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 +

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Does Singapore have enough schools?

As everyone knows Singapore's population is growing. It is growing by policy. Each year more and more foreigners are enticed to come to work here. Some settle down. Some take Permanent Residency (PR status), others become citizens, but most, however, do not and are content just to work (then leave when they find somewhere else to go to, that offers more).

Perhaps this is part of the answer to a problem I have noted. You see, Singapore doesn't seem to have enough schools for the children it has. This can't be because Singaporeans are having too many children - for, in the main, Singaporeans are reluctant to have any children at all, with the Total Fertility Rate floating around 1.2 or so. This is one of the lowest in the world (exact figures available, but not to me, today, at this minute). So, perhaps, many of the children here are imported, with the foreign talent who come here to work.

Now, why do I say that Singapore doesn't seem to have enough schools? Well, it is a simple deduction from a local practice that has puzzled me from the moment I first heard of it. Many schools here operate two sessions. That is a morning session starting at some ungodly hour (7.30 am, for instance) and an afternoon session at 1 pm or so. I was startled when I first encountered this phenomenon, because I have never heard of another country doing this. When I grew up in London, everyone went to a school that had only a single session - starting at about 9 am (or 9.15/9.30 depending on school). There was no such thing as a two session school.

Why would a school need two sessions? Well, logic leads us to conclude that it can only be because there are not enough schools or school classrooms and attendant teachers, to teach all of the students in one session. If there were enough schools, there would be no need for two sessions. So, the existence of two sessions is proof that the number of schools is insufficient.

As always, I have a reason for addressing an issue. The existence of two sessions presents a problem that I have never seen before, in any other country. Quite simply, the morning session starts far too early for the children who have to endure it. This morning, my son Ainan, started back to school. To get there, he had to get up at about 5.30 am in time for a bus at around 6.20 am. This strikes me as much too early for a young boy to be going to school. There is such a thing as sleep and I rather think that it is more important than breaking world championships in "Earliest School Day", events.

All nations have to provide the educational infrastructure for their youngest citizens. Yet, there are various ways to achieve this. Singapore had a choice between building enough schools - or building insufficient schools and using them twice, in the same day, to make up for it. Singapore has clearly chosen the latter option. No doubt, this must have seemed an eminently efficient use of resources, since then they can build half the number of schools, yet still find space (at different times) for all the students.

This may seem to work just fine. However, it has one important consequence: grotesquely early school starts for half the nation's kids. I find this worrisome. There are likely to be health impacts of waking up half a nation's children so early, for school. Then, of course, there are also the social effects on the family, of having to prepare a child for school while even the sun has yet to rise.

Ever am I reminded that Singapore is not as the nation of my birth was. Things are done differently here. While I understand that the decision to have insufficient schools would have been made for economic reasons, so as to save on investment in infrastructure, this does have serious consequences for the nation's children. Which is more valuable: saving money, or saving the health and happiness of the children?

I know which I would choose.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and no months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and five months, and Tiarnan, twenty-two months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:31 PM 


Anonymous Jason said...

I was educated in the St Andrew's schools for a full 12 years prior coming to britain.

When I was in Primary school, I remember we had the morning and afternoon session school system for a good 4 years, and only after the school expanded to the new buildings did we have a single session system.

The only gripe i had about it was that the kid in the afternoon session always defaced the table i sat at, which annoyed the heck out of me.

I never thought of it as us having insufficient schools, but more of the lack of space to build larger and more accomodating schools.

Moreover, it has been a tradition to start school at sunrise since the early founding days of the country. Even after we became a single session school, we still started school at 7.30 am sharp.

And we always started school with prayers and hymns at 7.30am for the full 12 years that I was there.

I think it teaches the child discipline and the value of time. It certainly has done so, for me at least.

It will probably be viewed from a different perspective in Britain, esepcially with the crazy sunset/rise hours in the winter months, and with the much less pressurising/stressful lifestyle.

5:54 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I understand that the thought that there were too few schools was unlikely to have occurred to you. When born into a system, it is difficult to see the system for what it is.

I am glad you managed to make good use of your education. Furthermore, I am glad that you adjusted so well to it. Other children might not, however, find it so easy, depending on their natural body clock: some are set very late, others set early. The ones who are late types will find an early session rather debilitating. There will be little good for them in it.

The difficulty in understanding the situation as it truly is, is that it is impossible to compare your childhood with one in which you started school later, throughout, rather than on a morning session. If you could run the two lives in parallel, you might very different results. Perhaps you would have been happier on the later schedule - or perhaps you are one who likes an early start. It is impossible to know for sure.

Yes. From a British perspective a pre-dawn start to the day does seem rather draconian. Especially for primary school kids. It actually seems cruel and callous from a British perspective.

It is clear that different countries have different ways...

Best wishes to you, Jason, in your life in Britain.

3:26 PM  

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