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, April 19, 2008

Homeschooling "on the rise" in Singapore

I was heartened by the headline above in the Straits Times - until, that is, I actually read the article.

Have a guess how many primary school children are actually homeschooling in Singapore? (Including all the expatriates who have the automatic right to homeschool, unlike locals.) Factor into your calculation that the population of Singapore is around 4.6 million people.

Well, the true figure is about 280. That is right, less than 300 children are being homeschooled, in Singapore. Apparently, this almost vanishingly small number is regarded as a trend, by the article writer.

The question is, of course, why are so few Singaporeans being homeschooled? The answer is the same one we have received, so far, to date: permission, while it can be given in theory, is difficult to obtain in practice.

We don't have to go far to come to an understanding why so few people receive permission to homeschool. The official Ministry of Education position is, according to the Straits Times: " far as possible, Singaporean children should attend national schools to learn a common set of core values, knowledge and skills". Underlying this seems to be the view that homeschooled children might not share these "core values" - hence getting permission for it, is not easy.

I don't know if our experience of trying to homeschool our son, Ainan, is typical or not. I can only say that it hasn't been easy. I have been trying to get permission for homeschooling for one and a half years. We have got nowhere so far. I have written many, many times to the curiously named "Compulsory Education Unit" that is in charge of homeschooling, but the only replies I have ever received are: "We will revert to you shortly". That is fine, except they never revert at all. Six months will pass - and then I write again, only to receive the same reply: "We will revert to you shortly". Only they don't....this procedure may be repeated ad nauseam.

One day I even called up the executive responsible for answering my mails, who wasn't doing so. She would only say: "I can't give you an answer".

Well, there you are then. No wonder there are only 280 homeschooling children in Singapore. I wonder how many of them are, in fact, the children of expatriates? You see such children don't need permission. What I would like to know is how many Singaporean children have ever been given permission to homeschool? Are there, in fact, any at all? We don't know. We only know that we are still waiting for that famous reply to revert - after one and a half years.

The odd thing about all of this is that anyone who really feels strongly about homeschooling will find that almost any other country of the world would give automatic permission to homeschool, to anyone who sought it. Virtually alone in all the world, is Singapore concerned about a "common set of core values". Most other countries are satisfied to offer a diversity of educational opportunities to their people. They are not scared of diversity.

We will still try to secure homeschooling for our son - and perhaps our other children - in Singapore. We will see if we can make that total 281 or more.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and four months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and nine months, and Tiarnan, twenty-six months, 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 @ 12:18 AM 


Anonymous Sylvester Lim said...

An acquaintance of ours started home schooling 6 years ago for their primary school child. As expected, MOE hassled them and made things difficult for them and when the parents stood their ground, they finally relented when they gave the MOE the whole syllabus for Primary 1 to 6. For your child's sake, you have to be confident,stand your ground and prepare all the documentation for MOE to back yourself up.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Sylvester for your tale of one, eventual success. Our case is more complicated by the fact that he would be following secondary and tertiary courses, not primary. I don't think they like that.

It is much appreciated.


2:56 PM  
Blogger angiefm said...

I am a homeschool mother and have had a very different experience from you. I have received approval for my two older children to be homeschooled and it was a hassle-free process. Each application took only 1 week to be approved. You will just need to furnish the required details - a completed form, your CV and an outline of your proposed syllabus for the 6 years of primary school education. I have, to-date, only heard of one parent being denied permission, and she was a single-mom who could not show proof that she would have sufficient hours outside her paid working hours to homeschool her children.

Also, the 280 number refers ONLY to children who fall under the MOE's compulsory education act, Singaporeans. And this number refers only to primary-school aged children, so the pre-school and secondary-school aged siblings of the 280 "official" homeschoolers are not included in the number. Neither are non-Singaporeans. So the number is really far greater.

I hope this clarification helps.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...


I find your comment one of the most disturbing I have read in years. It confirms, for us, that the response of the Ministry to Ainan is an aberration. What they are doing is just not fair or reasonable. We have learnt that everytime we write to the "Compulsory Education Department" that the Gifted Branch becomes involved - and they stall the whole process. It is far from transparent. They have been opposing our wish to homeschool Ainan from the background. What they have done is something they should be ashamed of, since they have basically opposed Ainan's full intellectual growth. School is not helpful for one such as him. It is a waste of time - but they are just NOT willing to let go of their (they seem to think they own him) gifted pupil.

If they don't let us homeschool soon, we could always leave Singapore of course. The rest of the world would have no trouble letting us homeschool.

I think you will find that if your children had become involved with the gifted branch before they put in the homeschool request that they would have received the same stalling, non-responsiveness that we have encountered. In the long run, of course, it will make them look very, very bad. They are just not thinking of the consequences of trying to impede his progress.

Good luck on homeschooling your kids.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Angiefm, the government doesn't say "no" to our requests it says, word for word, "I can't give you an answer." We hear neither yes nor no...just a failure to decide or respond. It is a stalling process...they just keep doing this and no doubt hope we will go away. It is ludicrous.

I believe that if you knew more people, you would hear more cases of government stalling on the issue. They really don't want certain children to be outside the system. No doubt they have their "reasons" but I don't think that we would see them as good ones.

Best wishes.

8:30 PM  

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