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 +

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Happy Birthday, Tiarnan!

Tiarnan is one year old, today. Happy Birthday my boy!

I will post a little tomorrow about his birthday, today.

Labels: ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:47 PM  0 comments

Are online games educational?

You may wonder at the title to this post, but it is not written out of whim. Yesterday, in the Today newspaper, in Singapore, the front page detailed a plan by two Singaporean schools to bring online gaming into the curriculum. The schools in question seemed proud to be the first known schools worldwide to be making gaming part of the standard curriculum. The question, that comes to mind, of course, is why are they doing this?

The answer lies in the game they have chosen. It is a role-playing game - that is one in which you adopt a character and play a role in an imaginary world. This particular game has yet to begin, but is set in the 17th century and involves a lot of problem solving. The schools believe that the game world will allow them to teach many different things in a fun way. There is also the fact that thinking skills could develop through the problem solving aspects of the game.

I have one clear thought on this: I am glad that it is not my son's school that is introducing this initiative. Yes, a game can teach students something in an enjoyable way - but are those lessons worth the very real risk that the child will become too absorbed in the game, at the great cost of losing interest in school and perhaps all else? These games are so "life-like", so well put together that they can become all-consuming interests. I fear that, in the interests of being trendy, this school could lose the attention of their students - permanently.

It should be noted that the schools have chosen a game carefully on the basis of what they think is its educational content. The game involves decision-making and thinking on the part of the students - but it remains a game, and as such, could act as a seduction into a world of many other games, in which it is easy for a child to lose sight of more important matters.

The game in question is not a first person shooter, in which nothing is done but kill computer-generated monsters. This latter type of game has been shown to improve co-ordination and response times of those who play them, to rapidly changing situations. Perhaps that could be seen as a useful lesson, though very expensive in terms of time needed to develop the skill.

This initiative is, no doubt, part of a perceived need to make lessons relevant to the students - to reach them in a way that they would perceive as interesting. There is a danger in taking this too far, however - for I feel the most likely lesson that the children at these particular schools will take away with them, is that online games are a lot more fun than why not play more online games, at the expense of school? Ultimately, their "education" will become an education in how to spend their leisure time.

Perhaps there are other places in the world where games are part of a formal education. If so, please tell us of your experiences. If not, perhaps you have some thoughts on the value of gaming as part of an education...if so, post them.

(If you would like to read about Ainan Celeste Cawley, my scientific child prodigy son, aged seven years and one month, please go to: I also write of education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

Labels: ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:18 PM  0 comments

Thursday, January 18, 2007

My broadband link is down

I am sorry to say that my broadband link is down. An engineer isn't available until the middle of the coming week. Thus I will have to use a computer elsewhere to post. This may affect the timing of my posts - as it has today. Apologies in advance.

A technological note: whatever broadband may be it is not reliable in my experience. Ah well...


AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:52 PM  0 comments

Tiarnan's sensitivity to music

Tiarnan, eleven months, likes music. He seems to understand it on an emotional level and responds to it with attention.

For the past few months, Tiarnan has had the habit of approaching our home entertainment system and selecting the button that would turn on music, and pressing it. It didn't take him long to learn which of the buttons, out of all of those available, would provide the desired result: pleasant sound. Yet there is a problem for him, which is comical to watch. You see to turn on the music, he must come close to the home theatre system. This means that the speakers are very near him. So, each time he does so, he walks up to the machine, reaches out with one pointed, straightened finger, touches the button - then walks backwards as fast as he can out of reach of the speakers. It is a race, as there is a slight delay before the music comes on and he always wants to be far enough away before the speakers come on, so that it is not too loud in his little ears. If he fails to get away far enough, he burst into tears at the sudden volume (though this is unusual since he usually succeeds in getting far enough away).

A couple of weeks ago, he showed an interesting variation on this. The radio was playing in the background, and a haunting piece of music came on - one which could be described as scarey. Tiarnan's response was to hurry over to the radio and switch it off.

I found this interesting, for it showed that he was able to pick up on the emotional meaning of the music - and decide that scarey music was just not for him. It is the only time that he has ever switched the music off, that I have witnessed: usually he likes it on, so I think that the act was a meaningful one.

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

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:03 PM  0 comments

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Comparative education: America and UK style

Yesterday, in the Today newspaper, Singapore, there was a letter from a reader referring to a recent offer by an American University to accept students from Singapore directly after O level results. The initiative is part of a Singapore Institute of Management programme.

For readers in countries not familiar with O levels, let me explain. When I was growing up in the UK, there were two major exams taken before University - O levels (where O was for "Ordinary") and A levels (where A was for "Advanced"), there were also S levels which very few students took, where S stood for Special, I think. S level was considerably tougher than A level. In practice, hardly anyone ever took S level. (I did, along with at least one other from my school, but that is another story).

Now O levels were taken usually at 16 years old and A levels at 18 years old (and S levels too, at 18). O levels were a broad based exam with students taking many O levels. Most took at least 5, I think I took about 12. The A levels were more narrowly focussed, students usually taking only three subjects, though some, in schools like mine, took four or more.

As I understand it, American education is very different from the UK style education. In the UK specialisation occurs early, in America a high school education is a very broad affair indeed. So, too is an American college degree. In America, it is usual to study a buffet of subjects, mixing and matching in a modular fashion, with a typical student learning many different things. Not so in the UK (and many other countries which follow this style). There a student will generally study only one subject, with some exceptions, focussing narrowly and deeply on the subject matter.

So, how does American education compare with the UK/European style education? The American, at any given age, will have been exposed to a broad range of subjects, in what is, to a UK perspective, relatively little depth. The UK student, at any given age will have been exposed to a narrower range of subjects, in much greater depth.

What does this mean in comparing the education systems (and the students) of the two different countries? The story in the Today newspaper, yesterday, is very revealing. An American University is soliciting students after O level. This means, very clearly, that the standard of the first year of the American University begins at or below O level, in terms of depth and difficulty.
A UK A level, taken by 16 to 18 year olds, is beyond the level required to begin an American College Degree. Indeed, when I was growing up in England, it was commonly said that a UK A level, at that time, was equivalent to an American College Degree. It is important to know this when comparing a cultural phenomenon that exists in America with what exists in Europe.

In America, quite a few children appear to go to College early. In Europe very few do (and they are generally, but not always, somewhat older, when they do). Does this mean European children are less bright than American children? Not at all. It means that the European University degrees are more specialized, and require a higher standard in greater depth, than an American Undergraduate degree, certainly in the UK (the system I know of, from experience). A child passing a UK A level, when I was a child, was equivalent, in terms of academic demand, to a child passing an American College Degree. I don't know how American Graduate degrees compare to UK Graduate degrees, or indeed to Undergraduate degrees, but it is clear that they will be different, from the different foundations on which they are built.

The situation has changed somewhat over the years, since my childhood, but certain things remain the same. The UK system (and those that follow something similar) remains more specialized than the American system. The academic demand is narrower at any given age than the American system, but deeper in content. The American system remains broader and more flexible, in terms of choice of subjects studied.

O levels are still studied around the world, but generally not in the UK anymore, where most students take the GCSE (which is quite different, though the syllabuses are similar to O level). A levels have become modular, but still remain specialized.

It is important to understand these differences so that, when we read of the academic achievements of a particular nation, or a particular individual student or child prodigy, and the like, that we know what they mean. The American University recruiting in Singapore, has implicitly acknowledged that the O level exam equals or exceeds the standard of High School Graduation - otherwise they would not be recruiting O level students into their first year programmes. So, if one reads of a child who takes an O level at a very young age, this is equivalent in cognitive demand, one would think, to a child of the same age, completing High School Graduation in America. Similarly, a child passing A levels, at a young age, is comparable to a child passing an American College Degree, at a young age.

This situation allows us to understand why it is so rare for children to enter University in UK style University programmes, compared to the situation in America. Like is not being compared with like. The UK style University is narrower, deeper and simply a lot harder than the American University Undergraduate programme: it is a higher rung to achieve, and so fewer achieve it at a young age.

Then there are variations between Universities. The first year of the University of Cambridge's Natural Sciences course (which I took) was much, much more challenging than A level. Yet in some Universities the first year is similar in demand to A level. Again, one must understand the circumstance of each institution and situation to be able to compare one education system with another.

So, which is better, a broad American education, or a narrow, deeper UK/European one? I think it very much depends on what you are preparing for. If you want to be able to handle a wide range of situations in life, and have a broad perspective on things, perhaps the American system has the edge. If you want to be able to meet a difficult challenge, equipped with the deepest of knowledge (such as might be required in many professional situations), I feel the UK style University has the advantage, at least at the Undergraduate level, assuming that particular challenge doesn't require knowledge of more than one discipline.

I debate the merits of each system, because I face a choice for my sons: how do I want them to be educated - American style - or UK style? The choice exists because American style programmes are spreading around the world, as outposts of American Universities - reaching even here, in Singapore.

The first step in making a choice is in understanding the differences. I hope this article has made some of those differences clear.

(If you would like to read about Ainan Celeste Cawley, my scientific child prodigy son, aged seven years and one month, or his gifted brothers, please go to: I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Note that I am unable to update the guide at present because of problems with my blogger interface, which doesn't allow me to edit posts. I am trying to resolve the situation. In the meantime, you will find recent posts in the sidebar. Thanks.)

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:22 PM  4 comments

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Tiarnan's training regime

Yesterday we were at an Indian restaurant, in Orchard Road. We were with Tiarnan, eleven months, who managed to ensure that we couldn't focus on our food, so intent was he on deconstructing his new environment.

To control him, we placed him in a high chair: he fought his way to get out, trying every twist and turn he could think of, to free himself. So we took him out, which made him much happier, but much harder to handle. Oddly, he then tried to climb back into his high chair, lifting his leg up onto the first rung, followed by the second - and did, indeed, manage to secure himself halfway up the chair, his head looking over the top into the seat. I took him down.

Then, as if not satisfied with this degree of exercise, he sat between us on the chair and, for no apparent reason, started counting in Malay: "Satu, dua, tiga..." At each count, he rocked forward in his seat, as if doing mini-sit ups. I don't know of any time he has seen someone exercise in that manner, (I certainly don't) so I can only assume that the whim to count his sit ups - and to do them in the first place - came over him, of his own accord. It was the first time I have heard him count in Malay (though he has probably done so when I am not around): several months ago he started to count in English, in his sleep - I have posted on it, before.

Tiarnan looks set to be an athletic boy, so much does he enjoy moving around, climbing and exploring. He even appears to move rhythmically to music, so something in him wants to dance. He must have got that latter desire from his mother.

(If you would like to read more about Tiarnan or his gifted brothers, including scientific child prodigy, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and one month, please go to: I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Please note that I am presently unable to update the guide owing to problems with the edit post function in my blogger interface. I am trying to resolve the situation. Until I do, however, for recent posts you will have to go to the main page and look in the sidebar to the left. Thanks.)

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:57 PM  0 comments

Monday, January 15, 2007

Leonardo's speed of perception

Leonardo Da Vinci was a man of many gifts, as is well known. I will not list them here for I have written of him in another post. There is, however, one peculiarity of this remarkable man that I wish to draw your attention to. Among Leonardo's copious surviving written documents (which may only, in fact, be about half of what he wrote, the rest being lost, by careless handling, by those he entrusted it to) there is a series of detailed drawings of a bird's wings in flight, showing the precise disposition of the feathers, as they arrange themselves, at various stages in the flapping motion.

Think about that for a moment. It is easy to overlook the special meaning of those drawings. For a typical human, a bird's wings are a blur, in flight, so fast are they. No ordinary man could see exactly how the feathers were arranged in a flapping bird's wing, but Leonardo could - and he drew them to prove it.

Clearly, Leonardo Da Vinci possessed a speed of perception beyond that of an ordinary man - for him the motion was not a blur, but a clearly visible fluid sequence of motions. Then there is the sharpness of his eyesight, which must have been far surpassed the ordinary man's to see these details in a flying bird, which could have been any distance from him.

Leonardo was not just a universal genius. He possessed abilities that place him outside the common realm of even the company of other geniuses.

It was not until several hundred years had passed and stop-motion photography was invented, that Leonardo's view of how birds actually fly, was proven to be correct: he had seen this with his naked eye.

What do you think of this superhuman speed of perception? I would like your thoughts on it, as I may write further, on some related matter.

(If you would like to read of my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and one month, or his gifted brothers, please go to: I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Note that owing to a problem with my blogger interface I am presently unable to edit posts and so cannot update the scientific child prodigy guide page. I trying to resolve the difficulty. For recent posts, you will have to go to the head page and hunt through the links on the left-hand side. Thanks.)

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:52 PM  4 comments

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Tiarnan knows his Daddy

Twenty years ago, I was a much younger and a much slimmer man. I was a boy, really. I looked much different to what I do now: sharply defined features, noticeable cheekbones, a very fresh look. I was at Cambridge. I was of a rather different build as well - about 35 kg lighter. That is quite a difference.

Tiarnan saw this photograph a few days ago, and immediately uttered a nickname he has for me. The gulf of years, the ever more youthful appearance in the photograph, couldn't fool him. Tiarnan knew his Daddy - though looking at the photos I would barely know myself.

I suppose I should be touched that, at eleven months, he was able to identify me in such old photos - yet not having had the experience to know, from having lived it, that people DO change that much - and yet are the same person. Somehow, he could just see it in the photograph.

I wonder if he would recognize me as a child of his age? I don't have any such photos in my present country - but I would like to try one day. It could be funny to see his reaction to his Daddy as a baby.

(If you would like to read more of Tiarnan or his gifted brothers, including Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and one month, please go to: I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks. Note that I am presently unable to update the guide, owing to some problem with my blogger interface - so the posts of the past few days are not referred to. You will have to go to the main page and look to the list on the left, to find them. I am trying to resolve the issue.)

Labels: ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:06 PM  0 comments

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape