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, February 07, 2010

How to help every gifted child in Singapore.

It occurred to me, today, that Ainan has, unwittingly, helped every gifted child in Singapore. He has done so, by leaving the country. I shall explain.

The reason Ainan left Singapore was because Singapore was not supporting his education adequately: we were receiving a lot of delay tactics, and very little real support. By the time we left, there was no support in place at all. Now, obviously, given Ainan's relatively high profile internationally, it is very embarrassing for Singapore that he should leave. Indeed, even the front pages of the Wall Street Journal commented on the situation (even if the front pages of the Straits Times did not). There is considerable "loss of face" for Singapore, in the situation. Yet, this is actually good for Singapore's other gifted children - for it is likely that Singapore's educational institutions will think twice before being difficult and slow to respond to the needs of other gifted children. They will have, in the back of their minds (such as they are), the memory of one very public departure, because of their own previous failings to support a child, properly.

Thus, although it was not our intention to do so, Ainan's public departure from Singapore, for Malaysia (a much more open country, as far as we have presently experienced), is of great help to all other gifted kids in Singapore. I would be very surprised if Singapore did not take greater measures, in future, to provide for its gifted children. Otherwise, it would lose others to Malaysia and other countries, too. Until Ainan's departure, perhaps they were labouring under the delusion that Singapore was so wonderful a place, that no gifted kid would ever think of leaving. Funny enough, though, we are aware of a mathemetically precocious boy, who was also displeased with Singapore's response to his gifts. He left, too, for the United States, long ago. However, his departure did not come to public attention, because he has a low profile, so his decision would have no effect on the way Singapore does things. Ainan's departure, though, is different and likely to have a beneficial effect for all gifted children remaining in Singapore. The MOE and GEP will not be keen to see Ainan's individual decision, become a flood of talented emigrants, turning their backs on a nation that had, in some way, turned its back on them.

Yet, even though it is likely that the MOE will take greater care of its gifted children in future, there are other possible effects of Ainan's departure. His decision to study at a private University in Malaysia, may inspire other Singaporeans to look at Malaysia as a possible source of education for their children. The private sector in Malaysia is, unlike its public counterpart, rather strong and able to offer a wide range of schooling options which are as good as anything Singapore has to offer in its private sector - though much, much cheaper.

Perhaps, therefore, even though Ainan may inspire a better response from the MOE in future, towards its gifted citizens, he may also inspire some of those citizens to head overseas, despite the MOE's best efforts, in search of alternative options.

I wonder, therefore, what effect, on balance, Ainan's educational decision will have? Will the MOE's renewed efforts to retain talent outdo the impulse to look elsewhere for an education? Will more stay as a result of a change in MOE's attitude? Or will more leave, having learnt from Ainan's example?

It is, at this stage, impossible to say what will happen. I will, however, watch the situation closely, for any clues as to what transpires. It occurs to me, though, that whatever the effect of Ainan's move that it does help every child in Singapore. You see, it will probably mean that MOE will make greater efforts for its charges - which is good for all concerned - but it also means that parents will realize that there is an alternative to Singapore's rigidities. So whether they stay or go, Singapore's talents will benefit. They now are aware of more choices and they are also likely to be helped more, (by the MOE). So, either way, the children win.

(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.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:08 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Likewise, many skilled malaysians are currently residing and working in singapore, with many taking up citizenship(at least within my circle of friends), because of the lack of equal opportunities in their home country.

Actually, this phenomenon occurs all over the world. Just look at the number of skilled Chinese doing research and working in the US because of the lack of suitable jobs back home. Of course in recent years the trend has been somewhat slowing down and even reversing.

1:30 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

Yes. Many Malaysians, usually Chinese, go to Singapore because they are given SCHOLARSHIPS and have their way PAID FOR by the Sing. Government. This is because Singapore wants to attract "scholars" of Chinese origin, from all over Asia. Were those very same scholars to be given scholarships in their home countries, to good private schools, they would probably stay right where they are.

However overseas scholars should be aware that Sing is no free lunch and spending many years there might not be to their liking.

Thanks for your comment.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder why the home countries do not want to offer scholarships to their own citizens. These are talents waiting to be nurtured and given opportunities.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I think it is because by spending a scholarship on a foreigner they can recruit a new talent. By spending on a local they only ensure the retention of someone that they are willing to gamble probably won't leave, anyway. Sometimes, however, they do we all know.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, among my friends, none were offered scholarships. They came here to study, but eventually served NS (for the guys) and changed citizenship.

On the other hand, i have former classmates who are ASEAN scholars(from countries like Thailand, Cambodia)- And they know that after their studies here, they want to serve their home country.

Other than Singapore, many of them (im told) also leave for Australia.

*Did u know that some bigshots (in both the private and public sector) were actually malaysians? And no, they did not have any scholarships.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Malaysians not on scholarships, in Singapore.

No doubt there are Malaysians not on scholarships here. However, you are seemingly unaware of the large numbers who ARE on scholarships. I have taught entire classrooms filled with them. Perhaps you don't know, but Singapore has a special scholar recruitment programme aimed at importing overseas students of almost exclusively Chinese origin. They are recruited from China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam mainly...but they are almost always ethnic Chinese. Everything is paid for them, including a monthly stipend and accommodation. They even get free holidays (arranged to teach them a social lesson, since they tend to be to places that are less salubrious than Singapore). It is an amazing programme...and aimed at making up the numbers of Chinese residents in Singapore, since they are not having children.

Thanks for highlighting those outside these programmes though. Maybe they were too old for the programmes...or not "smart" enough.

12:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is then very sad that the malaysian govt isnt giving out scholarships to deserving students based on merit and instead imposing a quota on university places...etc. What about the NEP?

Have you questioned and commented on this form of fairness and equality?

12:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Valentine,

Re: Southeast Asians on scholarship in Singapore

At which university did you teach?


2:48 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

I have taught at University level in Singapore...but it wasn't there that I saw groups of Asian scholars: it was in secondary schools, when I was doing "educational consultancy"...providing external courses. These were good Singaporean schools. They typically had several classes FULL of South East Asian and Chinese PRC students, all on scholarship, from the Sing Gov. Every single one of them had everything paid for. As far as I could see, they all seemed to be of Chinese ethnicity...even the ones from outside China. There are large numbers of these students coming into Singapore.

One characteristic they tend to share: they are all very hard working. They didn't strike me as brilliant though...despite being great in exams. This might be because of their limitations in English - but I don't think so, really. I think they are very hard working, not quite top of the line people. This makes sense of course - because surely their home countries would hold onto their best students, tightly.

I hope that clarifies the situation for you.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

I am new to I write about a limited range of topics, as yet (only those things I know about and understand). I don't know about the NEP at all. I will have to do some googling.

1:26 PM  

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