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, March 03, 2007

The Singaporean Way Of Life: Money

Everything in Singapore has a price tag. Perhaps that is the inevitable consequence of adopting free market principles in all areas. Everything is determined to have a value - and so everything ends up with a price.

I have been here so long that I have half forgotten what used to be free in London, when I lived there: healthcare, education, Museums (when I was younger), were just the beginning of it. Many things seemed to be rights for all, and not something to be bought only if you could afford it. In Singapore, nothing is free, not even government services - and don't ever get sick (the hospital bill will make you sicker).

I have got used to it, however. I have also come to see the benefit of putting a price to everything: although everything has a price, one thing is much, much lower: central taxation. Government taxation on income starts at...wait for it...3.75 %. That is not a typo. Tax is THREE POINT SEVEN-FIVE %, at the base rate. This doesn't kick in until 20,000 dollars: below that, tax is zero. It works its way up as income rises, to reach a peak of 21%, for incomes in excess of 320,000 dollars. Then there is indirect taxation: presently a 5 % Goods and Services Tax, soon to rise to 7 %. All in all, however, it is a low tax burden - and many Singaporeans pay no income tax, at all, once thresholds and reliefs are taken into account.

The low tax regime even extends to the "afterlife". This, as a father of three, and a long-term thinker, I find attractive. I want to be able to leave my estate, whatever it might be, intact to my descendants. Anyone who is thinking clearly, and has dependants, would like to be able to do that. In Singapore, the Death Duties are rather different to that in the US (up to 55 %, there, I understand), and other developed nations like the UK (40 %). In Singapore, the first eight million dollars of property in an estate is ZERO-RATED. You pay no death duty at all. After that there is a five per cent duty to be paid. This means that Singaporeans and foreign residents can leave their estates largely intact to the following generations. This is a big draw to long-term thinkers who want to build something for their family - and might be one of the reasons that wealthy foreigners are drawn here.

Company taxes are low, too, at 20%. There are lower tax regimes - the so-called "tax havens", worldwide - but as developed countries go, Singapore's tax structure is quite friendly - with obvious benefits to the nation of inward investment.

So, in Singapore, everything has a price - but you just might have more of your money in your pocket to spend on things. It is not such a bad system, after all. Most people would prefer to have more of their money to spend, as they choose, than taxed away, and spent by others, without any power to decide how it is used. Here, at least, that choice applies, largely speaking.

This post is just an occasional glimpse at Singapore, that I will give, in addition to my usual genius/prodigy/gifted/education posts. Thanks.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:46 PM  6 comments

The NUS High School meeting.

I met with the Principal of NUS High School, yesterday.

The meeting was several hours long and covered many areas. Ainan and my wife were both present. Apart from ascertaining Ainan's understanding of Chemistry and ability to learn science in general, through questions and posers, in areas old and areas new - including Physics (which he solved, without prior knowledge, thankfully), we discussed much of what could and could not be done for Ainan.

There is much I cannot say, at this stage, for I do not want to prejudice matters moving forward. Yet I do wish to raise certain concerns. Firstly, they have never had a child of Ainan's age before - and do not have any prior experience with this degree of precocity. He gave examples of highly precocious children who have begun to deal with material of a comparable level, from the maths discipline (they have no other scientific prodigies, at all) - but these were all twelve or thirteen years old, or more. Ainan is almost twice as precocious as the next most precocious children, therefore.

Throughout the discussions with the Gifted Education Branch the word "flexibility" has been used, and another phrase: "No barriers". I felt, in the meeting, that the Principal was not entirely comfortable with these requirements. He spoke, instead, of "no exemptions", "no exceptions", and said things like: "If we do that for one, they will all want it". His reasoning was not, therefore, consonant with what I had been led to expect was the procedure. There are, therefore, tensions in the system over how to handle a child such as Ainan. There is little or no experience of children like Ainan - and little or no willingness to make the range of accommodations that would be necessary to create an ideal situation.

I got the impression that it was very much that Ainan was expected to adjust himself to fit in, and that adjustments would not be made to fit him, better. The system would not alter: the occupant of the system must. This attitude does not take into account his age.

So, although as you may have read in the previous posts the NUS High School presents opportunities to secure a degree, and a broad education, it also presents problems that will need to be overcome.

He expressed doubts about Ainan using the labs. He made it clear that he wanted Ainan to "go slow". He spoke of a six year course. All of these things do not take into account Ainan's individuality or his particular ability to learn very fast. The picture he mapped out for Ainan, basically does not seem to understand the degree of precocity exhibited or its full implications for an appropriate education.

The most worrying thing he said was that: "I don't want his chemistry to get too far ahead of the other things." This shows a particular failure to understand the nature of prodigy - who always have a very strong peak, along with whatever other talents they have. He seemed to be saying that it was better to impede his progress in Chemistry than let it race ahead of everything. That is not the right thing to do at all. What would be better is to give him opportunities to bring everything else up to the standard of his Chemistry - which could be done in a few months, with access to good teachers. I suggested it. His response: "I don't have the resources...and I have six hundred other students, too." The implication was clear: why should I do that for him, and not for them?

He made it clear that no individualization would occur to accommodate the presence of Ainan, despite the fact that he would be about half the age of their youngest students.

He did judge, though, at the end, that Ainan was the best scientific mind he had ever met for a Primary student, there being no other in his knowledge, as precocious. Perhaps he should think on that, for a while, and understand that, as I said to him at the end: "An exceptional situation requires an exceptional response." I wasn't sure he liked the sound of that. It was something he could agree with, I think, logically, but not temperamentally.

However, the meeting was a productive one. I got to understand more of what was on offer: to gain an initial perception of the problems and possibilities it presented. None of the problems are insurmoutable - if there is the will to overcome them. My main remnant worry is that I am not sure that that will is there. The possibilities, however, if the problems are overcome, are great. Ainan could finally have access to the educational opportunities he needs.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:59 AM  0 comments

Friday, March 02, 2007

NUS High School, Singapore: what is it?

NUS High School, Singapore is rather different from what I had understood. It is not just a High School, but a closet University, too.

Let me explain. NUS High School for Maths and Science (to give it, its proper title) was established by the National University of Singapore (NUS), to foster excellence in maths and science and to cater for the best students in the country, in these areas. It provides a wide, modular curriculum covering Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Art, History, Geography, Music, Astronomy, Robotics, Languages and other subjects, too. The student is required to pick and choose within credit requirements in each area. As I understand it, this is probably why it is called a "High School" - for modular credit based systems are an American standard, as I understand it (correct me if I am wrong). As students progress through what is normally a six year course, the preponderance of maths and science grows, and that of humanities diminishes. In this, it is unlike a traditional American High School, in that the outcome is predetermined, to a degree: the assumption is a specialization in science, and this is built into the structure of the place.

Yet, there are differences between this school and a traditional American High School. NUS High School acts as a junior department of the National University of Singapore, itself. It does this through a facility that I was unaware of until the interview, today (which I should discuss in a different post). NUS High School allows its pupils to take modules from the National University of Singapore, itself. These modules can be used in two ways: one, is as credit towards the NUS High School Diploma; the other is as credit guessed it...a B.Sc (Bachelor of Science) Degree from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

This option of taking modules from the University is not restricted in scope, at all. In fact, ANY module at the National University of Singapore, may be taken while a person is a student at NUS High School. This means that a student of NUS High can build up credits towards a Degree at the National University of Singapore, as much as they like. Indeed, there is only one thing that I was informed of that prevents dual graduation (that is simultaneous graduation from the High School and the University): there is presently a blanket one year minimum residential requirement, for all students, at the National University of Singapore. That could be a stumbling block: how would Ainan cope with living in University residences, as a child, among adults? There could be all sorts of problems there. I can only hope for an exception on that one, I think.

So, there is a seamless transition between NUS High School and the National University of Singapore: they are, in essence, part of the same greater organization. This is news to me. I had not known that they were one in anything other than name.

Thus, on taking up a place at NUS High, Ainan, seven, would, in due course, be able to take University courses, in a modular fashion, towards his first degree. This gives me hope that arrangements can be made for him to study new material at his level, which would further his interest and understanding.

Perhaps everything will work out.

(If you would like to read more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and three months, and his gifted brothers, Fintan, three, and Tiarnan, thirteen months, please go to: I also write of child prodigy, gifted education, IQ, intelligence, 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 @ 7:44 PM  10 comments

What does a boy genius read?

Over a month ago, I went into Ainan's room, at night, to make sure he was off to sleep. He wasn't: there on the bed, he sat, a large book open in front of him, the bedside light on. He didn't look up, as I entered.

I watched him as he read the book. There was quiet interest in his face - and no tiredness at all. Ainan is a "night person" - he is at his best when others feel the wish to sleep.

Quietly, I approached him and looked down at what he was reading. It was a general science encylopedia that he had had for some time. Studying the open page, I was struck by the irony of his reading. The entry was about savants.

So, Ainan, my scientific child prodigy, was reading about savants! How odd...I felt the peculiar aptness of his inquiry as I watched.

There was something else in the moment that has not left me: an understanding that, perhaps, Ainan was seeking self-knowledge, and personal insight. The article in question addressed the issue of exceptionality - and looked at both geniuses and savants and tried to answer the question: what made them the way they were?

Ainan read with great focus and interest - but no comment. He just pointed at an occasional box, to share it with me.

After a while, I left the room and Ainan alone, with his book. I felt that it was better that he follow the moment, and learn more of unusual people that somehow shared something with him, than to ensure that he adhered to the idea of a "bedtime".

I wish I'd had a camera and a good perspective: a child prodigy reading of a savant! It was touching in a way.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:31 AM  4 comments

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Tiarnan invents the practical joke.

Many a time, Tiarnan has observed Ainan's dislike of insects.

Ainan jumps at the sudden appearance of a cockroach, or the like, spooked by them in a primordial fashion. It is the kind of instinct many of us are born with, but grow out of through over-exposure to the situation. Ainan, though, has yet to have the time to grow out of this basic instinct, this fear of the unknown, or the alien.

Tiarnan, however, does not fear them. No animal seems to excite fear, at all in him. All that is excited is curiosity.

About a month ago, Syahidah saw Tiarnan put a grasshopper, which he had found, lying dead, and picked up, fearlessly to play with, into one of Ainan's school shoes. She scolded him for doing so, and took it out. That was the end of it, she thought.

Later on, as Ainan walked with his mother, he turned to her and said: "Mummy, there is something in my shoe.", there was trepidation in his voice.

Syahidah took off his shoe - and, sure enough, there was a grasshopper inside. Tiarnan had replaced it, when his mummy wasn't looking.

To distract Ainan, Syahidah at once launched into a tall tale about her own childhood and how something similar had happened (whether or not it was true I do not know...that wasn't the purpose: distraction was.) Ainan's attention was drawn to the story and away from the dead horror in his shoe and he was able to cope with the discovery.

Knowing Tiarnan, this was done out of a mischievous sense of humour, for he laughs at many a sophisticated thing.

What I find impressive about this, is that, on seeing the grasshopper, he did not ignore it. Nor did he try to eat it. But he planned the creation of his first practical joke, with it. He must have known that Ainan would react with horror on seeing it. He must have seen some humour in surprising his older brother in this way...and he must also have understood that, in placing the grasshopper in the shoe that it would remain there until Ainan stepped into it. There was planning, dark humour, mischief and imagination in this act, all rolled into one. What is also notable is that he did not desist when his mother told him off - but that he had replaced the grasshopper, as soon as his mother's back was turned. All of this indicates quite a degree of sophistication for a twelve month old baby.

I wonder where this dark humour and liking of practical jokes will take him?

I think I had better start checking my shoes, before I put them on, lest he repeat the joke! (He hasn't so far.)

(If you would like to read more about Tiarnan, or Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and three months, or Fintan, three, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, 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 @ 11:30 PM  2 comments

Oddities of Language: Chinese and English

I discovered something very strange today that, alone, might explain the low birth rate in China, if only they were better educated in English.

There is a phrase in Chinese "bei bi", which, as you probably noticed is pronounced in a very similar way to "baby" in English. There is one difference. In English the stress is on the first syllable; in Chinese it is stressed on the second. Now: why should I bother to post to you about this? Well, you see, there is something very odd in this coincidence of sound. The word "baby" on our tongue sounds like the word "bei bi" to a Chinese person - and what does it mean in Chinese? Well, one translation is "ignoble", another attempt at translation I have heard is "despicable".

I wonder what Mandarin speakers think, therefore, when Westerners use the word "ignoble" to describe their children. It is a funny world.

I could post on certain oddities I have noticed, in this part of the world, in addition to my mainstream on giftedness, prodigy and genius. If you found this comment interesting, please say so, so that I might choose to include observations I make on Asia, in future posts. Thanks very much.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 5:45 PM  5 comments

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  6 comments

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tiarnan recognizes his "Daddy".

About two months ago, when Tiarnan was eleven months old, he caught sight of his brother Fintan's new present.

The present was something intended to comfort Fintan: a pillow in red and blue, with a picture of Superman on it, as the rugged jawed demigod that we all know and love.

Tiarnan looked at the image on the pillow and, at once, said: "Daddy!"

I wasn't there to witness the moment - but it is still one that I will never forget. People talk about the younger siblings of a prodigy having a lot to live up to...well, what about the father having to live up to expectations like Tiarnan's?!

Now, where did I put my costume...

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:17 PM  4 comments

Fintan, mummy's personal coach

Yesterday, my wife Syahidah was in a hurry to get ready. Fintan was watching this, but had something on his mind, that he wanted his mother to attend to.

"Not now, Fintan, I have to hurry to see Daddy!" she said to him.

He took this well, setting aside his wishes, in a rather mature fashion. You have to remember that Fintan is a curly headed three year old and picture that in your mind.

He then said to his mother, in a comical choice of words: "You go girl!", as if he were the older one, and she his charge.

It was almost as if he was on the Opray Show, hearing such words on his lips. His vocabulary surprises me at times and the way he chooses to use it: it is whimsical and expresses a character all of his own. I think that is the department in which Fintan really shines - the social one. In some ways, that is one of the more useful attributes to have.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:38 AM  2 comments

"Radical acceleration", that isn't.

Here is the latest in the Gifted Education Programme saga, that has been unfolding on these pages.

The Gifted Education Branch now wishes to "radically accelerate" Ainan, my scientific child prodigy son, aged seven years and three months. He is presently in Primary 2, which is his age class. However, the decision has been made to "twin" him with a high school for science.

There are two high schools under consideration and the decision will be made based on timetabling. One of the schools specializes in science and maths and would, I think, be the best choice, from that point of view. We will see.

I have one concern though. Although it may seem to be "radical acceleration" to place a seven year old in high school, it wouldn't actually be acceleration at all - but a kind of deceleration. You see, Ainan has already studied the curriculum that he would be required to study at the high school. Thus he would be covering again what he already knows. I puzzle at this. I raised the matter with the Gifted Education Branch Officer and was told that: "Gifted education is not just about content, there are other factors..." she then went on to say something that completely eluded my comprehension and thus recall. I am accustomed to this in speaking with her - because there is something in me that only accepts statements that are reasonable. Apparently, content of the lessons is not the primary consideration with "radical acceleration".

I think they are being conservative, in a way, because of his age. He would be among people more than twice his age...and I think they feel that that is enough of a gap to begin with. So, they have decided upon this strange kind of social acceleration/academic deceleration as a first step. I am not sure it is the best one. I told them that Ainan would be bored with repeating a curriculum he has already covered...but this remark, as usual, was not entirely absorbed. There is hope though: once he has begun to accelerate, perhaps he will be allowed to move to a level that actually offers him something new, in due course. Whatever level that might be.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:48 AM  6 comments

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Do gifted children learn quietness?

Most people familiar with gifted children will have noticed that many of them are introverted. They prefer the riches of their inner worlds to the paucity of the outer world. Yet, how much of this is innate, and how much is learned behaviour?

As a young child, there was a marked discrepancy between me and the children around me. Looking back now, I see a gulf that was unbridgeable. At the time, I had no idea why the children were the way they were. Unsurprisingly, I thought of them as very simple creatures - though it appals me to write that childhood thought here, as an adult. Yet, I think it is important to introduce that thought - for perhaps many parents reading this, here, may have gifted children who are thinking that daily about the other children they meet. What effect does this disparity of mental development have on children?

One effect that could develop over time is the observed "introversion" seen in such children. If the other children don't understand when the gifted child speaks their mind, eventually such a child might very well learn not to speak their mind at all. A conditioned silence would develop which would be very hard to penetrate. Something of this kind happened to me as a child. I became an observer who didn't express the fullness of my thought: for I anticipated that such expression would be unwelcome. Perhaps the same phenomenon is unfolding in Ainan's life.

Did you feel this way as a gifted child? Do you think your gifted child feels this way? Is their reticence a learned behaviour? That is my theory anyway...your thoughts would be welcome.

(If you would like to read more of my gifted children, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and three months, a scientific child prodigy, Fintan, three and Tiarnan, thirteen 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 @ 5:25 PM  10 comments

Ainan's economy with words

Some people talk much and think little; others talk little and think much: Ainan is of the latter breed.

Some of those of you who have followed the Gifted Education Programme saga may have wondered why I wanted a recording of the meeting with the chemists. The reason is two-fold: firstly it would have been an invaluable record of Ainan's thinking at this stage; secondly I knew I wouldn't get to know much about it from him, if I didn't. You see Ainan is quite economical with words and not keen to describe his experiences.

I tried asking Ainan about the meeting.

"So what happened then?"

"We sat down." He said, with a curious finality.

"What did you speak about?"

"We just sat down." There was something about his tone that said this was going to be a short conversation - not rude but, as if he thought it unnecessary to communicate.

"What chemistry did they talk to you about?"

"Much." He leant that word such weight that it was meant to encompass the whole conversation. That was it. He didn't say anything more.

Apparently, he had said a lot in the meeting - however he said nothing about the meeting. Now, perhaps, you understand my insistence on a recording!

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:47 AM  4 comments

Monday, February 26, 2007

Early bilingual speech: Tiarnan's translations

Two weeks ago, Tiarnan did something I have never heard of a baby doing.

He was then twelve months old. His mother, Syahidah, said to him: "kuching". He immediately said: "cat" - a translation of the Malay word into English. He is making explicit his awareness of the two languages - and stating that they share words with common meaning, though different sound.

He continued this new behaviour later in the day as I was putting him to sleep. I was carrying him up the stairs and I said "tido" to him. He immediately said: "bed". He said it in such a way that he seemed to be correcting me, for he knew that I didn't speak Malay, normally, so why was I using it on him now?

It was notable that the translation came immediately upon the utterance of the word: as if he were playing verbal ping pong - I say a word, he says the translation. It is clear that he is building two good representations of language, with hints at a third - but more of that another time.

(If you would like to read more of Tiarnan or his gifted brothers, Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and two months, or Fintan, three, please go to: I also write of gifted education, intelligence, IQ, 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 @ 5:14 PM  2 comments

The Chemistry of Charisma

Eight days ago, I saw something both sweet and surprising.

I had brought Ainan to the playground where we live and, instead of playing with the other kids he had set about doing an experiment with the materials to hand in the park area, next to the swings.

Studiously, he attended to the details of his work. I didn't approach closer to see what exactly he was doing, but I knew him well enough to understand that it was The Great Experimenter at work on some investigation or other.

He never looked up once to see what the other kids were up to in the playground, but focussed on his craft. Yet, I was touched to see that, after a few minutes alone with his project, a blond German girl, of the same age as him, left the playground and her friends, to join him. I could see him explain to her what he was doing - and then she began to assist him. The two worked together quite amiably, Ainan quietly directing her efforts. She was still there half an hour later.

It was sweet to see that though he had made no effort to do so, his intensity had drawn the girl to him. There is something charismatic in his manner, that even a young girl can see across a crowded playground.

I think sincerity of purpose is attractive to people of all ages: it has a charisma all of its own - and Ainan has it in plenty. I didn't approach them for fear of disturbing the sense of unity they had achieved, but watched from afar.

It was a beautiful sunset, with my son, at play.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:23 AM  4 comments

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Child Prodigy Schools In Asia: Hope or Hype?

Schooling all over the world is not the same. Despite the every effort at homogeneity made by the export of Western educational culture to the world, through European examinations, such as the O Level and A Level and the IB (International Baccalaureate), and American University degrees, there remains an element of cultural uniqueness to most educational cultures.

One element of uniqueness in the Asian educational landscape is the emergence of the prodigy school. Now, anyone who knows anything of prodigies might be a little taken aback by that statement: I was, too. The idea that a school would purport to create a prodigy, on demand, is quite astonishing. Yet, in several Asian countries such schools have been established. They are to be found in Korea and China, as well as, surprisingly, Indonesia (more of that later).

The question is: can a school create a prodigy? Firstly, we must understand what a prodigy is. As you may know, a prodigy is a child, under 11, with adult performance in an adult discipline: that is a high bar to expect a school to meet.

What type of children do these schools take? In Korea, they take the top 1% of children - so all their entrants are gifted. That gives us hope, except to note that this is not nearly selective enough to isolate prodigies. So their pool consists of gifted children, but not naturally prodigious children. I think, in some ways, these schools have been mischievously marketed, for what they offer is not to make a child a prodigy, but to educate a gifted child to a high level.

The Chinese case, however, is a little worrying. Promotional material for one school promises to take a child of "average intelligence" and to give them, at age 10, "the intelligence level of a University student", by which they seem to mean the actual intellectual performance of a University student. Well, there is one word for that: impossible (for the child of "average intelligence", anyway.) The school will give each student an exhaustive education in a regimented fashion (if photos of the students at work are any guide). The result will be an educated child, who has been taught by rote, largely speaking. The child will know a lot - but I think it is very unlikely that the process will enhance their intelligence, as we properly think of intelligence. The child will still be a child of "average intelligence" - who happens to have been educated. That is not a prodigy.

In most countries, a school making such a claim would be shut down pretty quickly, especially when its fees are looked at: up to 138,000 yuan per year (which, in terms of affordability, is like the same in US dollars to an American, when salaries are taken into account). The school also begins by teaching students as young as 1 year old. Apparently, they have 400 students - which, in terms of income, is a very successful proposition for the owner of the school. It remains to be seen whether they will produce any prodigies, however.

The Indonesian case is odder still. They have a photograph of Ainan, my scientific child prodigy son, on their website. The implication seems to be that Ainan is a product of the school. This is not so. Ainan has not attended a "prodigy school". I know of no prodigy who has actually attended a prodigy school. So, if you see material promoting Ainan as the product of such a school - know it for what it is: opportunistic marketing. Ainan will never attend such a school, for he is prodigious already, a gift that arose naturally from within him.

What can we expect from such prodigy schools? A group of intensively educated children, with a high level of knowledge, but without, I think, the dimension of gifts characteristic of prodigies. To ask an average child to be a prodigy is a bit like asking the average person to be an Olympic sprint champion: no amount of training is going to get you there - but training will make you faster than you would have been without it. The same thing applies to prodigy schools. No amount of training is going to make you a prodigy if it is unsupported by the appropriate native gifts - but it will make you better at the trained task or subject than you would have been: nothing more and nothing less. I am not sure that is worth the fortune that is asked for by some of these schools.

What are your thoughts on prodigy schools? Will they give Asia an advantage over the Western world - or are they a misguided attempt to thwart nature and create prodigies on demand?

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:33 PM  8 comments

Blogger - unable to post

I would like to apologize to my regular readers for the longer than usual gap between postings: I have been unable to post to Blogger from my home computer. I don't know if this problem will persist, there, but I am able to post from someone else's (so perhaps it will be alright when I return home).

I am a regular blogger. I write every day. If there is ever a delay in posting it is because I CANNOT post, not because I don't want to. Therefore, your patience, in returning to check later, will eventually be rewarded by a resumption of posting.

Thanks for your patience.


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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:27 PM  3 comments

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