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The math whiz passing on his knowledge

Update: August, 20/2017 - 09:00
Making music: Lê Bá Khánh Trình (centre), holding the guitar, performed at an arts event when he was a student of Lomonosov Moscow State University. Photo vnexpress.net
Viet Nam News

by Dr Trần Nam Dũng*

Accompanied by Associate Prof Dr Lê Anh Vinh and Dr Lê Bá Khánh Trình, the Vietnamese team bagged four golds, one silver and one bronze at the 58th International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), a rich yield that won the country third place at the event.

The team that participated in the IMO, which was held in Brazil in July, achieved the country’s best results in 43 years of attending the competition.

Trình, one of the team leaders, was assigned the duty of leading Việt Nam’s IMO team in 2012. That year itself, from not even being among the 30 best countries, Việt Nam made an incredible jump to ninth place.

Since then, the 55-year-old teacher has continued to captain the country’s team, and under his guidance, students have been bagging more and more medals.

In his student days, Trình was a member of Việt Nam’s IMO team. In 1979, he made Việt Nam proud by winning the maximum points in the IMO. Besides a gold medal, he also received the special prize granted to the contestant with best solutions to the math problems. After 41 IMO seasons, he is still the only Vietnamese contestant to have achieved such high results.

Trình then received an unconditional offer from Lomonosov Moscow State University’s Faculty of Mathematics, Mechanics and Informatics, and became a post-graduate student there under the guidance of academician Andrey Alexandrovich Gontrar, vice-president of the Russian Academy of Sciences. After successfully defending his doctoral thesis, he returned to Việt Nam.

“As long as there is a departure, there will be a return,” is his answer to anyone who asks him why he chose to come back home while his friends chose to stay abroad where there are more opportunities to grow.

It all adds up: Teacher Lê Bá Khánh Trình said that he has dedicated himself to passing down maths knowledge to generations of students. Photo vnexpress.net

Head for numbers: Teacher Lê Bá Khánh Trình, Vietnamsese maths genius, is working at the Faculty of Mathematics of Việt Nam National University, Hồ Chí Minh City. Photo vnexpress.net

The Việt Nam Institute of Mathematics offered Trình a position, but he refused because it would involve a long commute. Instead, he became a lecturer at the Faculty of Mathematics in the Hồ Chí Minh City University. Over the past dozen years, he has been lecturing and sharing his knowledge of mathematics to students.

He teaches not only students attending the university but also those from specialised schools. In recent years, he has played the role of leader or vice-leader and helped select and train members of IMO teams. He has also assisted in the training of Saudi Arabia’s IMO team since 2015, helping them towards higher achievements in international contests.

Whatever jobs and positions he has held, Trình, born in the central province of Thừa Thiên-Huế, has always fulfilled his duties and responsibilities with passion and inspiration.

He rarely conducts studies, but when he does, they are acclaimed -- for example, his work, Hình Học Tĩnh Và Động (Static and Dynamic Geometry), which he wrote in 2008, has become a classic on transformation in mathematics.

“I’m aware of my capacity, so I have chosen suitable work, where I can utilise my strengths. If I had worked as a scientist or a manager, I would have been average. I feel the most confident and comfortable teaching,” he said.

A talented, energetic teacher

Many look at Trình as a mathematics phenomenon in Việt Nam, but for his students, he has always been a strict, dedicated teacher.

His colleagues, including teachers who have designed tests for national contests, find Trình to be a careful, serious but gentle colleague who keeps calm in any argument.

Studying and working with him for 33 years, I have found him to be a talented and energetic man. He plays both football and ping-pong pretty well.

He also used to be the leader of the Vietnamese students’ group of performing arts as he is a skilled dancer and plays the organ as well as the electronic keyboard well. And he has the ability to convince people into taking part in extracurricular activities, such as composing songs. The faculty won the first prize in the university’s singing contest for three years in a row (1986, 1987, 1988), and represented the university in the city-level competition.

No matter how busy he is, he always pays special attention to his family and friends, picking up his children from school, and taking his family to Vũng Tàu beach for weekend breaks.

Trình has also always been an enthusiastic friend. When I returned to Việt Nam after studying abroad, he met up with me and invited me to teach at Việt Nam National University, introducing me to the teachers there and persuading them to find a teaching position for me there.

I would organise many mathematics activities and meetings and ask him to participate. Though he could not help organise these programmes, he always promises to come and teach at my events. Since 2010, he has never refused or missed any of my activities.

Trình is a little shy in public, but he is a “hidden dragon” who is capable of expressing and proving his skills.

In 2013, the leaders of IMO teams worldwide were taken by surprise by his spontaneous dance performance. Likewise, at the Mathematics Meeting 2016, on being forced to perform, he played the guitar and sang enthusiastically and professionally, rousing the crowd. At my wedding, he joined in the dancing and singing, which astonished many guests there.

To me, Trình is simple and modest. To him, the glory of his student life is just a beautiful memory. He lives, loves and is dedicated to his present, never expecting too much from it. VNS

*Dr Trần Nam Dũng is a lecturer at the University of Science, Vietnam National University, Hồ Chí Minh City. He won the silver medal in IMO in 1983.

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