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, February 23, 2008

Age limits and educational frustration

Ainan learns his most significant lessons at home. His scientific education has proceeded, from the beginning, at home, without any notable aid from the school system. His only teacher has been me.

Yet, at times I feel that he should have some variety. On seeing an advertisement by the ITE (Institute of Technical Education) offering maths courses for "Under 40 year olds", I duly applied on Ainan's behalf, being fairly sure that, as I am just 40 myself, that my son was assuredly under 40 himself. It was my thinking that he would benefit from having another place at which to learn, other than at home with me and a book.

After a couple of days, I received the reply. It stated that they would be unable to accept Ainan owing to the fact that he was under 16 years of age. As if by magic, a new age limit had been invented specifically to exclude Ainan, it seemed. They had advertised "under 40"...not "over 16".

I was disappointed, but not surprised. The sign of a nation with a future is the ability to make exceptions. We are still waiting for them to make an exception around here.

It looks like most of Ainan's real education will come from himself, myself and a lot of choice books. The institutions that are reputed to be responsible for educating him, don't seem too motivated to do so - at least not according to his needs.

The ITE adminstrator did offer one suggestion: that we seek private tuition. Well, Ainan has never had a private tutor - and the reason is the same reason most children don't have one: the one hundred dollars an hour that is typically charged by such tutors. When I see fees like that I just think of all the books that could be bought instead. Then I can tutor him myself, with a well-stocked library, to boot.

There should be no age limits where education is concerned: only ability limits. If you have the ability, you should have the access. Otherwise, the system is just hampering the development of its most able students. Is that of benefit to the nation?

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and seven months, and Tiarnan, two years exactly, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, 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 @ 12:40 AM 


Anonymous bystander said...

Not defending the ITE administrator here. I agree that education should not be limited by any age. If you want to learn, you go and learn, based on your ability.

This is my opinion. The administrator may want to give the older people more chances, as these older people may need the learned skills in a nearer term, like improving their current employability.

Another way that can be done is for the administrator to put your child on the waiting list and wait for closing date of the application. If the class is not full, the administrator can include your child in the class. Provided that there is flexibility on the part of the administrator.

But, then KPIs got in the way.

4:02 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Ainan needs the skills in the near term further his educational development.

If it is KPIs they are worried about they should definitely take him on...for he would do better than most adults, I feel. Obviously, they are not fully cognizant of this (they didn't actually meet him and interview they might not know.)

Thank you for agreeing with my contention that education be not limited by age.

Best wishes

6:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does it seem at all odd to you that you are totally unable to find any adult (scientist, academic,chemist) willing to volunteer to teach or mentor a child you've described as a prodigy and a genius?

8:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the administration is restrictive, perhaps it's best Ainan isn't allowed into the program. That type of closed-mindedness may extend to the teachers and classroom, and perhaps be harmful to Ainan's learning. An online college class may provide your son with some additional options. Stanford, John Hopkins, and MIT have distance learning programs. Good luck and best wishes in overcoming academic bureaucracy.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could Ainan audit university classes? He wouldn't get credit, but he could learn a lot...

12:33 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

To the anonymous person who thinks that Ainan can't find mentors: very funny. This is the kind of ignorant thinking that characterizes those who are determined not to see the obvious about Ainan. It reminds me that not everyone is discerning.

Ainan HAS a mentor in Chemistry. Professor Tim White at Nanyang Technological University has been very helpful in that regard. He also has the offer of a place at an institution of higher education - to be discussed nearer to the date of admission.

I sought a maths class for him to widen his experiences beyond myself and a book. That is all.

Singapore is not like America. They do not make exceptions here and have no culture of responding to any unusual child in an appropriate way. The Gifted Education Programme - which was working with Ainan, but which we have withdrawn him from - responds in a very miserly way. They provide no funding. They provide the most modest of responses. We found them quite useless and gave up on them. (They have stereotyped and limited responses).

Ainan is as a described: a prodigy (and genius for that matter). It doesn't bother me in the least that you are someone who is trying to argue against that. Nothing you believe changes the situation. He remains as he is. Frankly, such views as you hold bore me, as they would any parent trying to prepare an appropriate education for a gifted child.

You are unable to see that other countries have different responses to a situation like this. It is usual in this part of the world to make NO response that is satisfactory. All prodigious children that we have ever heard of, born in Singapore have been forced to leave to be educated elsewhere. NONE of them have stayed here. What does that tell you? None of them received a satisfactory response from the educational system.

Perhaps you should open your mind a bit more and first learn about the culture and situation you are commenting on. Reading my blog in greater depth would have countered your assumption as well.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks to both of you for proposing university classes, online and otherwise.

We are trying to find suitable programmes...

Kind regards

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I absolutely accept your claim that Singapore's system is not set up to accommodate profoundly gifted kids and that you've not been successful in enrolling him as you wish and that over the long term another solution may need to be sought. What stretches credibility a bit is the suggestion that there is no possible way to educate a young child no matter how prodigious without a major shift in national understanding of this issue. It doesn't require the entire country to shift for individual scientists to recognize the genius of your child and provide him with access to time, materials and support. It seems like this is a silly little math class not worth complaining about when the child has access to the Internet, books, a highly educated parent, and to a mentor. Perhaps it is time to put more effort into finding additional mentors rather than to blogging about the child's genius.

1:24 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I feel that you do not understand the situation in Singapore. Very few educators here feel able to make independent decisions: everything goes through the Ministry of Education. The bureaucracy is stifling. Then again, the bureaucracy doesn't even seem to want to enable gifted children to flourish (they have a "gifted education programme" but from our contact with them it seems that their agenda does not include actually enabling the children to thrive: it seems to have other concerns.)

A teacher here will almost never make an independent decision to help a child. They will let the Ministry decide - and the Ministry is very slow. We have been trying for ONE and a HALF YEARS to get a satisfactory reply from them regarding homeschooling Ainan. All we get are notes saying: "We will revert to you shortly" - and then hear nothing for six months, when we contact them again and get the same reply. It is incredibly frustrating. From what we hear, other parents of the most gifted children simply leave Singapore, so frustrated do they become. The exodus in the upper end, is very clear.

So, it is not as simple as you think. This is not a state in which individuals have the freedom to make their own decisions. They are always beholden to some bureaucratic authority. In particular, teachers are not free to teach how they like or who they like. There is always the Ministry to answer to, ultimately.

Unless you have actually lived in Singapore it is rather difficult to understand and appreciate what it is like dealing with all of this. It is suffocating.

3:35 PM  

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