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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 09, 2008

Tiarnan and the telephone

Yesterday, Tiarnan's mum was out. Tiarnan, twenty-four months, was at home with his brothers and myself.

In fact, mummy was out some time, so Tiarnan began to miss her. However, he had a solution.

Early in the evening, I came into the living room and found Tiarnan on the phone.

He looked up at me, as I gazed down on him and said: "I phoned mummy!"

He seemed most comfortable there on the phone, with it snuggled against his ear. Clearly, it made him feel much better.

"Mummy!" he said, handing me the phone.

I took it from him and set it to my ear. There was nothing but a dial tone.

How sweet. Tiarnan had found comfort from the absence of his mother, by imagining that he had managed to call her on the phone. I knew that this was not possible, however, since Syahidah had just lost her mobile phone: no-one, not even the most resourceful child, could have called her.

I replaced the receiver and sat down beside him, lending my own comforting presence to him - even if I couldn't quite match up to mummy.

It is funny how powerful is the imagination of a young child. Even the image of her, in his mind, and "heard" in his ears, is enough to settle his heart.

Wouldn't it be good if such a thing could work for an adult, too? Sadly, I think, most adults are too stuck in the real world, to take an imagined substitute in its stead. Somewhere along the way, imagination loses much of its power - even in the most imaginative of adults.

The two of us waited for Syahidah to come home. Tiarnan, though, was quite satisfied - after all, he had "spoken" to her, hadn't he?

(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: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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 @ 4:40 PM  0 comments

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Does Singlish - Singaporean English - communicate?

The question is a general one. However, I am going to look at it through one particular, though in its way, not uncommon incident.

Singapore has, as anyone who has visited it will know, its own version of English, known as Singlish. This is a form of English that uses words that are derived from the other languages present in Singapore (ie. Mandarin and Malay) - and variations on basic grammatical structures that are far from standard English. In consequence, it can be difficult for a native speaker of English, who is not familiar with this variant, to understand a speaker of Singlish. I certainly had difficulty understanding speakers of Singlish, when I first came to Singapore (and still do from time to time, in the more extreme cases).

There is another problem, of course, but a lesser one. If a Singaporean speaks Singlish, but does not watch enough TV (which is mainly British and American English tv shows), they might not understand a native English speaker, when speaking to them. (Though they should understand standard written English, for all words should actually be familiar to them).

In recent years, Singapore mounted a "speak standard English" campaign - but it was rather a failure and, it seems, the government gave up on it, since I don't see any prolonged efforts to educate the population in English, as it should be.

What effect does this have on communication between Singaporeans and natives of other countries (who are native English speakers)?

Well, recently, I went into a supermarket. When I got to the checkout, I recognized the person who was serving. He looked exhausted, so I decided to enquire how he was.

“Are you tired this evening?” I said, gently, looking at his baggy eyes.

“No, I am just sleepy.”

I left it at that. Clearly, a conversation was not going to be possible: either he didn't understand the word "tired" - or he didn't understand my accent (a standard British accent). I gave up.

This kind of communication problem is not uncommon in Singapore. Usually, however, it is the other way around: it is I who cannot understand the native Singaporean. This occurs even in quite surprising contexts. I have met intelligent businessmen in Singapore, who cannot, who simply CANNOT communicate in English. Their sentences so defy the structures of English that they lose all intelligible meaning. I have to listen very hard and pretend that I understand. Somehow, these businessmen, who are successful in a Singaporean context (through speaking Mandarin, no doubt), cannot communicate their thoughts in English. What is the direct consequence of this? I have to find someone else to do business with. I cannot work with people I cannot understand. So, I move on.

No doubt, this story is repeated millions of times a year, when native speakers of English encounter Singaporeans who speak Singlish. No doubt, those native speakers of English go through the process of meeting and failing to understand the Singaporeans and then having to look around for others to relate to that they can understand. No doubt the business - or other benefit of international communication - goes to the Singaporeans who are able to speak English well enough to deal internationally.

I think the dimension of the problem is not really understood by Singaporeans themselves. They speak to each other in Singlish. To them, it is normal. It is only when they speak to outsiders that they might come to realize that there is a difficulty.

I believe the problem is under-played, here, in Singapore - partly because it is a problem that is quite difficult to fix. The teachers of English, here, speak Singlish. So, Singaporeans are themselves learning from people who speak English poorly. Perhaps, however, there lies a solution. In the days of Empire, I believe that the English teachers were English natives. It is time to return to those days. It is time that ALL English teachers in ALL Singaporean schools were English natives. Then, in one generation, Singaporeans would come to speak Standard English - and never again would natives of the English speaking world, perhaps here to do business, encounter the communication problems that are so common today.

(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: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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 @ 6:11 PM  1 comments

Blogger formatting problems: again!

Please excuse the mess that is the format of the "Chemistry experiments beyond the book" post, below. I simply can't get the paragraphing to work - and I have no idea why. Blogger has done this to me before - once or twice and I do not know how to resolve it.

I hope you can manage to read it despite this.

Thanks.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:02 PM  0 comments

Gong Xi Fa Cai: Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year 2008, to all who are celebrating it. Or should I say: "Gong Xi Fa Cai!".

This is a big celebration and a national holiday here, in Singapore - the biggest holiday of the year, I would say (rather more so than Christmas, oddly enough).

Today signals the beginning of the Year of the Rat - but more of that in another post (I am too busy at this time to write more of it.)

Have a great day - in fact a great two weeks, all - for today presages the beginning of a two week festival.

For those of you outside of Chinese countries, Chinese New Year is often known as the Lunar New Year.

Best wishes all.

(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: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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 @ 1:45 PM  0 comments

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Chemistry experiments beyond the book.

When does being a student end and being a scientist begin? When the student goes beyond the book and does something new.
Ainan regularly goes beyond the book. He does his own thing. He thinks up his own experiments. This past week or so, provides an example.
Ainan has a chemistry set at home. It is pretty basic since I haven't seen anything sophisticated on sale in Singapore. One surmises that, in this age of threats from far and wide, that this is probably policy. The kind of chemistry set which used to be so readily available when I was a child (one with plenty of different chemicals in plentiful supply) doesn't seem to be so easy to find. At least, not in the shops here.
Nevertheless, given the severe limitations of the chemical resources available to him, Ainan has managed to find something new to do with his chemistry set.
The details of his reactions are unknown to me - but I saw them in action. In one he combined two seemingly uncoloured items, to produce a virulent blue product. It was quite the strongest colour. "This is a dye, Daddy.", he announced.
It seemed like it would make a good dye, to me.
"That experiment is not in the book, is it?" I checked, for I had read it myself and saw nothing remotely resembling this reaction in it.
He shook his head, in confirmation.
"How do you know how to do that?"
He just sort of shrugged. "I know.", he said, before launching off into a rapid-fire explanation of what exactly he had done - which I failed to follow well enough to describe here.
Then he did it again. He produced another tube of clear fluid, dropped another fluid into it - and produced a rich brown colouration. "And this is another dye." he declared.
Sure enough the colour was rich enough to be so used, to my eyes.
I don't know what the reactions were - but I know this: they weren't in the book. Nowhere in the materials provided to him, was this particular suggestion present. He had, therefore, gone beyond the book.

I think when a child does this - when they venture out onto their own and make something new (to them, at least) out of the resources to hand - they are demonstrating that they have the instincts of a scientist, of an independent thinker.
I am left to wonder what he would do - or try to do - had he a greater range of resources to hand. Given the constraints on chemical purchases here, I don't think a home lab is a feasible possibility. We will just have to get him consistent access to a fully-equipped lab. (As regular readers will know, this has proven anything but easy, here in Singapore. Lab owners seem most reluctant to let an interested young scientist into them. They only cater to bored older ones, who have lost their enthusiasm.)
Of course, there are dangers inherent in open experimentation. Some end products are not to be made lightly. It is clear, in this instance, however, that he knew what he was doing.
Furthermore, he is aware of the dangers of chemical synthesis - and knows how to steer clear of making commonly known dangerous products. So, I am not concerned that he would stumble on a dangerous outcome. He knows what to avoid. Nor would he ever deliberately seek to make a substance that would be hazardous to him.
However, if you have an experimentally minded child, it might be wise to supervise them, lest they be less circumspect than I know Ainan to be.
Of course, if you have a commercially bought chemistry set, it is unlikely that any of the chemical possibilities found within it, could result in a dangerous outcome - so that is another layer of safety.
These concerns aside, I was pleased to note that Ainan was applying his imagination to the possibilities inherent in the relatively few reactants available to him. I now have two samples of dye in my house to prove it: one a deep blue, the other a rich brown - both quite beautiful.
(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: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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 @ 11:37 PM  0 comments

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The weight of school books.

Today, I met Ainan, after a school golf lesson that never was. (The bus was cancelled, at the last minute, leaving the children idling, for a few hours, until their parents came.)

He seemed quite patient about it all. He had got so used to waiting that it took him a second or two before he acknowledged my existence by starting to rise from his chair in the office. It was as if he wasn't sure I had really arrived: was I just a mirage of expectation?

Anyway, he hefted his bag over one shoulder, at which I noted its seeming inertia and then he proceeded to attempt to put the other strap on the other shoulder.

"I'll take that." I indicated the bag.

He looked doubtful. "It's heavy.", he said, in warning.

I thought this sweet, funny and sad. It was sweet that he should think of his Dad carrying such a "heavy" weight, funny that he should think it would be heavy for me and sad that he should be so burdened, with such a mass in the first place.

"It won't be heavy for me." I assured him, sure of myself.

I grasped it in one hand and noted something surprising: it truly was heavy - even for me. I heaved it over my shoulder, finally understanding that he meant heavy not only in a relative sense (because he is so slight) but heavy in an absolute sense (because it was heavy enough to irritate me).

I don't know how he manages to carry such a heavy bag day in, day out. It really is too much. I found myself switching it from shoulder to shoulder every ten or fifteen minutes as we walked about the shops later.

There has to be a better way than this - and there is. Why can't there be lockers for every student so that they can leave most of their books at school? It would be a simple matter and would require only that the school invest in them. As far as I know, there are no such lockers. At least, Ainan has never mentioned them to me and he doesn't appear to use one.

Were individual lockers to be available for all then most books could be left at school each day and only those required for home that evening need be taken home. It would certainly make for a lighter load.

I rather hope my suggestion is taken up on a nationwide basis. It is time to give the children rather less to carry. No doubt it would prevent a lot of long-term health issues too. Carrying such heavy weights doesn't seem like a good idea for such slight bodies.

(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: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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 @ 11:22 PM  3 comments

Was Winston Churchill real?

You might think this a funny question. However, it was a question that was asked of 3,000 Britons recently in a survey by UKTV Gold, of their tv viewers.

In the survey, the viewers were asked to judge whether various people were real or fictional. You might think this a simple enough task - but it proved to be rather more difficult than you might expect.

23% of the respondents thought that Winston Churchill was a fictional character. You read that correctly - almost a quarter of Britons don't believe Winston Churchill actually existed. They think someone made him up.

Even more intriguingly, 58% of them thought that Sherlock Holmes, the fictional, pipe-smoking, superhuman detective of Arthur Conan Doyle, was a real, formerly living, detective.

I found this profoundly odd. It means that Britons today are more prepared to believe that a work of fiction was real, than that the wartime Prime Minister of Britain, ever existed. It means that, for them, television (through which they no doubt encountered Sherlock Holmes) was greater proof of existence, than a permanent place in the history books.

There is more. 47% of them thought that Richard the Lionheart - the 12th Century crusading King - was a fictional monarch. Even more curiously, 65% of them thought that King Arthur (for whom there is basically no tangible evidence) was a real man who led a round table of Knights at Camelot.

Thus to have been a great King, is less likely to win believers in one's existence, than to have been a great story.

Florence Nightingale never existed, according to 27% of Britons. That is some thanks for all her nursing efforts in the Crimean War.

However, music is so powerful that it has conjured Eleanor Rigby into existence for the 47% of respondents who believe in her reality. She was, of course, a creation of the Beatles to make a musical point.

3% thought that the famed author Charles Dickens was himself a work of fiction. However, 33% of the very same people thought that Biggles, the fictional pilot of W.E Johns, really flew.

The top ten list of generally held fictions, that were actually believed to be real is as follows:

1) King Arthur.
2) Sherlock Holmes.
3) Robin Hood.
4) Eleanor Rigby.
5) Mona Lisa.
6) Dick Turpin.
7) Biggles.
8) The Three Musketeers.
9) Lady Godiva.
10) Robinson Crusoe.

The top ten list of real people who were thought to be fictional creations is:

1) Richard the Lionheart
2) Winston Churchill
3) Florence Nightingale
4) Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery
5) Queen Boadicea
6) Sir Walter Raleigh
7) Duke of Wellington
8) Cleopatra
9) Mahatma Gandhi
10) Charles Dickens

Education is not what it should be in many parts of the world (perhaps all). Clearly, in Britain today - and for some time - education is not fulfilling its purpose of giving people an understanding of the world. Britons today, as this survey shows, quite often cannot tell fiction from reality. They don't know what the real world is - or has been. How, then, can they make realistic decisions in this world, when they don't even know what is real and what is not?

Looking at the fictional characters that they thought were real, I am struck by how unlikely it seems that they could have thought them real. There is something impossible about most of them. Yet, they were believed to be real.

Of course, there are a couple of questionable entries in the "fiction" list which blurs matters somewhat. Someone really did sit for Leonardo da Vinci, to be painted - and her name was Lisa, so perhaps we can discount that one. (Even if the painting wasn't true to her - we will never know). Also, there really was a "Dick Turpin". Unfortunately, he wasn't the one who did what was attributed to him - so in that sense it was fictional. These exceptions aside, however, it is all rather worrying.

Most of the viewers will be young people. What kind of world will they create when they become the backbone of their society? Clearly, they are poorly educated - and perhaps even not very bright as well.

It doesn't forbode well for the UK. However, other nations were not surveyed: would they similarly come off poorly? Is this a global problem for our poorly educated global youth? I rather hope it is not. I would like to think that, in most countries, the young people could tell the difference between a book (ie. Great Expectations) and its author (Charles Dickens). At the very least they should know which one speaks of people who really existed.

(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: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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 @ 12:41 AM  3 comments

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Lee Kuan Yew reconsiders population

Living, as I do, in Singapore, I was rather relieved to learn that Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's Minister Mentor (an advisory leader), has stated that he now believes that Singapore should not have a population of 6.5 million, but that one of 5 to 5.5 million would be optimum.

He is quoted in the papers as saying: "I have not quite been sold on the idea that we should have 6.5 million. I think there's an optimum size for the land that we have to preserve the open spaces and the sense of comfort".

He went onto say that he wouldn't like to see Singapore turn into another Hong Kong, with its towers, one after the other, each blocking out the other's light. He indicated that he thought Hong Kong's 7 million population was an undesirable number.

I don't know if Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew is aware of it, but Singapore's population density is already rather high, even compared to Hong Kong's.

A quick search of Wikipedia, brings up the following figures from the United Nations World Populations Prospects Report (2004 revision), with estimates calculated for July 2005. In that data set, Hong Kong is listed as the 3rd most dense place on Earth at a population density of 6,407 people per sq. km. "Wow...that's high!", you might think. But where is Singapore on this United Nation list? Fourth place. Singapore comes in at 6,369 people per sq. km for these figures. So, you might think that Singapore's population density is high - indeed very similar to Hong Kong's - but not quite there yet. However, Singapore's population has risen since these figures were gathered - and guess what? Hong Kong's population has declined, a little.

Recalculating for the new population of Singapore which Lee Kuan Yew said was 4.8 million a couple of days ago, gives a population density for Singapore, as of now, of 6,823 people per sq. km. This is 6.5 % MORE dense than Hong Kong at its population peak. How about now, though?

Well, Hong Kong's population has declined from 7.04 million in 2004, to 6.98 million for the latest figures in July 2007. That means Hong Kong's population density is now 6,351 people per sq. km. That means that Singapore's population density is presently 7.43% greater than Hong Kong's. No wonder it was beginning to feel crowded.

What this means is that Singapore is now the 3rd most densely populated nation on Earth. Hong Kong has slid to fourth position.

Let us look forward. The projected population (now) by Lee Kuan Yew, of 5.5 million would represent a density of 7,812.5 people per sq km. That is a full 23 % more dense than Hong Kong is presently.

What about the fabled 6.5 million population projection tabled last year? Well, that would give a population density of 9,233 people per sq. km. That is a population density of 45.4 % more dense than Hong Kong - basically half as dense again.

These figures are sobering to read. Anyone of imagination can understand what they mean for the quality of life for Singaporeans. Yet, it is good to hear that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew is re-evaluating the situation himself. He is, perhaps, listening to how people feel about it. Perhaps he is imagining the situation himself. Yes, by all means have a growing economy - but one must also consider the quality of life for every Singaporean and foreigner who lives and works here. If that quality of life becomes too low - they will simply leave, Singaporean and foreigner alike.

Personally, I have never visited Hong Kong. However, I have seen many pictures of its crowds - and my family have visited - so I hear that its crowdedness is hardly enviable. How much less enviable would Singapore be at 23 % more dense, or even 45.4 %? It would be a very different city - and probably an utterly unlivable one. It would be difficult to put that many people on these 704 sq kms of a city state and still afford them all a decent life.

I am relieved that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew himself is re-addressing these issues. There is hope, from what he is saying, that moderation in population growth might be a new aim.

It should be - for Singapore is already too crowded - and getting more so every day. Let us, indeed, as Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew says himself, not be as over-populated as Hong Kong. If that is to be so, however, we would, in fact, have to reduce the population hence forth. For Hong Kong is already taking the lead in becoming a less dense, more livable city, than Singapore. Let's follow her down (in population) shall we?

(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: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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 @ 11:48 PM  6 comments

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