The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Comparative education: Singapore "High Schools"

In America, "High School" has a certain meaning and a certain range of connotations. Americans know what High School is: they have been there and have gathered together certain impressions and assumptions. This understanding, however, will lead to misunderstanding of the present situation.

You see, Singapore is influenced by its colonial origins. Its education is largely patterned on the UK model of O levels, A levels and specialized single subject degrees. This is not the American system. Therefore, when I used the term "High School" yesterday, it had a different meaning from what an American would understand a High School to be. Secondary Schools in Singapore, as they are more commonly known, follow a narrower base of subjects, at a higher level than any given age in the American system. What this means is that, by the end of secondary education in Singapore (a stage normally called Junior College here), a student will have reached a higher standard than would be attained in a US High School. However, it should be remembered that this higher benchmark would be in a narrower range of subjects than in the US.

For reasons I do not yet fully know, the school which is being considered for Ainan: The National University of Singapore High School for Maths and Science, otherwise known as the NUS High School for Maths and Science, is called a High School. That is odd in the Singapore landscape: for other schools do not have this title. I will learn why on Friday, I suppose.

Anyway, given the influence of the UK system on the educational practices of Singapore, this NUS High School will reach higher standards than an American High School would, at the same age. Thus it is not a comparable situation. The level of demand on Ainan, seven, would be higher than if he were in an American High School. In Singapore, students take A levels at eighteen. As I have noted before, it was said of this exam, when I was a child, that the standard was so high that it was like taking an American college degree. That is the context in which NUS High School is embedded.

I will learn more tomorrow of what the place is about. One thing should be noted, however: NUS High School is a specialist centre for the mathematically and scientifically gifted. Therefore, Ainan would be among many gifted students - who are more than twice his age. That should be an interesting experience. I hope it is a good one, and that they welcome him. We will see.

(If you would like to read more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and three months, a scientific child prodigy, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, three, and Tiarnan, thirteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, child prodigy, IQ, intelligence, child genius, adult genius, baby genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:23 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will Ainan be at the high school for all his subjects, or just for chemistry?

10:49 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I have yet to hear the fullness of their plans for Ainan. I will learn more on Friday.

As I understand it, this is a transitional step: a "see how he is in that environment" kind of measure. It remains to be seen how extensive it will be. I think they are concerned to do things at a rate of change that is comfortable.

I will let you know more when I do.


12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm... This is exciting because... I hope this doesnt freak you out... but ... despite all my reading, I have never heard of anyone who went to a university at the age of 7. I wondered if Ainan is the first, so I did some searches and I found some web pages about Michael Kearney, who started college at age 6. But Kearney started speaking at 5 months. Even Sidis didnt start talking until 6 months. I didnt find any other records of anyone attending college at 6 or earlier.

I almost hesitate to wonder this "aloud" in your comment box, because if it were me, I would feel very strange considering such a thing but I wonder if Ainan might be the most intelligent person on record? That ocurred to me back when I first started reading your blog... But I wonder whether it has ocurred to you? Maybe it has, but maybe it is such a difficult thing to wonder about that you never mention it.

I hope Im not making you feel awkward... I feel fairly preturnatural and freakish myself sometimes and I dont even have reason to beleive I am as advanced as your son... So I can only imagine how you and he might feel. It makes me kind of nervous whenever I leave the house, lol. It is a problem, but I laugh because I know I will overcome the social anxiety generated by the confrontation of my giftedness somehow or another.

I wonder if he knows how extremely rare he is... and how he (and you) handle that knowledge?

Do you ever feel preturnatural or freakish? If not, how do you frame it... what perspective allows you to feel okay? Actually, I just thought of a way to reframe it...

I think gifted people are... well its like theres more of what makes us alive in gifted people... Its like theyve got a higher concentration of the stuff that makes humans human. Looking at it this way makes them seem quite beautiful... the feeling of extreme significance and enchanting loveliness take on a spiritual quality due to the intensity of that perspective.

I like that one much better than feeling like a spooky, inexplicable anomaly... Lol.

Im still interested in hearing what you have to say, especially if you have other perspectives. :)

Oh... and I think I may have figured out why you dont get very many comments on here from anyone else but me. Maybe your level of eminence seems so great that its intimidating to others. If you want more comments, I wonder if there is a way to make them feel more comfortable? Then again, maybe that has already ocurred to you.

- Kathy

11:29 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I happen to like the word "preternatural". If something is adequately described by that word, I think it is inevitable that it will be interesting.

I would agree, in a metaphorical sense, that gifted people have more of everything that makes humans human. They think more, feel more, do more (if allowed)...but that gives them more burdens, too - and some gifted people can't carry that. I will post about it another time. (So many of these promised posts, I know...but one can only post so many times a day and still live the busy life of a father of three!)

I welcome commenters...but many people are shy with their thoughts. They like to stand back and let others comment, and hope that someone else will say roughly what they would have said - well, often they won't - for we each have our views and failing to express them will often mean they go unexpressed.

I write as I am. I think it is the only way to be. So I am not going to change it much: to do so would be to dissimulate and life is too short for that.

I really like to receive your don't feel hesitant to continue. I think you add riches to the ongoing discussion...thanks, Kathy.

12:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I happen to like the word "preternatural". If something is adequately described by that word, I think it is inevitable that it will be interesting."

Lol yes, thats true. :)

"(So many of these promised posts, I know...but one can only post so many times a day and still live the busy life of a father of three!)"

Its okay, I have more ideas than I can get around to, myself... Things tend to get lost in the obliviating influx of ideas. Thats one of our burdens, right there...

I agree about not dissimulating.

Thanks for the reassurance that you do enjoy my comments. Im starting to see some signs that you are getting overwhelmed with them, though. I predict that the volume of comments will lessen as our 30 someodd conversations on your zillions of entries dies out, and the focus shifts to new posts.

- Kathy

4:51 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Kathy,

I am not truly overwhelmed by the numbers...I just need time to answer them and today I have been at NUS which didn't allow my usual stint at the computer. Sorry - all your posts will be posted in due course.

Yes, I have made a surprising number and variety of posts in such a short time: they do seem to add up...

Kind regards

6:21 PM  

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