Although the final scores have yet to be announced, Maya-Rose Torrao, a student of Oakhill School in Knysna, has achieved a place in the Top 15 for the 2012 De Beers English Olympiad. It’s a phenomenal feat considering that she competed against 7300 students from across South Africa. It gains her a one year scholarship to Rhodes University and admits her into a special group of students who’ll be chaperoned at the 2012 National Schools’ Festival in Grahamstown in July. It’s there that the rank order will be announced, determining the allocation of prizes which range from cash and books to a trip to the UK. We wish her the best!
We interviewed her. Read what she has to say…
Q: How did you prepare for the De Beers English Olympiad?
A: A few weeks before the Olympiad, the pupils writing it were given a poetry anthology called Small Town Big Voice to study. It featured the brilliant South African poets Chris Mann, Harry Owen and Don Mclennan. We were allowed to bring the book into the exam but had already immersed ourselves in the characters, its meanings and how we felt…and also contemplated how these applied to the Olympiad theme, “Urban Meets Rural”.
Q: How many students were you competing against and where did you take the test?
A: Over 7300 students across the country wrote the Olympiad and I took the test at my school, Oakhill, in March.
Q: How were the sections allocated?
A: The Olympiad paper consists of two sections – an essay per section. The first essay is the longer essay: you are given a question that involves one or more of the poems from the anthology which evokes a creative response. The second question involves more transactional types of writing i.e. letters, diary entries etc.
Q: Give us an example of a tough and an easy question?
A: Well, there were only two “questions” per se. What I found most difficult was trying to be creative while still keeping in mind the theme of the Olympiad and the poems from the anthology. Initially, I found it difficult to choose my questions as there were a myriad of options, all which had the potential to produce exciting, creative responses.
Q: This year’s theme was When Urban Meets Rural. How do you view that in the context of Knysna?
A: I have lived in Knysna for many years and I find that this theme links very closely to Knysna as I have watched our small town grow and urbanize. I question whether this is a positive thing.
Q: How can we further understanding between urban and rural school kids?
A: I think that people need to gain an understanding of other areas and what life is like for people living in those areas. We should encourage school kids from different backgrounds to be curious – not judgmental, but curious – about different places. Urban children should become aware of what it is like to have an rural lifestyle and visa-versa. We are not so different.
Q: On a personal level, what’s the best thing about Oakhill?
A: Oakhill is unlike any school I have ever experienced! I like that it is different, “wacky” and unconventional. I feel extremely grateful for being able to experience top quality education from my school. I wouldn’t have been able to had I not been awarded a scholarship and I feel that Oakhill has encouraged me to question life and be tenacious in my approach to everything I do.
Q: What do you suggest to your teachers as an addition to the curriculum?
A: I would love more emphasis on creative writing and creativity in general as this is most definitely my forte.
Q: Will you be accepting your prize of a year’s scholarship to Rhodes University?
A: Unfortunately not as I really want to study at UCT in Cape Town. I have seen that UCT also offers scholarships for exemplary achievement in all the different subject Olympiad papers and so I look forward to using this to help me achieve my goal of studying there.
Read another interview with Maya at Love Knysna.
Update: Maya-Rose Torreo was awarded 9th place in the National English Olympiad.