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 +

Friday, June 22, 2007

The tyranny of tests

England is not what it was, in many ways. Yet, only recently have I become aware of one way in which it has changed since my childhood.

I now live in Singapore and, having observed Singapore for a few years, I had come to the conclusion that Singaporeans are test mad. There is a test for everything and nothing is trusted unless it has been tested. I had come to view it as somewhat pathological - in the sense that it is far too prevalent to be healthy. Yet, that was before I came to know of the recent situation in the UK. If anything it is worse, there.

A UK student is now expected to take over 70 official tests from the age of 7 to the time they leave school. These are not, as far as I am aware, optional, in-house school testing, but obligatory mandatory, national testing.

I only became aware of this situation, not having lived in the UK since my children were born (apart from one stint), because of a proposal to end all such testing, that some brave political soul has tabled. It would probably be a good thing for British children were it to be enacted - but it is extremely unlikely, for the leaders of the educational establishment were quoted as being fully behind the test-taking tradition.

Let us look at what these tests do to children. With so many of them, there is forever another test coming up. There is ever the need to prepare for the next test. The focus of the students is on passing the test. There is never time or space to look around and see subjects in greater breadth or depth - there is only that which is in the test, in their minds. The consequence of an education that is nothing but a long series of tests is that the child is never truly educated. They are trained to do tests - and that is all. I have seen this phenomenon at work in Singapore which produces very good test takers...but not truly well-educated people: their minds have been too constricted by constant testing. The same unhealthy pressures have been constricting the minds of whole generations of British children while I wasn't looking. I don't imagine that it will lead to the national prosperity (and all the other things that politicians seek) that they imagine. Rather, it will lead to a nation unable to hold its place where once it reigned supreme.

Nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of the education of children - and most certainly not an official burden of over 70 tests per school career. How ridiculous.

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

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:14 PM 


Blogger @ntonij@ said...


8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found an excellent quote last night in the book "Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman, I think you will enjoy it:

"Howard Gardner, the Harvard psychologist who developed the theory of multiple intelligences, sees flow, and the positive states that typify it, as part of the healthiest way to teach children, motivating them from inside rather than by threat or promise of reward. "We should use kid's positive states to draw them into learning in the domains where they can develop competencies," Gardner proposed to me. "Flow is an internal state that signifies a kid is engaged in a task thats right. You have to find something you like and stick to it. Its when kids get bored in school that they fight and act up, and when they're overwhelmed by a challenge that they get anxious about their schoolwork. But you learn at your best when you have something you care about and you can get pleasure from being engaged in."" - P 94

"Who does not recall school at least in part as endless dreary hours of boredom punctuated by moments of high anxiety? Pursuing flow through learning is a more humane, natural, and very likely more effective way to marshal emotions in the service of education." - P 95

The reason I see this as relevant to your posts on education is because if flow is an optimal way to learn (defined as a state of mild ecstasy where you are doing something that is just slightly harder than what you are currently capable of, learning at exactly the right pace) then everything you have been saying about education is, essentially, supported by it.

Gifted kids need advanced schooling. Testing, at least the way it is done, as I see it, is incompatible with flow (among other things). To expect all children to pass whatever tests at whatever ages - and to have developed all their aptitudes at the same rate (which they do not naturally do) - generates anxiety in some (which is proven to interfere with test performance), boredom in others (which is catalyzes behavior problems), and flow in very few. Our schooling environments interfere with optimal learning.

- Kathy

3:56 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you.

7:49 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I quite agree, Kathy. It further seems to me that school is very unlikely to ever be a place for flow because of the constant interruptions of the teacher and the other students. School is a group activity - and flow would normally arise while working on something ALONE.

Perhaps the whole world is wasting its time with school, at all.

Best wishes

7:53 AM  

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