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 +

Monday, February 15, 2010

A word of gratitude.

We have reason to be grateful to a special man, who may never be able to read these words.

It seems long ago, now, when we first met Dr. Ng Kok Chin, of Singapore Polytechnic. He was Head of his own Chemistry department there. He was a man of medium height, but more than medium pleasantness. He had about him, the sense that he actually cared. We were introduced to him by one of his colleagues Priya Naidu, a lecturer that Ainan had met on a Nanotechnology workshop, at Singapore Polytechnic when he was 7. Our meeting was to discuss whether Ainan could join Singapore Polytechnic for regular Chemistry courses based in the laboratory. Dr. Ng Kok Chin's attitude was positive and welcoming, throughout. He seemed to be looking for ways to make it work, rather than seeking (as some people in such a situation would tend to), ways in which it wouldn't.

Though Ainan was 7 when we first met Dr. Ng Kok Chin, it was not until Ainan was 8 years and 4 months that he joined Singapore Polytechnic to do Chemistry courses, there. Ainan's mentor at SP was Dr. Ng Kok Chin - it was he who arranged the courses which Ainan was to attend and he who negotiated with all other parties at SP to make it all happen.

Ainan enjoyed his sessions at SP. He gained much from them, too - and became quite adept in the lab. These sessions were the highlights of his week. Typically he attended SP two days a week from April 2008. He fit into the classes well. His labmates treated him very kindly and he was very popular. We were very happy with how things were. Notably, Dr. Ng Kok Chin was always around to make sure things were going smoothly. He always took an interest in how Ainan was doing.

Then, things in early 2009, got very strange. Our emails to Dr. Ng Kok Chin, went unreplied to. Our calls to his answerphone met with no response. Suddenly, SP which had been so supportive, vanished from sight. Ainan's classes stopped. No-one contacted us about what was happening.

Months passed. Intermittently, I tried to contact Dr. Ng Kok Chin, to no avail. Finally, I wrote to his boss. A reply came slowly, after I had written twice. The mail was not a welcome one: Dr. Ng Kok Chin had fallen ill. We were later to find out that he had had a stroke and was now in a coma, from which we have no news of any recovery. It was very sad - and still is, for Dr. Ng was instrumental in opening doors for Ainan's scientific and intellectual growth.

Things never really recovered at SP, after Dr. Ng's tragic illness. After a long time, someone else was appointed to look after Ainan's courses there - but he didn't seem to have the interest in Ainan, that Dr. Ng had had. Things happened very slowly with Dr. Ng's replacement. He also didn't seem to have the same ability to get lecturers on side. Instead of four whole modules a term - as Dr. Ng had arranged for Ainan, his replacement eventually came up with a single class, on one occasion, at the end of the term. (It had taken him the whole term to arrange it).

In the holidays, after that class, we made enquiries about the arrangments for the following term, asking for the usual four classes to be arranged. Dr. Ng's replacement dragged his feet, and didn't make the necessary arrangements. Finally, we mailed the Director of SP with news of Ainan's latest success in Chemistry AS level. He didn't reply. His subordinate - the one assigned to replace Dr. Ng - replied after a week to do something most strange: he wrote to say that SP was withdrawing all support of Ainan and that there would be no more classes for him at SP.

We were stunned. It didn't make any sense. I had written to thank them for the support they had given Ainan and to tell them of his latest success - and they had replied by withdrawing all support of him, and removing his access to courses. It was the oddest thing they could have done. In my understanding of the world, a College when shown evidence of the progress of a child, in such a situation, would usually be more interested in, at the very least, maintaining support or expanding it - not withdrawing it.

I wrote to the Director of SP several times seeking an explanation. He never replied to me or acknowledged my mails, even once.

So, the essence of this story is that we have much reason to be grateful to Dr. Ng Kok Chin for masterminding Ainan's presence at Singapore Polytechnic - but we also have much reason to be doubtful about his colleagues and their intentions towards Ainan.

The story is more complex than it seems - in a sad sense. You see Dr. Ng Kok Chin, who was so supportive of Ainan is MALAYSIAN Chinese. He is not a Singaporean. Yet, he was very supportive and helpful towards Ainan. The senior staff who remained after Dr. Ng Kok Chin was gone are SINGAPOREAN. Yet, they were not supportive of Ainan, once Dr. Ng Kok Chin's influence was gone. To us, this seems very telling. In fact, recognition of this situation was our first clue that, perhaps, we should look to Malaysia for help for Ainan - for it had been a Malaysian, in Singapore, who had rendered most help to him.

Thus, we have two things to thank Dr. Ng Kok Chin for: the great support he gave Ainan at Singapore Polytechnic - and for inspiring us to look to his homeland for further support, once it dried up, at SP, upon his illness. So, it can be seen, that Dr. Ng Kok Chin played a key role in Ainan's development: he afforded Ainan the chance to learn practical skills - and guided us to seek further opportunities in Malaysia, even after he became ill.

Thank you, Dr. Ng Kok Chin, for your kindness towards Ainan. I hope you recover enough to read these words, one day. Best wishes from all of us.

We miss you, Dr. Ng.

(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 @ 12:17 PM 


Anonymous keith said...

I believe that the resources made available in Singapore Poly, is subsidized by the singapore goverment/MOE for the benefit of registered students-local or PR.
As a citizen as well as a tax payer, I would definitely demand the needs of the general public be placed above the needs of private prodigies in a public institution, such as Singapore Poly.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Your attitude, Keith, mystifies us. Ainan IS a Singaporean citizen by birth...yet you would deny him an appropriate education out of a seeming kind of jealousy of prodigies. I find that incredible. Is education to be reserved only for ordinary citizens, then, but not ones of unusual gift? What a mad viewpoint.

As for the term "private prodigies"...what on Earth does that mean? Ainan is as much deserving of a suitable education as any other citizen of the country of his birth. What does "private" mean? Explain yourself.

You place the needs of the general public above private prodigies: what bonkers statement is this: Ainan IS a member of the general well as being a prodigy. You sound really confused.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I suppose you don't know this, Keith, but a HUMANE response to the tragic story of what happened to Ainan's mentor, Dr. Ng, would be: "I am sorry to hear that. It is a terrible thing to happen. I hope he gets well soon."

Your response, on the other hand, is summed up by: "Don't support prodigies! Only educate the boy in the street!"

It is attitudes like yours that lead to talented people, of all kinds, leaving Singapore. Maybe that is why it is more known for mediocrity, than exceptionality: anyone exceptional tends to leave...pushed along by attitudes like yours.

7:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi mr cawley,
i'd like to thanks you because since i read ur blog(since 2008), i have enhance my english.


9:47 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Alia, for your appreciation. It is good to know that you enjoy my blog. Thanks for reading!

2:22 AM  
Blogger beAr said...

hi keith,

"As a citizen as well as a tax payer, I would definitely demand the needs of the general public be placed above the needs of private prodigies in a public institution, such as Singapore Poly"

it's interesting that you mentioned the phrase "general public". i was just chit-chatting to a friend, and he mentioned that concern and support for those who fall beyond the definition of "general public" - whether genius or disabled, marks a truly gracious society. i think in this respect, singapore has a long way to go.

furthermore, i think the phrase "general public" has been bandied around a little too loosely for comfort. in any case, i don't think there *IS* such a thing, for are we not unique individuals with different needs? to generalise is to trivalise.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, BeAr, for your telling point. Yes, Singapore has forgotten that it should support ALL its constituents, whatever their kind or background. After all, everyone plays a role in building a complete society - so why marginalize some people, therefore?

2:50 PM  
Blogger Ar'nie Rozah said...

OOps didn;t realise that I could leave messages here. I have emailed you privately via yr Genghis Can address. Thanks for all write ups! Keep strong!

9:34 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

Dear Ar'nie,

I am afraid I received no mail from you from Genghis Can...please mail again or try


12:39 PM  
Anonymous Yh N said...

I miss Dr Ng Kok Chin too...

8:29 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Yh N, he is a very sweet man. This is a world in which fewer care than should - and he was (is?) definitely one of those who cared.

We dearly hope he recovers.

Thank you for your warmly felt words.

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose you don't know this, Keith, but a HUMANE response to the tragic story of what happened to Ainan's mentor, Dr. Ng, would be: "I am sorry to hear that. It is a terrible thing to happen. I hope he gets well soon."

but your post mentions Ng's passing yet concentrates largely on how the sch refuses your son free education. arent you confused too?

If your son is a real prodigy, pls do get him scholarships. Im sure the govt is more than willing to offer them since they've been offering alot to foreigners anyway.

12:34 PM  
Blogger bifen said...

Hi Valentine,
I was a student of Dr Ng Kok Chin and chanced upon your blog by accident. I just thought you would like to know that he has passed away yesterday morning. The wake is held at the Singapore Casket in Emerald Room (Level 3) starting at 12pm today.

Funeral will be held on next Monday, 11 Oct.

Dr Ng will be remembered as an educator who's jovial and never deprived any human being the right of knowledge.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Err Shueiz...I am sorry to note that you are unable to read. My post does not mention that Dr. Ng passed away...because my post was written many months ago. Read the date. Yes. Those numbers at the top.

I am very sorry to hear that he is gone. He was a lovely man...but the first I heard of it, was from you.

We have given up on Singapore. We left last year. We have no interest in scholarships from a country that is so unwilling to help a promising child like Ainan. It was very tiresome dealing with them.

I am not confused. I thanked Dr. Ng Kok Chin long before any one else thought to write kindly of him on the internet. It is you who are confused by thinking this past was written yesterday, when he died.

If you understood the meaning of the post - which you haven't - you would see that I was trying to demonstrate what an important influence Dr. Ng was on those around him, in a positive way with regards to Ainan. With him out of action, the others chose inaction.

I note that you said nothing nice about him, yourself. Perhaps you are confused then?

3:30 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

By the way, Singapore has no interest in giving scholarships to children like Ainan. He isn't from China, after all.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Bifen,

It is very saddening to hear of Dr. Ng Kok Chin's passing. He was a very special man and one of the warmest characters we ever encountered in education. It is such a pity.

My condolences to his family and many friends.

Thanks for letting me know, Bifen. That was kind of you.

3:32 PM  

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