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 +

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A creative future

It is interesting to contrast Singapore and Malaysia. These two nations, once one, have taken a different path - and whilst many would think that Singapore is the more "successful" of the two, I am not at all sure that this will always be so. After all, it is not so great a secret that many of the "talents" that make Singapore a success actually come from Malaysia. The contribution of Singapore's homegrown talents is not as great, in many ways, as it should be. If the contribution of all foreigners, of all kinds, is added up, that makes up a great deal of Singapore's "success".

Anyway, the way things are now, is not, necessarily, the way it will always be. I read, today, something that suggests that Malaysia may have a brighter future than its neighbour, in decades to come. It is all a matter of what the education systems want to achieve. Singapore is presently focussed on glistening A grade students: only those with straight As are approved of. Yet, it doesn't take much observation of these youngsters (whom I have had much time to observe in my time as a teacher), to note something very much lacking in them: creativity. The way they are taught leads them to shine in exams, but to be utterly unable to think of anything new. In creative terms, almost all of Singapore's star students are "dead wood"...blockheads if you like. The one thing they never learned how to do was to think for themselves.

Malaysia has recently expressed the wish to do something different. Not for them the focus on "straight As" or rigid educational atmospheres where conformity is sought as a prime objective. No. Malaysia is going to adopt a mellower kind of education, one that encourages individuality, allows for creativity and doesn't demand perfect grades from all, as a basic requirement. What they are seeking is an education system which will allow creativity to grow and genius to be born. The whole PUBLIC education system is going to move away from being focussed on exams - as Singapore's is - and focus instead on nurturing creative young minds. (This announcement was made by the Deputy Prime Minister/Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, in the nation's newspapers including the New Straits Times - see below).

Now, if this change can be achieved - and I do wonder at how teachers who were themselves brought up with rigidity and conformity can be expected to give something different to their students - then Malaysia will soon become a very interesting place indeed. If the promise of this idea is kept, Malaysia will become a very special place indeed: it will produce generations of creative young minds, able to change the world, with their ideas. I hope they succeed. It would be refreshing, indeed, to be in a country focussed on creativity and not "grades". It is good to see that Malaysia realizes which, of the two ideals, is the more important.

Note: Source for the above news: New Straits Times, page 1 and page 6, several articles, 24th February 2010.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 6 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to:

I also write of gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, megasavant, HELP University College, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, Malaysia, IQ, intelligence and creativity.

My Internet Movie Database listing is at:
Ainan's IMDB listing is at
Syahidah's IMDB listing is at

Our editing, proofreading and copywriting company, Genghis Can, is at

This blog is copyright Valentine Cawley. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited. Use only with permission. Thank you.)

Labels: , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:30 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Malaysia is going to adopt a mellower kind of education, one that encourages individuality, allows for creativity and doesn't demand perfect grades from all, as a basic requirement. What they are seeking is an education system which will allow creativity to grow and genius to be born. The whole education system is going to move away from being focussed on exams - as Singapore's is - and focus instead on nurturing creative young minds."

Where do you get to know this? Source please..

5:08 AM  
Blogger Christine said...

I dislike the common way of education in Asian countries which is memorisatin and regurgitation. It is the same in Korea. Students like to memorise dialogues in order to learn English, yet how does that help them to think? Memorising a dialogue can only go so far.
I have a friend who teaches at a university and teaches some poetry classes. Most of his students expect to memorise a poem and recite it. He doesn't want that, he wants them to think about the poem more. It caused some students to not like him as a professor.
I am glad that Malaysia is allowing for more creativity. It can let those future Picassos and Einsteins do their stuff. It's interesting to know that not all of the famous creative geniuses of the past had stellar grades either. Einstein failed French and Ben Franklin was terrible in Math in school.

6:27 AM  
Blogger Indiana said...

This will only happen IF Malaysia deals with the growing fundamentalism within Islam and at the same time deals with the constitutional religious and racist laws that exist.

Until (at least on paper) Malaysians, particularly Malays are free to live as they chose not as their constitution demands the country will always trail behind Singapore.

7:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Silicon Valley depends quite a fair bit on foreigners too for its creativity.

The difference is that many do not become citizens, as supported by the recent reverse brain drain trends.

Malaysia is an interesting place... esp for Singaporeans. Becoz its too damn boring here. I leave you to understand why.

10:10 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Indiana.

You point out that constitutional racist laws exist in Malaysia...but that is not a difference with Singapore, it is a similarity. Singapore, too, has constitutionally racist laws, conventions and ways of behaving. Just ask any Malay whose ambition it is to join the armed forces as a regular and rise to the top: they will never be allowed to get there. There are many such instances...just look at any job advert seeking "Mandarin speakers only"...any Mandarin speaking Malay who applies will not get the job either (I have several acquaintances who have experienced this discrimination - even though they speak Mandarin: what they really want is CHINESE people only).

Anyway, you are right that there are religious issues in Malaysia that could harm the country - but they are too sensitive to write about, I think. I can say only this: the more tolerance and flexibility there is in the country the better for it, and so anything which works against that is not helpful.

I do notice something, here, though Indiana: the average person one encounters IS much more creative than the average Singaporean one encounters. Yet, this creativity is not fully harnessed, as yet, to the benefit of the country. So, even if they do make for a more creative education system, they still have to take the step of harnessing it, for beneficial end.

Thanks for your comment.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. where I learnt this.

It was a big story in yesterday's Malaysian newspapers (I think they were yesterday's papers)...I could look it up and give you the exact newspaper and article I read, later.

It was quite a surprise to read it...but a welcome one. I think it is a very good idea, with great potential, if implemented successfully.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. America.

Yes, in certain fields - esp technological and scientific ones - America is not able to produce enough homegrown talent, so they import it. This is a weakness of America because the day will come when these people will no longer come (when their home countries are sufficiently developed for America to seem less attractive).

It is a problem that America must solve if it is to maintain its dominant could easily lose that in the next few decades if it is not careful.

Thanks for the link.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes. Singapore can be dull...this is partly a consequence of being too small - but more importantly a consequence of being overly controlled. Of course, if a country is not allowed to breathe, it is going to be duller than otherwise.

As for Malaysia...yes it is interesting...and it is on your doorstep...

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Curious said...

at 10:33am you wrote: "Singapore, too, has constitutionally racist laws". Please give more details. This is interesting.

As for job practices, it works both ways now. I have seen ads stating "foreigners or PRs" only.

9:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm from Singapore.

Sadly, Singapore has lost its constitution, so has the USA.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. curious.

It is noticeable about Singapore that the only nod to the Malays, is in calling Malay the national tongue. Other than that, Malays are pointedly excluded from a fair presence in high office. This does not just apply to the armed forces - where there is definite exclusion of Malays from high office. You will rarely find them in other influential positions, too. The unofficial official position is that they fear Islamism and wish to ensure that Muslims do not achieve influence.

As for other examples: I once asked a Mediacorp casting director why there were no long running roles for white faces on Mediajust corp's shows and why any appearance tended to be a token one. I asked was it coincidence or policy? After the longest pause, she said: "Policy". It turns out there is an official anti Caucasian policy in Mediacorp for actors.

If you look at any corner of Singaporean life, you see racism at work...and it is racism BY POLICY.

I won't say more...I have to visit Singapore sometimes. Look around you, there is plenty at work, there.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

re. foreigners or PRs..I haven't seen such ads. Perhaps they think they will work for less money?

10:57 PM  
Blogger Indiana said...

In reply to Curious, you make some very acute and accurate examples of racism at work in Singapore, but I have to wonder is it any better in Malaysia. (Personally I feel both countries have a long way to go improve both equality and freedoms, but then I think the same of my own country) But while Singapore might be anti-Malay and have a fear of the Islaming of the countries defence and leadership surely Malaysia has an equal yet reversed racism where there are no major political figures or Military leaders who are not Malay and therefore as dictated by the constitution Islamic.

While Malays in Singapore might desire to have more opportunities to lead, Malays in Malaysia spend their time ensuring that they are the only ones that do.

7:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Anti-Caucasian policy in Singapore.

That's the funniest thing I have heard in a long, long, while.


9:56 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Indiana and the Chinese in Singapore do the same: ensuring that they are the only leaders, too.

Both countries fall short of true equality. However, what galls me about Singapore is that they always say loudly that they have racial equality - which is not true - and that it is a meritocracy...also not true. If you are extremely capable, but are NOT CHINESE there will be a cap on level of achievement and barriers to access to certain roles - that is they will be completely debarred to you because your skin is the wrong colour.

Neither country has it right...but Singapore spends too much effort lying about its racial equality. I think it thinks that propaganda and reality are one and the same.

Have fun in Singapore Indiana. Malaysia has its flaws...but I feel that it is more open to us than Singapore was - so we prefer it. The sad thing is that my children are Singaporean (well, two of them), yet we experienced difficulties there, probably owing to race. Here we do not have such problems.

Thanks for your comment.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You may laugh, but there is an anti-Caucasian policy in Singapore's TV network. This should be obvious by the fact that there are very few Caucasian roles and that those are token ones. As I have noted above, I was told this was policy by one who did the casting, at Mediacorp - she was under permanent instruction not to give significant roles to whites.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Fox said...

"Other than that, Malays are pointedly excluded from a fair presence in high office."

I see. The paucity of Malays in high office in Singapore must be proof that they are victims of some official policy to keep them out.

I wonder if it has ever occured to you that when senior civil servants are recruited on the basis of ability and that correlates strongly with academic achievements in which you must admit Malays lag behind other Singaporeans.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

im just wondering about this so called anti Caucasian policy that you are talking about. maybe it really isnt so much about racism, but basic pragmatism in terms of viewership/ratings. The broadcasters may be thinking that the audience will find it easier to stomach a local face in a LOCAL setting instead of some angmoh whom they cannot relate to. If they really discriminate against caucasians, they shouldnt be showing that many american/british shows as they do now.
Key question: Have they ever told your friend that they do not want causasians to play the lead because they HATE them? Or it is mere guesswork on your friend's part?

also, while important, it really takes more than creativity for a country to succeed. and if Malaysia do prosper because of their creativity, singapore can prosper too because of other reasons. all i want to say that this is not a zero sum game where there must be winners or losers.


11:39 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Fox, like many Chinese Singaporeans, you are living in a self-deceiving world. Singapore's Prime Minister has clearly stated, for instance, that Singapore is "not ready" for a non-Chinese Prime Minister. This means that even if a non-Chinese person were better than any Chinese candidate (I can think of a few candidates, in their age cohort), they would NOT be allowed into that particular high office. Singapore is NOT a meritocracy, it is a Chinese dominated society, where being Chinese trumps merit. This is easy to see, if you are non-Chinese - and have ability - but impossible to allow yourself to see, if you are Chinese.

There are plenty of positions in Singapore that gifted non-Chinese I know could do well, but are not allowed access to. Those positions are taken by Chinese Singaporeans. Were their abilities to be compared, in any fair way, theirs would have come out ahead. There is nothing that be done about this. I, too, was in the same position, on many occasions. The only thing to be done is to leave for a country that is genuinely more open to people of talent, but who are not Chinese.

You see to forget that the Malays produce people of talent too. The top of the PSLE a couple of years back was a Malay girl. Ainan is half Malay. The other boy recently who passed A levels young and wishes to be a doctor is half-Malay, too. So, the Malays are producing talented people, but these young people are very unlikely to be given access to high office. That will go to one of their less talented Chinese competitors.

The average Malay may be lagging the average Chinese child, in conventional academic terms. However, the peak Malays are NOT lagging the peak Chinese. Those peaks will not get the opportunities they deserve however. Yet, Chinese Singaporeans will continue to believe that they don't deserve those opportunities - because the Chinese are "better"...even when in those cases it is not so.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Hating Caucasians.

Your reasoning is puzzling. One doesn't have to hate a race, to exclude them. This is not about "hate" but about exclusion. Caucasians are almost entirely excluded from local Singaporean tv, by POLICY. The casting director I met had been instructed not to cast them in long running significant roles. This is exclusion by race. It shouldn't happen. There are plenty of long running roles in America and British TV shows for Asians...the reverse is not so in Singapore.

She didn't mention a reason for this policy - only that it was policy. We don't need to know the reason to see that it is racist...after all, there ARE Caucasians living in Singapore and if the tv shows are to reflect true local situations, they should include a sprinkling of Caucasians in all kinds of roles - including leading ones.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

Sorry Christine, I overlooked your post and have only just seen it.

Yes, rote memorization is practically the only thing they know in this part of the world. The result is children who cannot think.

I had the same experience as your Professor friend. I once taught a General Paper class in Singapore in a private school, at A level. It was very funny. I would set them challenging essays designed to make them think and they would complain: "But, sir, you haven't told us what to write!". It was pathetic. Almost the entire class was brain dead...yet they were the future of Singapore. They fully expected me to feed them all the thoughts and information necessary to write their essays...which they would then produce as if it were there own work. Yet, the management of the school was just as bad. They didn't want my students to think either. They wanted them to slavishly model an essay I was expected to write. The whole place had no educational value at all, in my view. Yet that is what they regard as an education.

If you want to hire someone who can think...don't hire the product of a place like that.

Yes, school grades do not necessarily indicate future eminence - either their excellence or their lack. Other qualities not measured in school are more creativity.

11:53 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape