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 +

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Super Secret PAP Kindergarten.

Openness and transparency are much spoken of in Singapore. Many a time, the national newspapers of Singapore have reassured me that Singapore's government is one of the most transparent around.

This most transparent of all governments is called the PAP. (The People's Action Party, whose main "action", for the entire history of Singapore, is to have remained in power.) The PAP maintains a series of low-cost kindergartens throughout the length and breadth of Singapore. Since the kindergartens are affiliated to the PAP, I rather expected them to embody the values of their sponsoring government.

Today, my wife called quite a few kindergartens seeking a place for one of our sons. He is not happy where he is, presently, so we thought to find somewhere else for him. Being open of mind and prepared to give anywhere a chance, we thought to place a call to a local PAP kindergarten, among the other selections we had made, just to see what they had to say for themselves and to find out more about what kind of education they actually offered young children. It was a most instructive phone call.

Firstly, no-one wanted to take the phonecall. Teacher after teacher came to the phone, heard what Syahidah wanted, put the phone down and wandered off. Others picked up the phone in due course and did the same. She began to ask to speak to a supervisor. After the phone had passed through many unwilling, uninterested and unhelpful hands, she finally got to speak to the "supervisor". It wasn't much of an improvement.

Syahidah explained that she was looking for a school for her son.

"Could I come and see the school?", Syahidah asked, then, quite reasonably.

"That's not the policy.", said the PAP supervisor, firmly.

"Oh, I would just like to look around.", continued Syahidah, even more reasonably.

"What do you mean "look around"...if you REGISTER then you can look around.", said the PAP supervisor, as if nothing could be more obvious.

Ah. So, you can't see this school, until you agree to join it. That is like a shop where you can't see what you can buy, until you have already bought it.

"I want to look around before I register.", said Syahidah even more reasonably than before.

"Cannot.", said the PAP supervisor, even more firmly.

"Could I see a lesson conducted, then?", said Syahidah, with more patience than many could have managed.

"Cannot!", said the PAP supervisor, immovably.

Finally the PAP supervisor could take this enquiry no longer: "Why you want to see, ah?", she asked, as if truly puzzled why any parent would want to actually SEE the school their child was to go to.

Syahidah gave up. There was no way that our son was going to go to ANY PAP kindergarten, given that kind of approach to parents.

Though she had tried her best, Syahidah had gained only two pieces of information about the school: that none of the staff wanted to speak to a prospective parent - and that this particular PAP kindergarten was the most secretive organization she had ever encountered. So much for transparency and openness...even the kindergartens behave as if they are the secret service.

Usually, an organization reflects the values of its founders, organizers and sponsors. There is an interesting message, therefore, in the behaviour of this PAP kindergarten. We were left wondering just what it is that the PAP is doing to young children in its kindergartens that they just don't want prospective parents to see. We were left with no idea if the education received is good or bad. We were left with no idea if the children are well looked after or not. The only impression we were left with is a complete unwillingness to be forthcoming about what type of school it was and what exactly happened there. As you can imagine, in consequence, we don't feel secure in sending any of our children, to any such school.

This is our first encounter with a PAP kindergarten. It shall also be our last. It cannot be good when a school is super secretive with prospective parents. It does suggest that perhaps parents might not like what they would see, were they allowed to see anything at all. Either that, or it reflects a total contempt for the parents. Either one is unacceptable to us.

Luckily, one other conversation with a school turned out much better. They were warm, welcoming and forthcoming. They could also speak English properly. So, not every school in Singapore is like the "Super Secret PAP kindergarten" we called. That school is not affiliated to the PAP...and could not have been more open. I thought this an interesting lesson.

(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.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:22 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well... I think you were just unlucky.

Most of the people in my Gen X went through PAP kindergartens and well... i found it most fun and enjoyable. And i still have memories of it despite being almost 16 years ago.

Also, i would like to point out that your statement "Usually, an organization reflects the values of its founders, organizers and sponsors" is quite unfair, because this is only 1 kindergarten.

Does a blacksheep among the family means that the entire family is the same?

Perhaps, just perhaps, you should have contacted other PAP kindergartens.

Before you think that i'm some spy or whatever, i'm not. I'm just pointing out that the probability that all are the same is pretty weak here, especially since you didn't even bother to try other outlets.

9:28 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

On the contrary, I think the likelihood that other outlets will be similar is very high given the supervisor's justification for her stance: she said is was POLICY. Now, who would set policy for the PAP kindergartens? I would be very surprised if this wasn't done centrally by the PAP itself...thus, one can fully expect the same kind of response from all of them, if she was, indeed, following "policy" as she claimed.

With respect, your experience of PAP kindergarten is long is no guide to how it is now. Our phone call experience however is as recent as today. I think our experience is a more accurate indication of the present situation.

Why would I think you were a spy? It seems funny to deny something you were never accused of.

The response of the PAP kindergarten, today was just unacceptable. It rather discouraged us from looking at that particular organization, again.

Re. reflection of the values of the is entirely a fair comment since the kindergarten will be behaving according to rules laid down centrally. That is obvious. All organizations do that. So, the behaviour we have seen in some way reflects the nature of the organization itself. An open organization doesn't have outlets that behave in this way, and claim it is "policy".

Thanks for your comment.

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi valentine,

i don't think it is pap "policy" to have kindergartens respond in that manner.

it's more likely the case of a middle manager of a particular pap kindergarten being inflexible and parent-unfriendly (and what better way to be just that by uttering the magic word "policy").

i would not be surprised that you get better service or attention from other (privately-run) kindergartens since these are businesses we are talking about.


1:13 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Well, all I have to go on here is her use of the word "policy". Although it might make us feel better to presume that she was misusing the word, we have no evidence that this was so.

Inflexible she certainly was. The privately run ones did respond better...but some of them were pretty funny too.

Thanks for your comment.

7:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, try Growing Up Gifted - Hope lots of good comments on their kindergarten programmes.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Blive said...

well, it really depends on the people who is working there. Most times, people just assume it's a policy.

you could have try emailing PAP community foundation first. we did when we were overseas and were coming back to Singapore. The principal of the kindergardten responded to us and we arranged to meet up for a discussion. It was done in a professional manner.

My daughter is certainly enjoying herself at her K1 classes now. In fact, some are surprised of the kind of enrichment she gets too as part of her classes.

Of course, it might not be the same at all PAP kindergardten.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Blive for sharing your better experience. However, it still doesn't settle the issue of what is actually policy with the PAP kindergartens...I only know what we were told was policy.

Best wishes to you and your kid.

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi There:

I like to make this obvious. There isn't such a PAP "policy".

Perhaps, she (the supervisor) crafted one. I suggest you bring and blow this matter higher. She ought to be dismissed for her misunderstanding, misconduct and discredit.

In case you haven't realised, there are and will be folks that don't deserve their places and jobs. Their only concern is keeping work and responsibility minimal and unaccounted the salary they're not appreciated with in the first place.

I had gone through this countless times before. Small matter, indeed. I urge you pen a 'nice' letter with all the names, details. See what happens.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Anon of 2.51pm: do you write as someone with inside knowledge of the PAP's stance on this issue? If so, a letter may very well be worth it.


5:49 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. the gifted school: thanks for the tip.


8:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is quite naive for you to believe her that it is "policy" to be rude and unprofessional.

Perhaps with a little thinking and asking of other parents will you realise that more often that not, a terrible manager doesn't mean that the organization is bad.

Just for example, if u call up insurance companies to claim compensation, some of the stuff are downright rude in rejecting your claims; but likewise, there are those who take time to explain to you their policy and limitations.

So the morale is, do not judge an organization based on one person- and even if that person says it's "policy", do not take it at face value.

If you have worked in the service industry, or as a "front-line" worker dealing with customers, you would know that certain colleagues are rude in dealing with customers- and no doubt that they will state it is company policy- who will ever say its their policy???
But that does not reflect on the organization's stand and values.

I trust you can discern between black-sheep and the majority.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You seem not to have read my post carefully. She did not say that it was policy to be rude, she said that it was policy not to let parents see the school who hadn't already signed their children up for it. That is a different matter. She made it quite clear what the policy was.

This is not a matter of one black sheep...since no-one at the school wanted to take the phonecall. That indicates that most, perhaps all of the staff there, were failing in their basic duties to the customer. That is an entire "black sheep" outlet.

On another note, I observe that all but one comment, so far, is anonymous - thus one has no idea of whether or not the commenters are affiliated to the PAP or not.

It would be interesting to learn of any relationship people have with the organization, since the comments are basically all in support of it. This is highly unusual on the blogosphere, since most writers on the internet seem to be negative about the PAP, if they originate in Singapore (it is easy to find critical voices and hard to find positive ones). That the situation should reverse on this particular post is interesting, therefore.

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually, i have posted on your blog for the past 6months, sometimes as anony, while sometimes using my initials.

and no, i do not belong to pap.

On several of my comments in other posts, i have agreed with you, while on others, i have disagreed.

i think u are reading too much into this "if you disagree with me, u must be a pap person" theory. could u simply take it that people disagree with you without drawing conclusions that the pap has to be behind this?

am i right to say then that if most of the comments are anti-govt, then they must be from the opposition party?

im sure that's not true right?

so likewise, i speak my mind- its just that i disagree with you on certain issues; while on others, i'm in total agreement.

do not presume to know me or draw any conclusions about the population based on your blog.

i think it is most unscientific.

just so u know, when i was enrolled in kindergarten, my parents were allowed to see the premise first.

once again... i think u should contact other outlets first b4 jumping to a conclusion. That will be the fairest choice.

No wonder there are other bloggers who have criticized you on their blogs... i understand why now... although i will still be commenting on your posts with my free mind.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your comment.

I am afraid I have been misunderstood. Nowhere did I state the theory: "If they don't agree with me, they must be PAP." I merely stated that, given the predominance of criticism over praise of the PAP in the Singaporean blogosphere, it was strange to see a reversal of this on this particular post. I also pointed out that one cannot know anyone's affiliation if they are anonymous. By the way, you don't have to be a member of the PAP to be a supporter of them.

A blog is a sampling method. If the sample is big enough...then I would say it is more than scientific enough to start characterizing the population. This particular sample is small, but were it large enough it would say the following: "The PAP will be elected again, with a landslide."

Numerically speaking, the opposition is very small. It is unlikely that they could have much influence in the blogosphere given how many blogs there are. However, the PAP is much larger and rumour has it they employ people specifically to comment on blogs to give them better PR. I don't think the opposition has the budget for that kind of thing...though they could try of course.

Normally, on my blogs, I expect a mixture of pro and con comments. On this blog post I am surprised to find that ALL are against my experience with the kindergarten. That is unusual given that this rarely happens with any of my posts. That is all.

The blog critics you refer to generally seem to be a) very young b) not very experienced in life c) not very productive - they write very little d) less knowledgeable than they think they are.

Typically, their blogs have very few posts, many of them very strongly worded attacks on various things. I wouldn't characterize them as representative of the world, or indeed Singapore in any fair way. They seem to be an extreme fringe on the edge of things.

Why would I contact other kindergartens when they would all be too far away (given that the nearest one is the one I have told the story of)? It doesn't make sense to travel further than one needs, especially given the treatment received at the first such outlet of the organization in question.

We are looking for a private kindergarten, now, thanks.

As for your own experience of going to kindergarten: you haven't said if it was a PAP one...however, even if it was, your experience many years ago, is no guide to what their policies may be now.

Thanks for your comments over the past 6 months...though I still don't know who you are.

Kind regards

1:28 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

There is another angle on this. If the commenters who state, quite categorically, that the PAP does not have such a policy, but are NOT from the PAP, then their comments have no validity...they would just be guesses of various degrees. So, if they are from the PAP one can heed the comments - but if they are not, then one cannot, really, do so.

So, do the commenters have good inside information...(and therefore affiliated to the PAP)...or are they outside of it, independent of it, and therefore just guessing or hoping for the best?

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There is another angle on this. If the commenters who state, quite categorically, that the PAP does not have such a policy, but are NOT from the PAP, then their comments have no validity...they would just be guesses of various degrees. So, if they are from the PAP one can heed the comments - but if they are not, then one cannot, really, do so."

Dear Valentine,

So once again, WE are wrong, and you are, well, correct.

In all seriousness, I said what I said (the third post) because your encounter came across as "customer service" typical of Singapore. More so, in this case, since I wouldn't consider the PAP kindergartens as profit-oriented entities. Conversely, you would have an easier time had you spoken to the Montessoris of the world since they are profit-driven and are more professionally run, which was the case, wasn't it?

Now, is my account "scientific" enough?


10:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yo Mr Cawley

PAP kindergartens are for
1. those who cant afford better and needs to put their kids somewhere when they work(subsist)
2. to ensure a supply of votes from the poor.

Dun waste ur time.

Its really sad cos as Anon #1 had said, it wasn't always like this. PAP Kindergartens were started with noble ideals but like everything PAP these days ... just sad.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your perspective on the situation. You are probably right: they do sound like a waste of our time.

Kind regards

2:08 PM  

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