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Safety In Numbers: Patriotism Tops Science In Russian Math Contest

  • Anna Shamanska

A recent math test in a elementary school in Novosibirsk seemed to give precedence to answers that were more patriotic than correct. (file photo)

A recent math test in a elementary school in Novosibirsk seemed to give precedence to answers that were more patriotic than correct. (file photo)

Math skills simply aren't enough to win a school math contest in today's Russia.

Even a fourth-grader, it seems, must also be a patriot.

Svetlana, the mother of a pupil in Novosibirsk, complained recently to a local news website about the acceptable answer to this problem, given to students hoping to compete in the Russia-wide Math Olympics:

"A dollar is worth twice as much as a ruble, and a euro is worth three times as much as a dollar. What is better, 17 rubles or 3 euros?"

Although the three euros are worth more than 17 rubles -- 3 euros is equal to 3x6, or 18, rubles, as defined by the test -- that answer was said to have been judged incorrect.

"The correct answer turned out to be rubles," Svetlana told NGS.Novosti, "and the rationale for that response -- we live in Russia and the ruble is our currency."

Anton Lvov, one of the authors of the test, responded on his VKontakte page to the story by saying the pupil's mother blew the story out of proportion.

"The original answer sent out to schools was: 'Rubles are better, but for three euros you can buy 3x3x2 = 18 rubles, which is more than 17,'" Lvov wrote on VK. "I admit that the question 'What is better' is not mathematical, that there is no place for jokes in the solution, but I still think that any normal adult understands, darn it, that it is a joke."

President Vladimir Putin's third term in the Kremlin has been marked by conspicuous appeals to Russian nationalism, which some analysts have blamed for everything from Moscow's forced annexation of Crimea and its continuing support for separatist violence in neighboring Ukraine, to military intervention in Syria, cybercrimes and near-misses in international and Western countries' airspace, and even an apparently state-sponsored system of doping in athletics.

The Russian currency has recovered slightly from two years of lows against Western currencies brought on by political uncertainty, depressed oil prices, and the conflict in neighboring Ukraine, which Russia invaded in early 2014 and where Russia-backed separatists are still battling Ukrainian national forces.

But unlike in some Russian version of the Math Olympics, on October 12 one unit of the European Union's common currency was worth around 69 rubles, and a U.S. dollar nearly 62 rubles.

Even fourth-graders can do the math on that.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL

About This Blog

Using regional media and the reporting of Current Time TV's wide network of correspondents, Anna Shamanska will tell stories about people and society you are unlikely to read anywhere else.

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