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 +

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A look inside a Singaporean company.

I was speaking to a friend who works in finance recently. I won't give too many specifics, lest he be identified, but he is not, originally, from Singapore. He has, however, many years experience of living and working here. He had some interesting things to say about how Singaporean finance workers do their job.

Firstly, he noted that they were always at a loss when asked to do something new from scratch. It seems that their "wonderful education" hadn't prepared them for this. What they would always do when asked to do anything, was to go searching for something or someone to copy. Sometimes, this would work out OK, if they chanced upon the right thing to copy. However, it was not infrequent, that they would find the WRONG thing to copy and completely screw up the task. It was quite beyond them to think for themselves, from the beginning, how to approach the problem and solve it independent of external models. Thus, their only choice was to copy.

He also noted a herd mentality in financial analysts originating in Singapore. Well, there is a good reason for this: they are NOT actually analyzing things for themselves but have simply copied the person they think is the best/most respected in the field. They do this for two reasons: firstly, they are not very good at thinking or analyzing for themselves - and secondly, they don't want to stick their necks out and venture an opinion of their own. They want to be able to say that: "Well, the best guy in the field thought the same thing, so you can't blame me for getting it wrong, too." They see this as a failsafe way to make a living. Tasked to analyze they will just copy the best and use their copying as their best defense against charges of incompetence that might come later, if they prove to be wrong.

Well, my friend, who is a very senior financial person had a solution to this problem of Singaporeans copying all the time. He didn't hire them. He hired an office full of Malaysians instead. Apparently, this was somewhat of an improvement.

So, this brings me back to my primary worry here, regarding Singapore: what exactly is the education system making people into? It seems, from examples from the workplace, that I have encountered, that it creates people unable to think for themselves, unable to create, unable to express an opinion of their own - or unwilling to do so, which amounts to the same thing - and only able to do one thing: copy someone else. To my mind, that doesn't make much of a worker, nor much of a contribution to the world. However, the economy has managed to come this far, based on this way of doing things (though we cannot know how much of this was due to external input from imported talent). Yet, I think there is a severe limit on how far a nation can go when all it is doing is copying other nations, other people and other things. To copy, the object, person or idea must already exist - which means that Singapore can only be second in everything, at best...and that makes for a second rate nation, not a first rate one, as the powers-that-be would have locals believe.

How can this be changed? Well, it would have to start in the classroom but extend throughout the whole culture. The idea that copying is acceptable must be thrown out. It must be discouraged...banned even. Until then, everyone here will take the intellectually lazy way out - and copy their way through working life.

Personally, were this change implemented, I think it would be a great improvement, however I am under no illusions: even if the system was completely overhauled today - it would take DECADES for the way of this place to change. Those who are already adults will not be able to change - it is too late for them. We must look to those who have not yet begun their schooling. So, it would be at least two decades before anything positive could come out of it.

There is one political problem, of course: I don't think that the present government wants a thinking population - and so may very well continue with the present system, indefinitely, for it ensures one thing very well: that people just can't think. Perhaps, that is, in fact, the whole purpose of the education system here. Maybe the output - people who can't think for themselves - was, in fact, the INTENDED product. What a thought. I just hope it is not true. Yet, we are left with two choices: either the education system is competent and has produced its intended output - unthinking, some say robotic, people - or the education system is incompetent and has failed to produce what it wishes to: "creative productive adults" - as they sometimes say they want.

I will leave it to you to consider: is the education system competent or incompetent? Is the end result desired or not? In my view, neither situation is a good one - because the output is not ideal. There are better ways to live, than to live a life of copying. I wonder how long it will take before that is realized around here?

(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 @ 8:07 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

""Well, the best guy in the field thought the same thing, so you can't blame me for getting it wrong, too." They see this as a failsafe way to make a living. Tasked to analyze they will just copy the best and use their copying as their best defense against charges of incompetence that might come later, if they prove to be wrong."

In the past, this is akin to No one get blame and fired for buying IBM product .

"Think about the classic management saw that "No one ever got fired for buying IBM." That sentence sums up the trend in management. It testifies to a world in which people are more concerned about being punished for mistakes than about being rewarded for hard work and good ideas.

Because everyone agreed in advance that IBM was the gold standard, it was easy to abdicate your responsibility for IT decisions. If it worked, you were applauded. And if IBM products or services turned out to be a bad fit with your business, IBM took the heat: they were the experts, you relied on their expertise, and you were deceived.

You assume none of the risk while still getting a chance at all of the reward."

"There is one political problem, of course: I don't think that the present government wants a thinking population - and so may very well continue with the present system, indefinitely, for it ensures one thing very well: that people just can't think."
Yes, our gov is always in manufacturing mentality. All they want to do is to engineer and manufacture slave who will just make money for them without asking question. They find that increasingly Singaporean is waking up to oppression and asking government question and that make the government uncomfortable. Not so with general foreigner populace who tend to make money in Singapore and return to their country one day, and hence time-wasting for them to even talk politics and affair of Singapore.

Our education system like the incumbent party is built on image and not substance. That education that make them feel good over piece of paper and grade, and that is all that matter to them. Those with excellent grade get reward and celebrated through mainstream media provided that they are not sons and daughters of opp parties or any dissenting figure.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for the IBM example: yes, this is an instance of people giving up thought, in preference for conformist safety.

As for the sons and daughters of opposition figures and other dissenting figures: yes, it is very strange how little is heard of them. In other countries, opposition figures are heroes in a great drama: their character, essence and foibles known to all - for they are part of the story too. Here we only get one side of the story - and we don't even get the fullness of that, either (for anything not good will be left out).

I think the grades here, are largely meaningless, because they don't equate to any real power to think (I shall have to post about this, I think). I have met many Singaporeans with excellent grades...but oddly they are almost always lacking in the independent thought department. Something has been knocked out of them. It is uncanny - and I haven't noticed it elsewhere...just Singapore: odd.

Thanks for your comment.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't blame the Singaporeans. You are right, they have been trained to 'copy'. To score in your exams, it is important to answer your exams according to keywords in the answer key (which are taught in the classroom). Phrasing the same thing differently would result in scoring poorly. It applies to some extent to Universities too, I've had a lecturer admit as much. Of course, some lecturers are upset by this.

So students with the right concept, but poor affinity for keywords taught tend to do less well than those that just regurgitate what was given to them.

Check the ads. International banks only want to hire students with good grades (2nd Upper and above)... guess which type of student they are very likely to get?

The Singaporeans I know who can think independently and are highly intelligent are the ones who usually have a somewhat mixed academic record. Many of them have 'worthless' degrees (i.e. not law, not medicine, not business, not engineering, not science).

8:21 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Your insight into the situation only confirms that the problem I have raised, is very serious. If the whole system is training students to copy - for only those that copy do best - then the system is a disaster.

It seems, from what you have said, that those who do "well" in the system, are, actually, the less interesting people. The ones with "mixed records" are the ones that employers should be seeking out - but they are precisely the ones that will be ignored. Thus the people who really have something to offer won't get the chance to do so. What a mess.

I would disagree with the idea that there are "worthless degrees" - I would say that there are only worthless students - and these could easily have science, law, or medicine degrees. The subject does not dictate the worth of the person.

Thanks for your comment.

8:33 PM  

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