New Zealand competed in the International Biology Olympiad (IBO) for the first time at the 16th Olympiad in Beijing, China in 2005. Since then we have competed in every IBO except the 29th IBO held in Iran in 2018. The team instead completed a Wallacea Expedition to the African Rift Valley. This year’s competition is being held in Hungary in July.
New Zealand students ‘punch above their weight’ at the IBO competition. The competition is incredibly tough as approximately 350 students from 70 countries compete each year and every student at the IBO was a winner of their national biology olympiad competition. The New Zealand teams have won 2 Gold medals, 14 Silver and 27 Bronze medals over the years we have been competing. This is a reflection of the academic caliber of our students. The 2011 competition in Chinese Taipei resulted in our first Gold medal, won by Jack Zhou who was ranked 21st in the world. The IBO in the United Kingdom in 2017 resulted in the second Gold medal for New Zealand, won by Ben Zhang. We are incredibly proud of all of our students!
We must remember that the NZIBO programme is not just about competing in the international competition each year. It is designed to benefit all of New Zealand’s talented secondary school biologists by encouraging interest, participation, and excellence in biology within New Zealand education. To date over 3000 of New Zealand’s top biology students have participated in the NZIBO programme. These students have come from a wide variety of schools from Northland to Southland – we have not yet had any schools from Fiordland or Stewart Island participate in the NZIBO programme but we hope to extend our geographical reach into these areas in the future! We are particularly proud of the fact that we often have entries of a single student from small secondary and area schools.
NZIBO takes pride in the fact that schools enter their exceptional students into the programme and see this as a way to motivate and extend their brightest. Our first practical training camp included a student from Dunstan High School, Alexandra, Central Otago. When asked for feedback, he commented that he had gained a lot from the NZIBO programme and that the most important thing for him had been to be in “a room full of people who think and talk like me”. This student sums up the reason why NZIBO is so valuable; he was inspired and motivated, and he saw biology as an exciting career choice. He went on into tertiary study in biology!