Why French excel in math ?

Math Online Tom Circle

Mathematics and quantitative finance, France

Since 1990, there have been 22 winners of the Fields Medal, widely regarded as the Nobel Prize of mathematics. Thirteen came from just two countries, Russia and France. Russia has more winners (seven), but more than twice the population, so the honours go to France, with six winners.

Cédric Villani, the 2010 Fields Medallist, cited national character. “Maths is an abstract way of looking at the world, which fits well with the French mentality. We apply algebra to everything.” Elite institutions help too. France’s brightest school leavers progress to the grandes écoles, which traditionally educate top scientists, administrators and presidents. For maths, you want Monsieur Villani’s alma mater, the École Normale Supérieure (ENS). All 10 French Fields Medallists learnt there. At ENS, no teacher can stay longer than 10 years. Instead of ancient dons, students get tutors at the forefront…

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