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 +

Friday, May 04, 2012

NAGCM Forum on Fast Track Kids - my speech.

I gave a speech, as one member of the panel, at the National Association for Gifted Children, Malaysia (NAGCM) forum, at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) on the 28th April 2012. The forum was entitled: "Fast Track Kids: should acceleration be allowed - for whom and why?"

I was the first speaker, since my speech was designed to introduce the issues. Following me was Ms. Kylie Booker, a gifted education teacher, who is Head of the Middle School at the Australian International School Malaysia. Lastly, Master Lucas Teh spoke, a teenager, who started University, locally, in Malaysia at the age of 15.

The forum was very well received, attracting lots of interested questions from the audience and plenty of interaction with the panel. I do believe it was the most well received forum/talk at NAGCM that I have personally witnessed (and I am not saying that just because I was on the panel!). Seriously, I think the topic "hit a nerve" and was really important to the audience, many of whom were parents of gifted children, or adults who had been gifted children themselves.

The text of my speech has been pasted below. I wrote it late the night before the forum, thinking it would be best to have a prepared speech - so it was written in a very short time frame. Therefore, it might not be perfect - but these are the words I spoke. 

Thank you.

The essential problem of giftedness in the modern world.

by Valentine Cawley

The modern world is all about equal opportunity for all. Too often, this is misunderstood to mean the same opportunity for all. What happens, however, when a child is born, who doesn’t slot into the one size fits all education models, most countries offer? Too often, such a child does not, actually, receive an equal opportunity, because such a child is too often given NO opportunity to reach their potential. So, my basic view is that children should be given opportunities to match their potentials. A child of great potential, should be given a different response to a child of average potential. This is not being unfair. This is actually being fair to the talents of both types of children.

Sadly, however, my view is not one shared by governments around the world. Sadly, in fact, governments are busy ensuring that education comes in one cookie cutter variety that is supposed to suit all. This is most dangerous to gifted children, since it cannot possibly meet their needs.

There is another problem. Every education system has budget limitations. It is difficult for them to meet the full needs of ordinary children – how, then to meet the needs of a few special ones, too? In most cases, this is considered impractical, so nothing is done, at all. The gifted children are left to suffer, often excruciating boredom, in the mainstream. Their talents are ignored and their gifts wasted. Education systems generally judge that it is not possible for them to run multiple systems to respond to multiple types of kid, with different intelligence levels – for the moderately gifted, highly gifted, exceptionally gifted and profoundly gifted are all different from each other in their respective needs and abilities. There is a much greater difference between a profoundly gifted child and a highly gifted child, than between a moderately gifted child and an average child. This is too often forgotten. Yet, those education systems that are aware of it think, like Singapore did for our son, that it is too “resource intensive” to do anything about it.

Yet, there is a cost effective answer to this problem. It is an answer that doesn’t require education authorities to spend a single dollar more, than doing nothing at all. That answer is educational acceleration.

Quite simply, acceleration means allowing a child who is younger than the typical age of a class, to join that class, either for isolated subjects, or a whole year. It can mean as moderate an intervention as skipping a year – or a major one like having a primary school kid in tertiary education. In all cases, there is no real additional cost to the system, for allowing this. Yet, it affords the gifted child an opportunity to study at a more appropriate level. It is, therefore, an ideal basic form of educational intervention in the lives of gifted children. It costs nothing, yet has definite benefits to the children so accelerated. Perhaps for the first time in their educational lives, such children may be exposed to material that is sufficiently challenging to interest them. This is a great boon for children who find age lockstep education interminably boring.

Research by Miraca Gross of the University of New South Wales gifted programme, Gerric, has shown that gifted children who are accelerated are better adjusted socially than gifted children who are held back in age lockstep classes. So, the argument that gifted kids should be held back, for social reasons, doesn’t hold water – in fact, it is dangerously wrong.

So, acceleration is beneficial and free for education systems. But what happens in practice?

I would like at this point, to speak of our own experience of acceleration.
Our son, Ainan showed very early scientific promise. He passed O level Chemistry at 7 years and 1 month. So, we expected that the Singaporean education system would allow him to accelerate. However, the response was not what we expected. Ainan was offered one hour a week at a High School in Singapore, for Chemistry, at a level he had already covered. They wouldn’t offer him the only thing we were asking for, which was practical classes – and they wouldn’t give him more than one hour a week. Eventually we managed to get six practical classes out of them. But that was it.
We asked them if he could audit other courses like Maths, at a higher level, because he had shown interest and it was necessary to balance his Chemistry, but they refused, saying he had only proven himself in Chemistry. They wouldn’t even let him sit on a class.

Note throughout this period we were forced to send him to Primary School, on pain of a fine and imprisonment if we didn’t. This was despite the fact that he found primary school a torture beyond belief, so boring was it for him. Yet, there was nothing we could do.

We asked for permission to home school him – but that permission never came. Every time I wrote to them, they would write back saying “We will revert to you, shortly” – but they never did. Months would pass, and I would write to them again – only to receive the same delay tactic reply. Finally, I got to speak to someone in the Compulsory Education Department, which is an oddly named place, for securing homeschooling permission. She would only say: “I cannot give you an answer”.
It was frustrating. So we began to make our own arrangements. It took us 22 months, from the moment we first started looking for a practical class for him, but we found them at Singapore Polytechnic, under his mentor Dr. Ng Kok Chin, who has since sadly passed away of a brain tumour. It shouldn’t have taken so long – but it was a good experience for Ainan.

Note that the educational system did not and would not make this arrangement for us. We had to make it ourselves and it took 22 months of knocking on doors to make it happen. That is a ridiculous waste of time in a young boy’s life and growth. So, the resistance to acceleration, in Singapore, had a really stultifying effect on Ainan’s growth. They basically held him back for almost two years.

That being said, Ainan passed O level Physics and AS level Chemistry in this time, by studying at home.

When Dr. Ng Kok Chin fell ill, Singapore Polytechnic withdrew its support of Ainan. So, it was clear where the support from him had come. Now, Dr. Ng Kok Chin was a Malaysian born Chinese man. That gave us a clue that perhaps Ainan would be better supported in Malaysia. So, we contacted the NAGCM President Zuhairah Ali and asked for her help in securing a University for Ainan. In very short order, she secured Ainan a place and a scholarship at a Malaysian University and we decided to emigrate to support Ainan.

So, here we are now, two years later, and Ainan is enjoying his American Degree Programme at Taylor’s University. Despite Singapore’s belief that he would only be able to handle Chemistry, he has also studied and secured qualifications in Physics, Biology, Economics, Maths, Computer Programming, Computer Animation, English and History as well. So he has become a very well rounded person. In his spare time, he composes music, plays the piano, enjoys computer games, reads humorous books, and most all, plays with his two younger brothers. He is so much richer an individual than Singapore was allowing him to be...and all because we struggled with the system, to secure him educational acceleration.

What would have happened had he not been accelerated?

He would have become completely bored with education, switched off entirely and become a kind of dropout. He would have seemed to have failed – but what really would have happened is that the education system would have failed, not him.
We saved Ainan from this fate, by battling very hard to secure what he needed. Yet, it shouldn’t be a battle. I believe that educational acceleration should be the right of every gifted child who needs it. It should be automatic. It should not need to be fought for. It should be there, for the taking.

Save our gifted kids, from wasting their talents. Allow them to be accelerated appropriately, everywhere in the world. That is the most economical answer as to how to educate gifted kids. Every country can do this, since it costs no more than the education system already spends.

So, I would urge the educational authorities to have a flexible approach to the needs of gifted children and to permit acceleration whenever it is necessary. It costs nothing, yet the pay off can be huge. So, accelerate our gifted kids, please!

Posted by Valentine Cawley

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:56 AM 


Blogger Di Qing said...

Hello Mr Cawley!

I believe I know why that woman said "I cannot give you an answer." It's simple. She knows the truth and she chose to hide it from you. I know the truth, and I choose to tell you the truth. It's because you will only accelerate your son to his death. You WILL FIND the flaw in my argument. It's because this is only MY perspective. Precisely. Your son is enrolled in university courses. Am I jealous? No. Why? Because he is not competing with me and I'm not competing with him. Simple logic. In the end, it boils down to perception. Your son can gain everything, only to lose the world behind him. However, I know he is happy now. That's all that matters right?! I'm happy too. Also, you don't need me to teach you about parenting. Because all you need to do is ask your son whether he is happy! My teachers try to accelerate me because they want me to be happy. But I refuse to be accelerated, because I'm perfectly happy! Finally, I would like to thank you for creating this blog to reach out to people. I'm trying to reach out to you too. Because we're all trying to help each other in life! :)


12:39 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

On the contrary, I have no intention of accelerating my son, inappropriately. I am always looking to place him in a comfortable zone that is just right. That is difficult to achieve - but that is what I am aiming for.

Yes. Ainan is very much happier now, than at any previous time in his education. This is good. He was very bored with school in Singapore...very, very, bored.

I am glad you like my blog. Thank you.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Di Qing said...

No no! Thank you Ainan!

You are the first to shed light on velociperception! I just might be the second! I discovered something else hahaha! :):) maybe we should meet up

Di Qing

10:28 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Di Qing,

If you would like to correspond in an easier manner, please post your email address here - I won't post the comment that contains it, but from then on I can email you, which would be easier and more private.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on Velociperception. There are things about it which we have yet to share, publicly.

I hope to hear from you soon.


11:04 PM  

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