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, December 06, 2008

Does Singapore take a long-term view?

I wonder, often, at the decision-making we have seen, in Singapore, with regards to Ainan. So often, the decisions don't seem to have been taken with any vision or perspective on what Ainan could be, given the right support. No doubt, to a lesser extent, other parents of gifted children, have experienced elements of the same problems that we have faced. Yet, I find it strange that anyone should experience any such problems at all. The only thing that would be needed for such problems to go away, would be a little vision and ability to look ahead, by those empowered to (but disinclined to) help.

Ainan was put into contact with ASTAR, the research institute, by a journalist. We went to meet them and a lot of pleasant things were said and a certain hopefulness about the future was created in us. Yet, since that time, about a year ago, nothing has happened, at all. There has been no initiative from ASTAR, at all. Anyway, Ainan and I have a project that we wanted backing for: a project that would lead to interesting scientific results. So, we approached our contacts at ASTAR for backing for the project. We received a swift and definite "No.", despite the fact that the Director at ASTAR didn't even know the details of the project in question. It was something that they could have enabled and which would have led to a useful and interesting outcome - but they were not interested in facilitating it. This is typical of the way we have been treated in Singapore: our requirements and initiatives have frequently met with a "No.", even if the "No." doesn't make sense when set beside the facilities and capacities that exist within the institution itself. This is a pity. Singapore is a place with a local reputation for being "No.1" but an international reputation for being a bastion of mediocrity. So, which is true? The local impression of being "No.1" - or the international reputation of being mediocre? Who is more likely to be accurate in their assessment? If, Singapore is, indeed, mediocre on the world stage (note I don't say the South East Asian stage, to which Singapore often compares itself), could the cause be the Singaporean institutional reaction to anyone who wants to do something new? There is an automatic tendency to say "No." here to anyone who seeks to achieve something that is non-standard, or unexpected. There is no room to allow the unorthodox to thrive or grow. Ainan is a one-off - an unusual case, indeed - and they seem not to know what to do with regards to him. Well, should they not be guided by what he wants to do? Should they not enable those things for him...instead of resisting his progress? Would that not lead to all the creative outcomes they SAY they want (but actually do nothing to enable, and much to oppose)?

Singapore will remain forever mediocre as long as the mediocrities in charge, oppose the rise of those who have something to offer, in ways which are new, or different. There must be space, in this oh-so-conformist society, for those who are different, for those who don't fit in to the standard mould. Not only must there be space for them, but there must be resources available to them, to allow them to fulfil their goals. Singapore would benefit immeasurably were it a place that facilitated the creative people in their midst, instead of opposing them, through either indifference, or deliberate obstructiveness.

Ainan has ideas. Ainan has projects he wishes to make happen. However, if Singapore gets its institutional way, Ainan may either have to wait many years for them to happen, when he is an adult - or until another country with more vision and more open-mindedness, offers him the chance to bring them to being. Perhaps, then, Singapore would realize the folly of its short-sightedness.

I feel that Singapore is a short-sighted nation, that does not take the long-term view of what its nation and citizens might be. What is important, here, is control of the population, now, at this time and not enabling the population to become whatever they may. Research here has short-sighted goals, directed, usually towards short-term financial returns. Education here is about becoming a cog in the economic machine - and not becoming a thinker and creator, who could make something new. Everything that we have learnt through experience, about the education system and scientific infrastructure, indicates that people here, do not think of what might become, in the future, if they facilitate those with promise, in the present. There is, however, an over-arching need to try to ensure that everyone conforms to expectation: all must be within the norms. Unusual requests, of any kind, of any local institution (except for the Singapore Polytechnic) tend to be denied, without much thought. It is clear, that they are not thinking ahead.

Given that ASTAR refused to support Ainan on his project, I think it very likely that Ainan would choose not work with ASTAR when he grows up. Why would he, when they have showed their lack of vision, already?

In a way, there is a benefit to this. All those institutions which choose not to facilitate Ainan's projects now are all places that he won't waste time working for in the future. They are basically selecting themselves in, or out, of his future path. They are showing him, now, the kind of place that they are. So, in a sense, I am as thankful for every "No." that we receive, as every "Yes.". Each "No." is as informative, as each "Yes." The negative answers show us which doors not to knock on again, when he grows up. The positive answers show us who is worth thinking of for the long-term.

I do wonder, though, how many doors will be worth knocking on, by the time Ainan is an adult. Some doors that one would expect to be open (or which pretend to be) turn out to be unworthy of a knock. Again, I see that Singapore is just not thinking of the long-term. Institutions here don't realize that if they block Ainan, now, that he will not work with them, in the future. I don't see any benefit to them, to that.

We will keep knocking on doors. We will keep trying to make Ainan's projects happen and keep his interests engaged. We will learn who is worth our time, and who is not. However, we have already learnt that institutions that one would have thought would have a long-term view, do not. These are valuable lessons. If they don't have a long-term view with regards to Ainan, they won't have a long-term view with regards to their research either. So, they are not likely to be places worth researching with. It is a valuable selection process.

Perhaps, part of this is because of a difference of perspective. I know Ainan very well. I know what he is. I know what he is becoming. I know, very, very well, how well he thinks scientifically and creatively. I know how much he has to offer. ASTAR, for instance, does not seem to understand that. They haven't delved enough to realize what they are missing. However, I find it amusing that one day they are certain to realize their oversight - when it is too late to do anything about it. Ainan will have found a more open-minded institution to work with. There is no time, in life, to waste on persuading those who cannot immediately see the value in the request, we have put to them. It is better to ask someone else...until some other says "Yes."

I take a long-term view, of all things. It is interesting to see how few people do, in Singapore. In the long-term, Ainan should be of great value as a scientist. It remains to be seen which institutions, in Singapore, will have shown themselves worthy of consideration as a research home, for him. Will any have done so? We will see.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight 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, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

We are the founders of Genghis Can, a copywriting, editing and proofreading agency, that handles all kinds of work, including technical and scientific material. If you need such services, or know someone who does, please go to: Thanks.)

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:58 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That sounds frustrating and I hope some better solution can be found.

I'm wondering if there could be something other than short sightedness at play. Could it be that your son needs more maturity in order to learn how to spell out his proposals in greater detail? In what form does this institution usually receive proposals and was this proposal in that form? Could it be that research institutions don't normally select their projects after being informed of researchers by journalists?

It does make me uncomfortable that not only does it seem like your child's future occupation is being decided but it is even being taken to the next level in dictating where he might work. That seems like a lot of narrowing of choices for someone so young with so many possibilities.

2:43 AM  
Anonymous ks said...

ASTAR is a company, just like other companies around the world. To work for them or do research for them, you have to have an 2:1 university level degree, from my understanding. So, I think they are really not the ones to approach.

You should focus your efforts on universities, since Ainan could do research after joining and getting to know professors. If things aren't working in Singapore, then you'll just have to find a place that will work for all of you.

This isn't meant to be a harsh statement, just an observation.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

To some degree, I have been misunderstood, in my post, above. I am not dictating Ainan's choice of career, in any way. All we are doing is trying to facilitate the projects that he wants to do NOW, while ensuring that there is a pathway forward to where he says he wants to go. The choices are his.

The institutions we speak to are giving us a lot of information about themselves by how they respond to the situation. That is helpful in future selection of place to work. We have heard other things about ASTAR that I am not going to detail, here, that also impact such a choice. I see a benefit in not wasting future time on institutions that show themselves unsuitable, in some way, in the present. I don't think that is "narrowing the choices". The world is very large. There are many places to pursue research...why waste time on ones with closed minds?

The proposal was not in the usual form, I am sure...but then they didn't ask for it to be. Had they done so, we could have submitted it in the right form.

Not everywhere is like ASTAR. We are in discussion with somewhere else...their only objection is that we need to find the funding for the project, ourselves. So that is half a step forward. It would be good to find somewhere, though, that would back the project more fully.

I want to make this clear: nothing is being "dictated" for Ainan...nothing at all - not the time he gets up, not what he eats, not what he reads, not when he does so, not when he doesn't, not what he chooses to be interested in, not what he chooses not to be interested in, not what he watches on TV, not what he does on the computer, not who he knows, not how much he spends with friends, with his thoughts, with his pet fact, nothing is "dictated" at all. Ainan is free to choose and to be as he wishes.

I find it curious that you assume "dictation", when there is none. All that is happening here is that we tend to have a long memory...we are open to those who are open to us, but will not work with those who have shown themselves not to be. That is called choosing your friends, from those who show themselves to be friendly; choosing those you help, from those who have helped you. I think it is a good principle - and it means that we tend to return favours to those who have shown favours - but to return none to those who have shown none. Again, I think it has a certain justice in it.

If an organization has it in its power to facilitate something that Ainan wants to do, but doesn't, then I see no reason why we should not remember that, in our future conduct with them. Why reward an organization that has snubbed in the past, by working with them in the future? To do so, is just to be a kind of pushover. It has been very difficult to arrange things for Ainan, given the non-standard nature of our requests. I think it is only right that we should thank those who have helped us - and NOT thank those who haven't. It is not we who are closing the doors - but the organizations themselves. That being said, there are organizations, more than willing to open their doors...but you know has to knock on a fair few doors to find them. It is such a waste of time and effort and has caused us a lot of frustration. To some extent, therefore, my stance on the issue is a reflection of that frustration: it is a way of responding to the institutions with regards to their decisions. When they decide regarding our requests, they are deciding not just for now...but for the future, too...for we will remember our friends and those who were indifferent. In time, those who were indifferent, will come to understand that it would have cost them very little to be more helpful. That is a good lesson to confer on a system characterized by rigidity, conformity and unwillingness to try anything new. You really don't understand what we have to go through in such a system, to make headway. It should not be this way...the country and its institutions need to open up to the unusual in their midst, instead of not really knowing how to respond.

We have made headway. Ainan is at Singapore Polytechnic. However, it took ONE AND A HALF YEARS of frustration and knocking on doors to arrange that. It should not be this way. Of course, there will be consequences for the institutions that wasted so much, of Ainan's young life. Of course there will be...we would have to be very weak individuals were that not so. We are not weak - and we will remember our friends and those who were indifferent. That is part of ensuring justice in a life, as a whole.

Ainan is mature enough to conduct the project he proposed...and mature enough to explain it. We were not, however, given the chance to explain it, by ASTAR. Interestingly, they said "No." without acually hearing the details of the project. That seems to define closed-mindedness if you ask me. So, it wasn't a matter of whether the proposal was acceptable, it was a matter that they did not wish to support the activities of this young thinker - whatever those activities were, no matter what they were. That is truly short-sighted.

Of course, it is not normal to be introduced to a researcher by a journalist. However, a human is a human...does it really matter how you come to know them, once you know them? There are still what they are, no matter how you get to know them.

As for the idea that we are "narrowing possibilities" for, not at all - we are actually EXPLORING possibilities. Enabling his intended project would have explored one possibility. Unfortunately, we have not yet managed to raise the funding to let it happen at the one place we have found that is willing to host the project. We had contacted ASTAR first, thinking they would be more helpful than turned out to be the case.

I hope that has made our position on the situation clearer.

Thank you.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, KS, for your clarification as to ASTAR's nature. I didn't know it was actually a company, since it is a research institute of a kind, funded by the Singaporean government.


10:57 AM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

Do you think Ainan would be interested in the CTY Talent Search?

11:45 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you. I will show him the Talent Search information and let him decide.

Kind regards.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Shannon said...

Ainan's persistence will be tested many times. It may take 1000 no's to hear 1 yes. This is part of the process of doing something worthwhile. I hope he continues to "knock on doors." Ainan has tremendous potential, so much potential that it will take a tremendous amount of effort and support to be realized. Best wishes.

10:55 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your supportive words, Shannon.

Ainan will persist. However, the process of finding the right people wastes so much time. It can be frustrating.

Having said, we did find an institution willing to help: Singapore Polytechnic and he is enjoying his work there, immensely. Yet, we need somewhere else for his other projects.


12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Getting funding for project is always a thorny path as least what I see in a particular A* institute. It might stem from the fact that they are largely funded by taxpayer's monies and had to careful in budgeting.

That spoken, A* is created ultimately for economic reasons, so one would likely find that projects that have a clear economic bend will find the approval process easier.

That is my personal opinion, looking as a lowly worker within. =3

10:39 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your view from within. You are probably right - re. economic returns. However, such a narrow focus will prevent much interesting science from getting support (like Ainan's project, for instance...)

Good luck with your work at Astar.

10:49 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape