In last April 15 (two weeks ago), the Brazilian president Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva visited IMPA – Instituto de Matematica Pura e Aplicada to discuss some aspects of mathematical research and teaching in Brazil (this was the first time a Brazilian president visited IMPA). The reader can find several photos of this event here.
Being both a Brazilian and a former student at IMPA (where I got my PhD), I’m happy to see that the Brazilian government is really paying the deserved attention to the fundamental sciences, specially Mathematics (although there are still several weak points concerning the distribuition of permanent positions in public universities, etc.)
In any case, I enjoyed a lot Lula’s speech while I got a little upset with some demagogic phrases of Sergio Cabral, the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, who said:
“… Impa already organized a Math. Olympiad focused to private schools and what the president did? He moves IMPA, a world-wide recognized mathematical institution, from its academic pedestal to show it the real life of the Brazilian population by realizing the OBMEP [Math. Olympiads for Public Schools]…”
Let me say that you can see a resume (in Portuguese) of Lula and Cabral speechs here. Also, let me make two comments about the three points I marked (in bold) in Cabral’s phrase
- concerning the organization of Math. Olympiads for private schools: firstly, IMPA’s main goal is the mathematical research and the training of PhD students; of course, IMPA supported other mathematical activities such as Math. Olympiads by providing physical space, etc., but evidently this isn’t its main objective; secondly, the Math. Olympiad organized at IMPA (called OBM – Brazilian Math. Olympiad) is completely open: anyone is able to make the inscription to participate the competitions; however, the fact that most of the “successful” students (meaning the ones making their way to the IMO) comes from private schools has nothing to do with the Cabral’s claim that OBM is focused on private schools! It has to do with the simple fact that public schools are fairly weak in Brazil!
- concerning “academic pedestal” and “real life”: this is a repetition of the classical comparision between Mathematics and an Ivory Tower – the image of an austere science closed into itself, etc., so that I think this absurd point doesn’t need any further explanations.
Finally, let me mention that Lula’s visit to IMPA takes place in an important moment for the Brazilian mathematical community: for instance, Brazilian mathematicians are consolidating their presence in the international community as the invitation of my friends Fernando Coda Marques and Artur Avila (two young Brazilian mathematicians) to give talks in the ICM 2010 confirms (Fernando was invited for the Geometry Session and Artur was invited for a Plenary Talk).