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The 2009 International Olympiad in Informatics

I recently had the pleasure of attending the 21st International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI), held in Plovdiv, Bulgaria from August 8th to 15th.

The IOI brings together some of the most talented high school programmers in the world (80 countries were represented) to take part two contests over two days, each five hours in duration. Each country has a "team" of four students but the contestants are assessed as individuals. This year there were four problems each day. Each problem is judged out of 100, so the total score is 800. Typically IOI problems can be very difficult and each problem has a memory and time limit. The students must use either Pascal, C or C++.

Students are usually identified through national programming competitions, and further trained by enthusiastic volunteers. The students must have attended high school September through December of the year prior to the IOI and must be under 20. Like all the Scientific Olympiads there are gold, silver and bronze awards, shared out among the top 50% of contestants. This year the cut off score for a bronze medal was 399 marks.

This year's event was held in perfect weather in the picturesque town of Plovdiv, with the award ceremony taking place in a Roman amphitheater which was only rediscovered 20 years ago. The students and leaders were treated to five-star accommodation, food and excursions to an aqua park and the Black Sea. All the expenses from registration/ arrival day through to departure day were covered by the Bulgarian organizers. It seemed that no expense was spared and the organization was superb. The contest days ran smoothly with all problems having been accepted by the leaders with no major objections and there were no major appeals with the judging.

Some countries traditionally do very well at this event, although such success doesn't necessarily seem correlated to the teaching of Computer Science, or those particular languages, in high schools. While the contestants sit the exams, the leaders attend a conference and some of the papers presented indicate that the difficulties CS teachers in high schools have are shared around the world. Most leaders are from Universities, but there is a sprinkling of high school teachers and we enjoy the opportunity to share our successes as well as frustrations. (And I was particularly flattered that one leader recognized my name as belonging to CSTA!!)

All in all a wonderful week and, dare I mention it, two New Zealand students gained bronze medals.

The full results and task descriptions and solutions are available on:


Margot Philllipps
CSTA International Director

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