her international maths Olympiad participation in 2018.
Last year, Danielle won the title of “Queen of Mathematics” for the second year in a row, confirmation of the hard work she’s put in.
While she doesn’t usually mention her title to people herself unprompted, they find out through her mom’s excited storytelling, which results in compliments aplenty.
Explaining her path to success, the keen mathematician says she loves to solve tricky problems by working with data, quantity, structure and variables. She started participating in olympiads in primary school, where she excelled at what she saw as a fun activity.
On starting high school she realised she could compete more competitively and started preparing more diligently.
Parel Vallei’s maths teachers acknowledged her enthusiasm and talent for the subject by introducing her to the Samo in Grade 8. Here she performed so well in her first year that she was also chosen for the Boland Junior A-team in 2016.
She went on to become one of the top 20 juniors in Samo that year, claiming overall third spot in the Western Cape based on her Samo second round results.
By then her Olympiad appetite was well fed and she was hungry for more, so it’s no surprise that the following year she was re-selected for the Boland Junior A-team and ended seventh overall in the third round for juniors at Samo, claiming top spot in the Western Cape after achieving full marks.
In Grade 10 she was placed 15th and was the top girl for seniors in the third round, while she placed fourth overall for seniors in the third round in Grade 11. She also received a silver runner-up medal for her Samo success at the lasy year’s SAMF Awards.
Danielle’s success is especially heart warming for the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica), which co-sponsors Samo as part of its school initiative to improving quality education for all.
Danielle too has a heart for society, as she works towards helping to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all by helping her fellow learners succeed, giving freely of her time to help them prepare for maths olympiads and offering extra maths lessons.
Speaking about why it’s important to her to help her fellow students succeed, Danielle acknowledges she’s been fortunate to have attended extra maths classes and has very supportive mentors. She enjoys helping by providing extra resources she wishes she had when she was younger.
There’s an added bonus in doing so, as explaining the problems also helps her get a clearer idea of them.
People often ask Danielle how she prepares for mathematics olympiads. She says it differs, depending on the olympiad and how much time she has available to prepare – she has much less time to do so now compared to when she was in the lower grades.
This is understandably so, for her matric year will comprise a well-rounded mix of subjects.
While creativity isn’t often associated with mathematics, Danielle says discovery and progress in maths often means using what’s already known and applying it in an unconventional way. Unfortunately, school mathematics is often taught to be used in a “mechanical and boring” way, which differs from Danielle’s conception of it.
Her personal process also differs from the norm, as her drive comes from internal motivation – of challenging oneself with more advanced problems and reminding oneself of small victories rather than from others’ acknowledgement of her achievements.
Clearly wise beyond her years, Danielle’s mathematical aptitude means she’s planning to study mathematics, applied mathematics or computer science at Stellenbosch University after matric.
While she doesn’t plan on becoming a chartered accountant at this stage, she says any profession would greatly benefit if future candidates weren’t held back by inequality and allowed to be in an environment where they can reach their full academic potential.
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