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, July 25, 2009

Where news is no news.

In Singapore, sometimes news is no news. By this I mean, news that is news elsewhere, is strangely not news within this small island. I have always found this a very revealing phenomenon for it says much about the nature of the society. What puzzles me, however, is how the "masters" of this nation can delude themselves into thinking that people don't notice. They do...and it tells them much about what is really going on in their country.

A recent example concerns my son, Ainan. Now, as you probably know, child prodigies are famous for being the most narrow of specialists. Almost always in history, a prodigy excels in but one subject. Ainan, however, has recently shown himself to be unusual in that respect, in that he is showing gift in two areas (well, more, actually...but more of that another day). Not only is he studying Chemistry at Singapore Polytechnic and in his spare time, at a high level - but he is studying Physics, too. Recently, he passed the Physics O level (at the age of nine years and one month), making him not the only the youngest to do so, but also the only child to do so in both Chemistry and Physics, significantly underage. This shows that he has the makings of a binary scientific child prodigy - that is, a prodigy in two areas of science. This is very unusual, since all the historical examples of scientific child prodigies are in one area only. So, given the rarity of this circumstance one would have thought it news. Well, it Malaysia...but not so much so in Singapore.

I shall expand. In Malaysia Ainan's recent achievements were front page news on the Harian Metro, and The Borneo Post and prominent in the Malay Mail, The Daily Express and the New Sabah Times. That is quite a lot of interest considering that Ainan is Singaporean (though one of his grandmothers is actually from Johor, in Malaysia). So, how did Singapore respond? Well, the ONLY newspaper in Singapore to remark on the situation in their print edition, so far, is the Lianhe Wanbao - a relatively small Chinese daily newspaper. The Lianhe Zaobao, followed suit, in its online edition once it saw that Wanbao had run with the story...other than that, ALL the major media in Singapore have maintained an odd, unaccountable silence on the issue of Ainan's continued achievements. I find this peculiar, for reasons I shall explain.

You see, two years ago, there was a Chinese PRC family living in Singapore who distinguished themselves academically. One son of the family had done his O levels at FOURTEEN years old. Now, this story appeared on the same day that Ainan's O level achievement at 7 was recognized in the press as a world record. Guess which story was on the front pages, and which story was buried deep within the newspaper? guessed it: Ainan's story was completely buried, in the newspaper, and the Chinese boy who was TWICE as old, was FRONT PAGE news on the Straits Times.

So, the situation here, in Singapore is clear. If you are a Chinese NON-Singaporean PRC, Singapore will esteem your achievements so highly as to put you on the front pages, to provide a distraction from the achievements of a half-Malay boy whose story will be buried deep in the newspaper. Now, we could not help notice this odd prioritization of stories, by the Straits Times, two years ago. The half-Malay story was buried, the Chinese PRC story was given prominence. However, the Straits Times has improved its game since then. Now, they DO NOT EVEN PRINT THE HALF-MALAY STORIES AT ALL. That is right. The Straits Times now ignores Ainan's achievements completely.

Now, don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that the Straits Times should cover anyone in particular. I am saying however that, if they cover a fourteen old boy who does O levels, from the PRC, then they are OBLIGED to cover ANY boy or girl of ANY race who does O levels at 14 or younger - out of fairness/impartiality. They have set their own standard of what is front page news. A fourteen year old doing O level is front page news: that is their own standard. So, why, then, is my son's achievement at 9, of doing O level Physics, while taking Chemistry at Singapore Polytechnic, NOT NEWS AT ALL? There are three differences between the boys that are pertinent. Firstly, the Chinese boy is NOT a Singaporean; Ainan IS a Singaporean. The Chinese boy is 14; Ainan is 9. The Chinese boy is Chinese...Ainan is half-Malay and half-Irish. Now, my question is this: which of these three differences has invalidated his news story? Why is he less newsworthy than the Chinese boy? Is it because he is five years younger? That would seem all countries, more youthful achievement is more newsworthy. Is it because Ainan is Singaporean: are Singaporeans inherently less worthy of news coverage than non-Singaporeans? That may be so, given Singapore's strange fascination with all things PRC. Is it, dare I ask, because the other boy is Chinese...and Ainan is half-Malay? If it is this latter reason, then the national media of Singapore have some explaining to do.

At this point, I do not know the reasoning that has led the editors of all the major media in Singapore to ignore Ainan's achievement - whereas the Straits Times feted the Chinese boy. I do know this, however: it seems a shameful thing, indeed, for Singapore, as a nation, that overseas countries should be showing LESS bias towards a Singaporean, than Singaporean media are. Ainan is front page news in Malaysia, but largely not news in Singapore: were the Singaporean media as impartial as the overseas media, this would not be so.

I am not upset at this. I am, in fact, grateful for the way in which the state is telling me its priorities. After all, we have to make decisions concerning where Ainan will make his contributions later. Surely, he should make them in a country which shows him welcome? The Singaporean media are hardly showing such a welcome. They are showing something else. They are showing that Singapore's news priorities depend on the identity of the person. A Chinese PRC will get more prominent coverage than a half-Malay Singaporean. That, to me, is a very serious matter. It shows that Singapore has yet to grow up, as a nation state. It also shows that Singapore is not being fair to all its citizens. Ainan is a citizen of Singapore; the PRC boy is not...yet the PRC boy is courted in a way that Ainan is not. I puzzle at this. To me, it looks a lot like this is a nation that doesn't know how to appreciate its people and their gifts. Of course, a nation which does that, loses those very people...and will end being nothing more than a transit point for temporary foreign "talent" on their way to a better job elsewhere. Perhaps, of course, that is just what the "powers-that-be" want. They would rather have a Singapore staffed by relatively mediocre PRC imports...than to encourage home-grown talents to stick around.

The funny thing about this behaviour of the media is that it is a clear declaration to the world, of what sort of nation Singapore is...and they don't even realize that they are giving such a clear picture of their nature and intent. To see this kind of thing at work, all you have to do is consistently read the Straits Times. It won't be long before the news prioritization becomes clear. Especially, if you read other news sources at the same time, to make a comparison. Singapore's media is playing strange games with what is to be seen as important and what is not.

It seems that the excellence of one half-Malay child is not to be given much attention. However, the excellence of any PRC import, must be accorded front page status. This is the game. The only question is: why are they playing it? Can't they see the self-defeating nature of such games, in which you "diss" your own people and ass lick the foreign PRC? What sort of nation "disses" its own people...and butters up foreigners? I find myself quietly shocked.

When I first saw the Straits Times do this, I was appalled. Now, however, I am so used to what they do, that my wife and I actually make a point of PREDICTING what the Straits Times will do, to spoil the story/distract from the story/bury the news. You know what: we are right each time, about how the Straits Times will approach the situation. Yet, our predictions are never "nice" in character. Nor are they fair. Yet, they are what the Straits Times does.

There is one possibility of course. Perhaps this apparent "bias" is unconscious on the part of the editors and journalists. Perhaps they are not self-aware and not able to see the inherent oddness of their choices. Maybe they just don't know that they are marginalizing the half-Malay boy - and elevating the Chinese PRC one. That is, of course, being generous in assessing the situation. However, whether unconscious or not, the fact remains that the Straits Times has odd news priorities that don't reflect the true importance of the news items in question. More important news items can get buried - and less important ones raised to prominence. If one was being impartial this kind of thing would never happen.

So, this week, the big news for me, is that Ainan was NOT news in The Straits Times...nor in the Berita Harian, ostensibly the newspaper of the Malay community. It was not a surprise to me that Ainan would not be in the Straits Times, because the Straits Times has ignored him before, or practised "news burying"...however, it was a surprise that the Berita Harian didn't write about him. The Berita Harian is the voice of the Malay community, but, this time around, it ignored Ainan. It has never done that before. However, there might be reasons for that. Since Ainan was last in the news in Singapore (well over a year ago), ALL the staff who had had contact with us, previously, have moved on. They now have different writers....people who have never met us and don't know us. Perhaps that played a role. Then again, perhaps even the Berita Harian, is not truly covering the Malay community, in the way it should be. It seems odd to ignore the Malay community's most unusual young boy. One would have thought they would be proud of the way that the Straits Times (with a Chinese editor) is proud of the Chinese PRC boy. However, apparently not.

Singapore is an interesting place to live in. It is filled with the unexpected. For me, discovering that the Berita Harian won't necessarily cover the unusual achievements of a Malay boy was one such surprise. I wonder what that says about what we get the chance to learn about, in Singapore, about what is going on. Perhaps we don't get to hear lots of things that are going on in the Malay community. I know that no-one in that community got to hear directly of Ainan's achievement this time...what else are they never hearing? What do we never get to know?

(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.

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 @ 6:57 PM 


Blogger Demel said...

That's really quite screwed up.

Maybe you might want to consider contacting someone from Berita Harian? I can't think of any reason to care about the Straits Times, but I'd be more optimistic about Berita Harian.

Your son's achievements are certainly news (I haven't heard about the Chemistry O Levels, but this is really quite amazing). That the Singaporean press fails to realize this is really their own loss and failure.

Just a thought, but you might want to consider asking your son to participate in the Singaporean Olympiads for Chemistry and Physics. I believe on-site registrations are allowed (but I'm not too sure), and if your son does well on the papers, he might end up in the selection team for the International Olympiads.

Don't get me wrong. The advantage of this isn't in the prestige. It's in the training. You get university professors from NUS focusing on the one subject the team excels in (in fact, you get more trainers than students. Maybe 8 professors for 5 students?) and I would think it a very worthwhile experience.

I don't know about discrimination due to age, but there was a 15-year old person in IPho from Singapore (the teammates are usually 18) and he got Gold for Singapore this year. Why not your son?

Queer suggestion. Don't mind me.

8:50 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Demel for your comment and suggestion. I contacted the International Olympiad committee in Chemistry a year or so ago...but they didn't even deem me worthy of reply: I wrote to them twice asking if they had any age limit restrictions on youthful entries. So, I don't hold out much hope about them.

Nice idea, though.

Yes. Ainan has two O levels, presently - and a year's work at Singapore Polytechnic under his belt (mainly third year options) he is not doing too badly for his age. However, the Straits Times can't see it...

9:44 PM  
Blogger Demel said...

Why would they deem one worthy? You have to get in through your respective country, I'm quite sure. Unless you mean to say you contacted the Singapore Chem/Phys Olympaid groups, of course. I can't say I know too much here, but I know for one there should be junior sections as well. More humbling than your child deserves, imo, but always a start.

(I'm quite sure on-site registrations were fine, at least for Math. I'm not sure about the other two. Is your son good at that too? Considering his aptitude in Physics, I wouldn't be surprised. XD)

I personally find it startling how you say "not doing too badly". I imagine someone getting top 10 in his school cohort or likewise saying that. Ah well. As the Chinese say, 一山还比一山高. There'll always be a higher mountain than the next.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi again, Demel,

it was the International Olympiad I contacted, directly, to query them on their rules regarding age...because I thought it might be a real issue. Despite writing twice, they didn't deign to reply. Maybe they thought I was joking about his age!

re. Ainan...he could be doing many things that he is not doing, owing not to lack of ability, but to lack of opportunity. That is why I say: "not doing too badly"...he is, in fact, underperforming, compared to what he could do if the opportunities existed.

Thanks, as ever for your comment.

11:01 PM  
Anonymous izam said...

You know, it's not a big secret that the Malays in Singapore are in actual fact marginalized. I'm sorry about your children being half Malay. Belonging to, or having any affiliation with the Malay people in this country dominated by the Chinese is viewed as bad.

The effectively one-party government has long maintained their philosophy and their policies that drum the citizens of Singapore into believing the stereotypical stigma placed on the Malays; of being lazy, of lower intellect and calibre and in the 70's and 80's hedonistic drug takers and guitar strumming bums.

Being a Malay, I find it appalling to hear from some of our own Malay people who agree wholeheartedly with this view. They could not see what the PAP government is actually trying to do. which is the same as what the British did when they first came here.

Take for example the issue of the Istana Kampung Glam. There was hardly any news about it in the Straits Times. Not to say Berita Harian! The mass media is truly in a sorry state of affairs I tell you.
Did the token number of Malay member of Parliament make an issue out of it? NO!
Did they speak out for the Malay community? NO!
The descendants of Sultan Hussein who currently lives in that building were forced out of their own home!
If there's no one out there who will speak out for the Malays, who will?

You know the real reason that the 14 year old boy from the PRC got front page instead of your 7 year old child genius is plain and simple. The editor of the Straits Times knows the government policies and philosophy and the current state of affairs. Many locally born Chinese Singaporeans have emigrated. These Singaporeans knew what is really going on in this country, and they don't like it.
It is also no secret that lots of Singaporeans have left the country.
These are mostly Chinese Singaporeans who can afford it. What then will happen to the demographic makeup of the country if this "brain drain" (as what the government calls it, again a subtle subliminal message to the citizens to believe the superiority of intellect of the Chinese majority in Singapore) continues?

There is no way the government will let Singapore have a future where the Chinese community no longer be the dominant one. a good question to ask is, why is it very easy for Ethnic Chinese people from Malaysia, China, Hong Kong or even Taiwan to get a Permanent Resident Status and eventually after a short period of 3 years or thereabouts they can be citizens of Singapore?
Why don't I see a lot of ethnic Malays from Malaysia, Indonesia or Brunei coming here?

Anyway back to the issue of your child, particularly on the part where him being half Malay was not even mentioned. This is a no-brainer! What will the majority of Singaporeans who read the Straits Times think if they knew that there is a Singaporean boy genius who is half Malay and so much smarter than an Ethnic Chinese? Imagine that!

12:26 AM  
Anonymous izam said...

The Singapore government does not value and neither does it see any potential in its own citizens whose background will most likely show that they will not achieve much. Racial issues aside, take Sim Wong Hoo as an example. If he had stayed on in Singapore initially, he wouldn't be able to start Creative. There was not much credible help given to him from Singapore. Only when he made it big did the Singapore government acknowledge him and pats him on the back, and basking in his glory unashamedly.

Another example is the fashion designer Ashley Isham. The same thing. He wouldn't amount to anything if he had stayed in Singapore. Only in London was he able to prove to people that he possess the creative talent that surpasses the average common people. I really wonder what he will be doing now if he were to remain in Singapore the entire time. Being Malay, I doubt he will get much support. I'd hazard a guess that he would likely be constantly put down or hindered.

I suggest you find a better country for you and your family to live in, for the sake of your future. The current state of affairs in Singapore is appalling. In a country where the government will not help to protect, support and promote its citizens, it is best to live elsewhere until real change is seen in this country.

12:26 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your extensive comment. I think it speaks for itself.

However, I would like to say that I am not sorry that my children are half Malay...I am proud and happy that this is so. Do you know why? Well, because I have observed in my teaching in Singapore that the Malays are CREATIVE...yes, that is right: it is the Malays in the classes I have taught who show creative talent. Why would anyone not wish to be associated with that?

Yes. This government does seem to have a problem with Ainan. They are not responding naturally to him. They have not helped him at all. Their education system has hindered him in every way that it can. Their news barely mentions some of his is very interesting to watch. It seems that you certain categories of achiever are not allowed to be seen, heard or known. I find this very indicative of the underlying problems with this country.

Of course, at some point our patience with this situation will run out. It is getting somewhat tiring watching them at work.

Thanks for your thoughts.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think it's just Ainan, the S'pore media does not publish other worthy news too. Like in the recent International Biology Olympiad, Singapore students came in World 1st and 3rd ( And the 15-year old Gold medalist mentioned by Demel. These are apparently quite exceptional kids but the media is quiet about it.

I also know of two Singaporean Chinese boys who passed the 'A' level Maths at Primary 6 and Sec 1 respectively (and both scored As), and who are now studying in NUS High (Year 4 & 5). They are taking NUS undergraduate final year modules and have been consistently getting As too. The media has never covered their achievements, not even inside pages, not to mention front page.

Our media is focussing more on Sports achievements, the sportsmen usually get a lot of coverage. And, the sports Olmypiad winners will get $1 million for a Gold, whereas the academic (e.g. Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Maths) Olympiad winners will get nothing!

That's life!

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the International Olympiads, students have to take part in local Singapore Olympiads first, and do well before they are being selected into the national teams. There will be more training and tests before students are picked for the International Olympiads, which are typically held in July of each year.

I don't know much about the Singapore Chemistry Olympiad, but there is a website

For Singapore Maths Olympiad (SMO), it is at

There is definitely no age limit for SMO, and any individual can sign up for the competition. Only those who take part in the Open Category will be eligible for the national team selection. This year, a 13-year old Singaporean Chinese boy was selected (team mates are typically 17-18 yrs old) to represent Singapore in the International Maths Olmypiad held in Germany.

That's Life

9:48 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for the tip re. Olympiad...but, as I say, the actual International committee for Chemistry were really rather offish on such a young candidate, so the age thing looks like an issue for them.

The info is appreciated though.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Maybe you are right re. sports vs. academics...many cultures do this: they raise sportsmen to the status of demigods - and quietly forget the scientists who provide the technology and science of everyday life without which one couldn't even watch sportsmen perform on tv. Science is often a little too invisible for its own good.

Thanks for the comment.

10:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll venture to comment from the other side of the pond, as a Malaysian of Chinese descent. Have you ever considered that the reason that Ainan's achievement was reported in the Malaysian press was precisely because he is half-Malay?

If Malays are marginalised in Singapore, then precisely the opposite happens in Malaysia, with the Chinese being marginalised, as I am sure you are aware of. One could extend a simple argument that the minority will always be marginalised, regardless of country. The variation is how much control the government has over the mass media.

On a further note, it is interesting to see that the Malaysian press that carried Ainan's story have a predominantly Malay-based readership (in general), and that (based on your post) he wasn't featured in the Chinese newspapers or the major English newspapers with large Chinese readership such as The Star or the Straits Times.

Anyway, congratulations on Ainan's achievements!

6:37 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You are right to observe that, this time, he wasn't featured in Chinese newspapers in Malaysia, nor in the Star or New Straits Times. However, I do believe that Chinese papers have featured him in the past, in Malaysia, for other matters.

Yes. It is most probable that it is his half-Malay heritage that led Malaysia to cover him. Were he half-Russian and half-Irish, they probably would have ignored him (though Russia might not have!)

None of this would matter, I think, were the media truly free, in any given country - because then coverage would tend to follow newsworthiness, rather than any racial politics. At least, one would hope so.

Thanks for your congratulations.

Good luck in Malaysia.

7:40 PM  

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