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, September 05, 2009

A contrast of cultures.

Singapore is a strange place. One only discovers how strange, when it is compared to other cultures. Unfortunately, most Singaporeans get little chance to make such a comparison and so, truly, never come to understand their own culture.

Ainan has achieved many things which have never become publicly known. We just haven't mentioned them. Recently, we communicated one of these achievements - a pretty big achievement, actually - to some people we thought should know, since it was relevant to them. One of them was the Principal of his school, another was an institution in Singapore that has contact with Ainan. We also contacted an interested party in Malaysia and another in Australia. What really surprised me, was the difference in responses among these different parties.

Before I tell you what happened, I would like you to consider what you think would a) be the natural response to good news of an unprecedented academic achievement for a young child. b) what was the most likely response by a particular party c) how quickly that response should normally come.

Have you thought about it? Have you come up with answers? Please do not read on until you have.

Right. Are you ready? Well, the Australian University responded in less than TEN minutes, with warm words of congratulation. The Malaysian party responded within a few hours, with effusive congratulations and two pages of advice and leads for further development. The Singaporean institution that Ainan has had contact with, responded, after ONE WEEK, by WITHDRAWING ALL SUPPORT OF AINAN. As for Ainan's Principal - after TWO WEEKS, she has NOT replied AT ALL.

I must confess myself to being rather shocked by this. It is abundantly clear, and could not be more clear, that Singaporean institutions and educational parties, do not wish Ainan to progress. They seem to take news of his progression as BAD NEWS. Their responses are unnatural and unsupportive in the extreme. It defies belief that Ainan's own country should show such a lack of enthusiasm and natural warmth where his progress is concerned - and other countries, such as Australia and Malaysia should respond with congratulations, warmth and offers of further help.

Singapore is a place that does not deserve the excellence of its citizens. For those citizens who are excellent soon discover that other nations are more welcoming of their excellence, than is Singapore. Perhaps that is why Singapore has such great trouble retaining its citizens: they discover, eventually, that the rest of the world appreciates them better than Singapore does. It defies belief that places we have never even been to - such as Australia - should be warmer, more human and more natural in their responses to Ainan - than Singaporean people in authority and educational institutions.

What makes this all the more sad, of course, is that we have tried very hard to remain in Singapore and to make a way for Ainan to progress here. We have been very patient with a system that is pretty inflexible and rather difficult to worth with. We have shown great forebearance with them...yet, when we contrast the degree of local response, with the responses we receive internationally, we can only conclude that there is something wrong with Singapore. The responses here, are unnatural and unhelpful. Singapore is a nation that TALKS about breeding local talent, but what it actually does is IGNORE local talent and IMPORT foreign talent - mainly PRCs. Truly, local talent finds it quite difficult to get access to what is needed to develop optimally. So many barriers exist and are put in the way. The philosophy appears to be that it is easier to bring in "talent" made elsewhere, than to go to all the trouble of properly nurturing it at home.

It is common to hear praise for Singapore's education system - but I find this praise usually comes from people who don't really understand what the education system here is for, or what it does. Very few Singaporeans can understand their own system, because they have no experience of other systems and so have no contrasts to make. Singapore's system is about conformity and efficiency. It is about, not encouraging creative talent to prosper and grow, but about creating predictable cogs in the economic machine. It is not really an education system, it is an ECONOMIC system. Hence, they probably don't think it is worthwhile making Ainan's path ahead as open as possible, because they don't see how he fits into the standard economic model. Indeed, since they can't see where he is going, they would rather bring in a PRC who is already what they want, than to nurture Ainan to become someone who would contribute to society. The same reasoning will be applied to any child who does not seem to fit the economic system. Their value will not be seen.

So, it is that we find that Malaysians and Australians are very quick with their congratulations, warmth, support and advice - whereas Singaporeans either do NOT reply at all - or reply by taking a sanction against Ainan - in this case withdrawing support previously offered. My conclusion is that, if you seek to achieve anything out of the ordinary in Singapore, the system will either ignore you (as Ainan's Principal did) or punish you (as the educational institution did). The last thing you will receive is congratulations or support.

Mind you, it is good to see the truth of the system in action - it tells us, of course, that we are wasting our time with such people and such institutions - and so, of course, we will not waste our time with them, in future.

From our vantage, the future of Singapore is looking pretty mediocre - since excellence is shunned by the system, discouraged and opposed. In a way, it is darkly funny...because publicly the nation's ministers speak of nurturing home grown talent - but privately, what actually happens, is that such talent will find walls everywhere. Singapore is, ultimately, a hypocritical nation: it says one thing and does another. No doubt, this observation doesn't just apply to the field of education - but I make it, initially, as an observation regarding education.

The hardest thing to understand about this behaviour on the part of Singaporean authority figures and institutions is that, if I imagine myself to be them, I cannot see myself ever doing as they are doing. There is no positive motivation, emotion or thought, that would lead to their behaviours. It is only when I start to imagine myself to possess negative motivations, emotions and thoughts, that it becomes possible to imagine making the choices they make. I can only conclude that they are driven by a negative value system that is life denying, growth opposing and, essentially, unethical. The system, here, does not have a good heart. It is not run by good people - because, basically and most obviously, good people don't behave as they are doing. It would not be within the range of behavioural choices of good people, to do as they do. That, in itself, is a startling and rather saddening realization. It is also something that many locals appear to be unaware of - perhaps because they have never been in a position to put the local authorities in a position to reveal themselves for what they are.

To put it most simply. It is the most natural thing in the world to congratulate a young child on an unprecedented achievement. It is the response one would expect, automatically, from 100% of people who were not mentally impaired and unable to understand the situation. In Ainan's case, it was the response of both the Malaysian and the Australian party. However, it was not the response of the Singaporean parties. Their responses were silence and punishment, respectively. It is in this strange contrast of responses that Singapore reveals the true nature of its culture and its educational system. I think it speaks most clearly.

(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:

This blog is copyright Valentine Cawley. Unauthorized duplication prohibited. Use Only with Permission. Thank you.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 3:00 PM 


Anonymous Dave said...

First, congratulations on whatever Ainan has achieve. I figure it's probably is pretty big feat having the Australian & Malaysian party congratulate and offer some advises on your genius child.

It must be very disappointing to receive such ill treatment from your own countrymen. This further confirms my belief that the Singaporean education system is still such a linear system. Education is just a purpose for economy function. Whatever is different doesn't fit in the current system of the great Singaporean dream. I dare say Singapore is good in producing drones. Efficient drones at the least.

I suggest you move elsewhere and find a better country that will better suit your needs and of your family. GOod luck.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Dave, for your comment.

Yes, it is a pretty big feat - it has never been done before by a child of his age - but that only seemed to annoy the Singaporean authorities!

Our thoughts are turning to look elsewhere, of course...for it seems silly not to, when other places are so much more open to him and what he is doing.

Yes. Singapore aims to produce drones, because they are submissive, easy to control and do what they are told in producing the economic goods coming. However, there is so much that they don't do and can't - but that appears to have been overlooked.

Best wishes to you...and thanks for your "good luck!"

6:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's tragic.

But look on the other side, I think it's a blessing for yourself. Don't even bother putting your children in the hands of the Singapore education system. They deserve better.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for the perspective.

You are probably right. This may turn out to be a "blessing in disguise".

8:36 PM  
Blogger Shuumi said...


First of all, congratulations for Ainan's accomplishments!

Could you please share with me the big achievement that Ainan has achieved, that Singapore has so poorly reacted to? I am trying to understand why this have happened.

Thank you.

11:48 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Shuumi,

We don't want to share the achievement at this time, because we are tired of the jealous reactions we have received, in Singapore, from quite a few people in the past. It is best just to keep mum, at this point. We may discuss it in future but right now we would rather not have the hassle that comes with discussing what he has done. (It has become a pain).

Anyway, I don't think that knowing of the achievement would help understand the situation. For, quite simply, the local reaction is unnatural...and that is to do with them, and not the achievement.

Thanks for your interest, though.

Kind regards

12:08 AM  
Blogger ozob said...

What are you not telling us here?

There is more to this then it seems.

2:31 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

No Ozob, nothing is being omitted. I have told you what happened and nothing has been left out.

Some history might help, though. We have detected, from the educational system, over the past few years, a desire to frustrate Ainan's if his achievements were somehow undesirable to them. Perhaps this is what is happening...

I cannot explain their motivations but perhaps Ainan simply upsets the way things are and should be, from their point of view. It is a bit of a mystery to me, actually, since if I were them, I would be very happy to have a Singaporean child like Ainan.

You know this could even be a race issue, since Ainan is a minority race, here (two minorities actually: half-Malay and half-Irish). Doubtless we will never truly know.

Thanks for posing the question.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Shuumi's second post (unposted).

What a lot of people, in Singapore, are not considering and seemingly are not aware of is that no child has ever achieved what Ainan has, at his age. That is the barometer by which they should measure the achievements: their unprecedented nature. By this I mean that he is the youngest to have done what he has done, in each of the subjects he has done it and indeed, in the exams, he has taken (in any subject). This, surely, is something that Singaporeans should be happy about. However, many aren't. It is strange, from my point of view: it seems that they really have no understanding of the situation.

Thanks for your thoughts.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

By the way, Shuumi, it is a significantly bigger achievement than any we have announced, but it is not his biggest achievement. He has achieved two other things which are bigger still. However, we have to think carefully before discussing them, because we have found some of the reactions to past achievements to have been unpleasant. We have to ask ourselves: is it worth discussing them?

We will think about it.

Thanks for your interest though.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said... more than it seems.

I am not holding back...however, you are right in thinking that there might be more going on than we know. It is possible that there is something going on in the background, unknown to myself or the public, in this matter. Anything can happen in a country run in the way Singapore is run. I think you should understand that.

It is possible, for instance, that the educational figures in question have been TOLD not to cooperate. That could have happened.

Thanks for raising the issue.

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Amin GmbH said...

Dear Mr Valentine,

Quite a few years ago, education was considered to be central for development of society. What I see nowadays in some developed countries, they are not sensitive even to basic needs for intelligent kids. Everything is perceived to be either a CSR entity or just commodity. Ainan is neither; he is granted with gift from Allah SWT and this prize is not seen close enough to an asset by this business minded people.

They think competition has raised to the next level by handicapping talented persons. Why is it happening? It's not for pursuit of 1 race domination, not for religion, but down to survival of the fittest. It's simply what you heard everyday of your life - kiasu. A fever that will continue blanketing the society who only believe competition is something you can't get out from.

They think competition is unavoidable but someday, insyaAllah the citizen of this island will open up their eyes and see Ainan prove them otherwise.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Indiana said...

While I am well aware that they are expensive, have you thought of exercising his half Irish side and sending him to an Int'l School? As someone said earlier, just bypass the local education system all together?

11:35 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes Indiana. We are presently looking into "bypass" options...we will see what we can sort out. However, the system will oppose Ainan from joining an international school - because of the Singaporean half, in him. They are rather controlling like that.

Thanks for the suggestion.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Perhaps you are right, Amin...this could be all because of an excessive wish to compete - which means, of course, hampering all "opponents"...that is, anyone except oneself. How ugly.

Thanks for the insight.

12:05 PM  

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