The International Biology Olympiad for high school students from around the world will be held for the first time in Japan in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, from July 12 to 19.

The four participants from Japan are busy preparing for the event and have attended a training camp, aiming to win the country’s first gold medal at the Olympiad.

“I hope the event will reverse the trend against science and help to promote science education,” an education expert said.

The biology Olympiad started in the former Czechoslovakia in 1990. Between 1959 and 1968, during the Cold War, countries in Eastern Europe held mathematics, physics and chemistry Olympiads to boost their national prestige. The biology Olympiad followed in their wake.

The biology Olympiad is held once a year. There were only six participating countries and territories in the inaugural event, but the number has continued to increase.

Around 60 countries and territories will participate in this year’s event.

Four representatives from each participating country and territory take part in the event, carrying out experiments according to specified procedures. The participants have six hours to conduct their experiments, including analyzing and describing results, and also take a theory test with 100 questions.

The experiments and theory tests are comprehensively evaluated and the top 10 percent of participants are awarded gold medals, the next 20 percent silver medals and the following 30 percent bronze medals.

The questions are submitted by participating countries and territories in advance, and the sponsoring country or territory prepares the questions in English. Accompanying officials, mainly teachers, translate the questions into their respective languages.

Past experiments have involved observing the anatomy of plants, shrimp and locusts.

Cross-cultural exchanges between participants is one of the highlights of the Olympiad. During the event in Tsukuba, a base for researchers, around 240 students will live under one roof. Four students will share a room without regard to nationality.

During breaks, the students will visit research facilities in Ibaraki Prefecture and go sightseeing in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, to learn about Japanese history and culture. For the accompanying officials, the event provides a good opportunity to learn about the educational situation in other countries and to exchange information.

Japan first took part in the event in 2005 when it was held in China and has done so every year since.

In 2008, Japanese students won three silver medals and a bronze, ranking 14th. The top medal winner was South Korea, followed by Taiwan. The top 10 also included Thailand, Singapore, China and India.

According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, in some parts of Asia the top prizewinners in the domestic selection contests are allowed to enter universities without having to take examinations. In China around 100,000 students took part in the first stage of selection for the Olympiad and in India more than 15,000 students paid fees to participate.

In Japan, several universities have established special criteria for Olympiad participants taking entrance examinations.

The ministry’s budget for the Olympiad and related projects totaled around ¥350 million in fiscal 2008 and will rise to ¥450 million in fiscal 2009. This year’s participants are Ryota Otsuki, a senior at Funabashi High School in Chiba Prefecture; Atsuhito Nakayama, a junior at Nada High School in Kobe; Mai Yamakawa, a senior at Oin High School in Tokyo; and Ayako Yamanaka, a junior also at Oin.

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