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, August 22, 2010

Homeschooling rights in Malaysia.

In Malaysia, homeschooling is, essentially, illegal for Malaysians, unless the child has special needs. By this, they generally mean, impaired in some way. Though, of course, one could try to interpret giftedness as a special need...(though I don't know if they would allow that).

Anyway, recently there has been some articles in the Malaysian newspapers regarding homeschooling, in Malaysia. These articles mentioned the fact that it was illegal and did not, in my opinion, give full consideration to the impact of homeschooling regulation on the life choices of Malaysian citizens. So, I wrote a letter to the New Straits Times to point out an effect of banning homeschooling on emigration patterns. I waited and waited and waited...but they didn't publish it.

Today, however, the New Straits Times has published another letter, on homeschooling, which explicitly calls for greater regulation and control of homeschooling. So, what do we have here: my letter which calls for the legalization of homeschooling and the right of all to be homeschooled, is NOT published, but a letter which emphasises the burden of homeschooling and urges further controls IS published. Here we have a clear case of only publishing views in agreement with, perhaps, the outlook of the paper itself or the government of Malaysia, as it presently is. There is not the entertainment of a plurality of viewpoints - which is most healthy, whenever important decisions concerning the fate of a nation are to be made. Failure to look widely, at the fullest range of options, is often reason for failure of the endeavour itself. I believe that Malaysia is making just that kind of mistake, in its approach to considering the homeschooling issue.

After the New Straits Times declined to publish my letter, I sent it to the Star. They, too, have not published it. I find this interesting, since the Star have published two of my previous letters. Thus, it is appears, in this instance, that it is the VIEWS I express that are not considered desirable, thus, must be muffled.

Malaysia's newspapers may not wish to publish my letter...but the wonderful world of blogs and search engines, allows me to do so myself. Thus, I have pasted the letter below, so that, at least, some people in Malaysia, might have the chance to read it, and consider its viewpoint.

Thank you for reading.

Don’t lose Malaysia’s gifted: legalize homeschooling.

Some of your readers may have heard of my son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, the scientific child prodigy, aged 10, studying at HELP University College. What they may not have heard, however, is why we left Singapore, where he was born, to come to Malaysia. In a word it largely came down to homeschooling. Quite simply, Singapore wouldn’t allow us to homeschool him, so we left.

We strove for three years, to get suitable educational provision for Ainan once he revealed a precocious talent for and interest in science, in particular Chemistry. It was very hard to get the educational system to respond adequately in Singapore. It took us, for instance, almost two years to secure regular laboratory classes for him, in Chemistry, at a Polytechnic. It should not have taken more than two weeks, in a responsive educational environment. In other respects, the school system was not meeting his needs – they were teaching way below where he was in the sciences and could be in the other subjects, given the opportunity. So, we asked to be allowed to homeschool him. The only reply we ever received from the tellingly named “Compulsory Education Unit” was a note saying: “We will revert to you shortly”. They never did. It was the only kind of letter they ever responded with, despite repeated attempts to secure a decision. Finally, I spoke to the woman in charge and she would only say: “I cannot give you an answer”.

Once Ainan’s laboratory classes came to an end, there was no further educational provision for him, in Sinagpore – and the system had refused to allow him to be homeschooled, so we were not allowed to provide for him, ourselves. Given the dead end we faced, in Singapore, we looked overseas and found what he needed in Malaysia, very quickly. So we emigrated.

Now the lesson here, for Malaysia, is clear. If Malaysia does NOT allow homeschooling, it will lose its most gifted students, if they cannot find what they need here and are not allowed to be provided for at home. They will go overseas. Ironically, as foreigners, they would be allowed to be homeschooled in Singapore. Thus, Malaysia, may lose its gifted students to Singapore, if it doesn’t allow them to be homeschooled here.

The answer is obvious: every parent should have the right to homeschool their child, if they feel the child’s needs cannot be met in a standardized schooling situation. The educational system should also help in whatever way it can, by, for instance, allowing homeschooled children to join in with extra-curricular activities at a school. If Malaysia does this, it will ensure that its brightest children do not have to leave for more flexible shores, to secure an education. Surely that is in the best interests of Malaysia as a nation?

I do not know why Malaysia's newspapers wouldn't publish my letter - or at least the main ones which I tried (perhaps I should try others?) However, I know this: I do hope that some, at least, of my future letters are published, since the last three attempts have not met with any success. As an outside observer, I am equipped to see things which may not be clear to locals, who have no comparisons to make. Thus, I have insights to contribute, which could help Malaysia, in its continued development. I only hope to be allowed to share those insights and not have them silenced, relatively speaking, by being restricted to a blog that most people will never know about.

Of course, if all my future letters are declined, the day will come when I stop writing them, to the local media. Then, of course, they will have lost a voice...and where is the gain in that? Every different perspective is valuable, if an intellectually rich society is desired. Of course, if sterile conformity is the goal, then I understand why such views might be rejected. I would urge Malaysia, however, to move towards accepting a plurality of views...and not learn from its southern neighbour's efforcement of but one way to think about the world.

(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 @ 12:41 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is frustrating to work on something and not see it is in print. So, good thing you have your blog as a place to publish it.

My suggestion to you would be to Google how to write a letter to the editor and read some tips. The first most obvious thing that jumped out at me about your letter is that it was very long - closer to the more typical length of an editorial rather than a response. It will improve your chance of publication if you keep it to 200 words or less.

Sharing personal experience is fine but the best bet is to avoid going into a lot of detail or sounding like you've got a big saga to hash through.

Good luck.

1:41 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for the tips. You are right, it is quite long.

The letter that was published in the Sunday Times that urged greater regulation was also long. They published it under "viewpoints". So, in their case, length did not disbar it, though, it may have done, mine.

Thanks for your well wishes. I will try your suggestions in future.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Casandra Ramirez said...

Hello, Mr. Cawley

What are the reasons the Malaysian government doesn't let children be homeschooled?
How is Ainan education going right now? Is he still in primary school? And is he getting any more advanced classes?

11:58 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Cassandra,

Ainan is at HELP University College in KL pursuing a range of physical sciences and computing. We also try to arrange time with his age peers for socialization.

At home, he does other things with me.

I do not know why homeschooling is illegal in Malaysia. In Singapore, it is generally not permitted (very difficult to get permission, unless your child is foreign born, in which case it is automatic), because, I th ink they want to maintain control over people's minds. I am not sure of Malaysia's motivations, since they don't seem so obsessed with thought control, here.

On balance, the move has been a good one and our lives are better here. Thanks for asking.

What are you up to, in your part of the world?

8:05 AM  
Blogger Casandra Ramirez said...

How does Ainan relate to his peers? Is any of his friends gifted too?

I live in Argentina. I'm an Art student and I love playing the recorder. I have always been interested in giftedness and special education. I want to be a Special Needs Art teacher :-)

11:19 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

If by "peers" Cassandra, you mean the young adults he studies with, then I think he relates to them OK. However, presently, he has no age mats who are gifted. We are working on it.

Would you work with the gifted or the "challenged"...after all both are "special needs". I wish you luck on either.

Best wishes

12:11 PM  
Blogger CW said...

A very interesting post, Mr. Cawley. I have been talking with my husband about the chances of us moving back to Malaysia and also about our children's education there. He doesn't understand why homeschooling is illegal in Malaysia as well. Although I don't think any of my children are gifted, but growing up in Malaysia I experienced first-handedly the education system there and will not want my children to go through that. The system certainly doesn't create or encourage thinker. Your comment about "they don't seem so obsessed with thought control here" made me laugh. I don't mean to be rude. I'm not surprise an outsider like you are not able to see it, but, Malaysia is very obsessed with mind control, at least it appears so to my generation. Voices are muffled if not silenced in the universities of what we think or what we want from the country. The media is very often monitored if not controlled as well(thus I'm not surprised your letters were not published, a lot of news don't make it to the news too). If independent thinking is not even encouraged in that age (young adult age), I wonder what does my country expect or want from my or the coming generations?
I suspect the homeschooling was made illegal in the beginning because my parents' generation would not be able to homeschool effectively. One of my parent is illiterate and that is considered lucky because most of the people from that generation worked so hard to just try to survive, school wasn't something they could afford. They would not be able to teach their children the knowledge they do not have. Also, it's very common in Malaysia today that both of the parents have to work in order to provide for the family. Thirdly, the way Malaysians view "education". There is still a lot of people view education as where you cram as much as information into your head, pass the exam(or better, pass with a flying color), and land on a good job that guarantee a comfortable life. That's about all to it. Independent thinking or life skills or building characters? Nah, not so much.
This, of course, is the observation from a girl who grew up in the lower class of the society. I do not know how the rest of the society think or view this.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear CW

Thanks for your comment.

Firstly, I would say that there is likely to have been more than one reason why homeschooling was banned. The first, would that an uneducated generation couldn't educate their children. Second, however, would be that the state cannot control the mind of a homeschooled child, nor mould them in any way. At a particular stage of political development, I think the state wants that control.

I compare Malaysia to Singapore. Malaysia seems freer than Singapore and less interested in thought control COMPARATIVELY. However, you may be right in that in an absolute sense they may have quite an interest in such control.

There is a big debate now about homeschooling. I hope the freedom lovers win out.

Best wishes to you on your decision making. I think Malaysia is a very nice place in some ways, compared to Singapore.

As for news...yes, the news can be strange...but you know Singapore is much worse in that regard too.


2:57 PM  

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