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 +

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Differential support of the gifted.

There are, no doubt, gifted children in all nations of the world, however, are they all treated as well?

Recently, I corresponded with a Malaysian writer. She was very interested in what kind of support Ainan was receiving. Her assumption was that Ainan would be supported directly by the government, in some way - or by private sector involvement, to optimize his chances and development and remove as many barriers as possible. I had to let her down on that one. You see, Ainan is receiving no direct governmental support and no private sector assistance either. The only, though valuable, support is his attendance at Singapore Polytechnic to do Chemistry, which we arranged ourselves. That, however, was not the kind of support she was thinking of. She was thinking of the kind of assistance that allows special personalized programmes to be put in place and the funds provided for them. Yet, Ainan, despite his evident need has no such support.

Singapore has a "Gifted Branch" which, ostensibly, is supposed to support gifted children. As long term readers of this blog will know, Ainan was involved with them from the age of seven. However, we gave up on them because they were repeatedly and consistently unhelpful and obstructive. Their mantras were two fold: "There are no resources available" and "If we do it for him, they will all want it." Thus, little or nothing was done by them to support Ainan and many obvious interventions were point blank refused - for reasons similar to those above.

Singapore prides itself on being a leading nation in the South East Asian region yet, surprisingly, it is not leading in the way it supports prodigious children. The Malaysian writer assumed Ainan would be receiving special support because, in her nation, that is what happens to prodigies: they tend to get direct state support. I have heard of cases where the local government has funded the special educational needs of prodigies, in Malaysia. This, however, just does not happen in Singapore. In Singapore, the parents of prodigious children (of which there appear to be very few, since it is hard to think of any), will experience nothing but frustration at the hands of the Ministry of Education.

My question is, therefore: how is it that a developing nation, like Malaysia, has the wit to realize the importance of special support for its most unusual children...whereas a "developed" nation, like Singapore does not support them, getting hung up, instead, on the idea that no-one should receive any "special treatment".

There is, of course, a short-sightedness here on the part of Singapore, which, perhaps, explains its lack of contribution to the world's greatest thinkers. By not supporting its most able children, on an individual basis, Singapore is hampering the growth of its most promising minds. This can only lead to a stunted intellectual future for the nation. However, perhaps that is what they want: maybe they are uncomfortable that anyone should rise too far from the communal pack...standing out, here, is "just not done".

In a way, it is truly surprising that Singapore should be less able to respond to a prodigious child productively, than Malaysia. It is not what one would think. However, it does tell me something. Perhaps countries like Malaysia, while lagging in some ways, may go on to produce a sprinkling of thinkers, who bring lustre to their national name.

Will Singapore have any such shining individuals or will it just have a great big herd of conformist, rubber-stamped, cookie cutter educated people?

(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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IMDB is the Internet Movie Database for film and tv professionals.If you would like to look at my IMDb listing for which another fifteen credits are to be uploaded, (which will probably take several months before they are accepted) please go to: As I write, the listing is new and brief - however, by the time you read this it might have a dozen or a score of please do take a look. My son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, also has an IMDb listing. His is found at: My wife, Syahidah Osman Cawley, has a listing as well. Hers is found at:

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:54 PM 


Blogger Christine said...

When I took a class in special education in college in the USA, I found it interesting that the United States didn't have gifted education until the 1950s. It was because they didn't want a group of elitists they were afraid would "take over". It was only when the Soviets put Sputnik in the air and the Space Race began that the USA wanted it. It's a shame that so much was wasted. Many of the founding fathers were geniuses, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
Anyways, it's foolish that a nation doesn't help out the gifted students better. They are losing a good resource. The gifted also have their special emotional needs in having challenges and living up to their potential in order to feel satisfied with themselves. They also need to have fellowship with other gifted people. I do wonder how many of the delinquent students out there are actually gifted students who weren't given the challenges they needed and were tired of being singled out by other students.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, a nation that doesn't single out its gifted students for special support is heading towards mediocrity, in all spheres.

You are right to observe the prevalence of historic geniuses - especially compared to modern times in which they are distinctly lacking.

Gifted students not infrequently "act up", I think, when their needs are ignored...after all, wouldn't you?

Thanks for your comment.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

To the people who dispute my view of Singapore's education system with respect to gifted children, I say this: have you any direct personal experience of it? No.

Ainan was taken on board by the Gifted Education branch at 7 years old. He passed all their tests and interrogrations to assess giftedness. They judged him more than worthy of their attention. The problem is their attention is very unworthy. They offered one hour a week at NUS High School of Maths and Science at the age of 7. They offered a short lab course at Raffles College. Then all they offered were excuses based on "We can't do it for him, because then they would all want it."

If you want to receive help from Singapore's education system you have to be an overseas scholar usually from the PRC. Locals are not supported in the same way.

I find it remarkable how little intelligence some of the unpublished comments are showing. They are unaware of the true nature of Singapore's educational system and instead believe the propaganda.

I am not publishing them...because I can't be bothered to deal with such ignorance on my site. They would require extensive answers to show their basic ill founded slant...but I am not going to waste my time on such people.

Singapore could do a lot more for its gifted people. What it does is TALK a lot and DO little. We have seen it from the GEP. He passed all their exams at 7...but then they provided what we regarded as a highly inadequate response. Let us just say that they weren't interested in providing optimal stimulation. They were, however, VERY interested in studying him...and compiled a very large file on him, requiring everyone he met in the education system to write reports to them. I found the whole thing very disturbing...which is why we pulled him OUT of the GEP...and refused any more contact with them. They were just wasting time and creating ill feeling.

To the commenters, I am not publishing: we have direct experience of the you? From your words all you have in your heads is government PR. Nothing more.

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eh... then move to Malaysia. It's just across the Causeway. I'm sure you'll like it there.

Btw, since you already know the the GEP here is pathetic, why bother even trying to get in? haiz.

1:02 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

We didn't know that the GEP was pathetic until we actually tried it. We spent a year or so being messed around by them before we gave up on them.

We were OFFERED the GEP by Ainan's school, once he did his O level in Chemistry. It wasn't our idea. It was presented to us as a solution to our problems...however, they just turned out to be another problem. They are COMPLETELY useless. There is no way on Earth that the gifted programme really does much to help the gifted, in Singapore.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

What is noticeable about many of the comments which I am not going to publish (because I don't want to be dragged into individual, time consuming answers) is that they make a very big assumption: they assume that what they about Ainan is all that there is to know. In actual fact, the public knows very, very little about Ainan's achievements and abilities - a lot has just not been shared or said in public - and why should it be? It should be neither necessary nor required of us.

We know Ainan very much better than outsiders. We know what he needs. We know him much better, indeed than the GEP did (mainly because the GEP made it quite clear that they prefer not to listen to parents). It strikes me as very curious that anyone would assume that they know better what he needs than we do. There is an arrogance in that which is questionable.

Ainan has never received the support he should, from the state, for his development. This is not for reasons that people seem to assume...but because, I think, Singapore never really gives even the most exceptional students what they really need. There is a lot of tokenism going on - at least that is what they were engaging in with us. Tokenism and time-wasting is how I would sum up the GEP "intervention".

I am not going to waste words and energy trying to persuade the unpersuadable of what Ainan should be receiving in the way of support. It would achieve nothing, because those of a mind not to listen, will never listen anyway. I know what is needed...but it hasn't been given, here.

I could go on...but I won't.

5:28 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

In the comment above, one word is missing: "they assume that what they KNOW about Ainan is all that there is to know."


5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tokenism and time wasting...Ah, I am glad you realised that is precisely what the GEP program is engaging you in...

5:22 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Anon re. tokenism and time wasting: do you have similar experiences to share?

Kind regards

5:25 PM  

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