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, July 27, 2007

The Open University is closed.

The Open University is a UK institution formed with the idea of opening up a tertiary education to people who would not otherwise be able to access it. Many have taken degrees while holding down full time jobs, pursuing their studies, at a distance, without having to be resident in a University (though they do have short-term residential modules, too). All in all, it sounds like a good idea...but it isn't flawless.

I decided to see just how open, the "Open" University really was. I wrote to them, telling them of Ainan, 7, and his need to continue his studies at a University, in the near future. How near that future is, depends on how long I can keep him satisfied at home, on my own resources - for no educational provision that he is receiving on a formal basis is presently meeting his needs. Obviously, I will not be able to keep him stimulated indefinitely: my home, for one, lacks a lab and there are many things I cannot teach him purely from the context of a book and his Dad. He teaches himself many things, too - but again, there are limits - for we don't have personal access to the equipment he would need to develop the practical side of his gifts.

Therefore, I am looking at the University issue, for Chemistry. I thought that the Open University might make it relatively uncomplicated to move on to higher studies since their courses were specifically designed for distance learning. Ainan would be able to pursue a degree with them, while handling whatever other matters he needed to attend to, here in Singapore. That was the idea, anyway.

However, after a few days, I received the following reply:

Dear Mr Cawley

Thank you for your email.

Study with the Open University is normally open to individuals over eighteen years of age; however, we do have a Young Applicants in Schools Scheme (YASS). Unfortunately, Singapore is outside of the area in which the YASS scheme is offered and therefore I am afraid we are unable to offer any study opportunities for your son.

I replied to them, but they didn't get back to me.

Thus, despite describing themselves as "Open" - and despite having been founded on a principle of opening up education to new people who do not have access, Ainan was refused on the basis of age - and bureaucracy. There is an allowance in their scheme for Young Applicants - but that only applies to the UK as far as I am aware.

It seems to me, that often with institutions, the spirit with which they were founded gets lost along the way - so it seems with the "Open" University. They were brought to being with an admirable purpose, but it is not true to say that they still fully serve it. Ainan is outside the norm with regards to his academic needs - a University founded on serving those who do not fit the norm, really, really should have made an exception to any rules that stand in his way: that would have been serving the spirit with which it was founded - and not the letter of any bureaucratic encumbrance that has since accreted.

Not many children need to go to University significantly early (except perhaps in America, where the academic demands ramp up much more slowly than in Europe) - so it should not be beyond universities to make the few exceptions that need to be made to allow these prodigious children to flourish. It costs them nothing to oblige and support these children - but there is a very high price to pay for their societies, in not supporting them: a price of wasted gifts.

So, as ever, I suspect, with any parent of a prodigious child, I am still seeking a better academic fit for his needs. The matter becomes more urgent over time - for as his abilities grow, so does the demand in having to meet them. At some point, it may not be tenable to do so alone without the backing of an appropriate institution. We will see. In the meantime, I will do what I have always done: whatever I can.

(If you would like to read more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Tiarnan, seventeen months, or Fintan, four years and no 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 adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:59 PM 


Blogger Amber said...

Homeschoolers in the UK sometimes utilize the OU for their children and not within YASS, I don't think. You do have to have an interview with a regional director of some sort though which is a problem being outside of the UK. The people they admit... I've seen one as young as 11, but they're typically 13+. I hope you find an alternative since I'm reading in an odd order I can't tell what your children are up to right now. ;)


2:41 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Amber,

We have found an alternative...but we haven't announced it yet. More later...thanks.

11:42 AM  

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