I feel a mix of emotions when I recall the day I decided I could not send Sunshine Boy to school anymore. Looking into the mirror, I firmly told myself, “If I don’t have a solution, then nobody will.” This moment marked a significant turning point in both our lives, symbolizing a deep sense of responsibility, determination, and the beginning of an unconventional educational journey.
Reading about Nathaniel who graduated from ANU at 13 with a perfect score reminds me of my own journey.
I am reminded of the day when I realized that traditional schooling was no longer an option for him. Despite his intellect, the conventional education system failed to accommodate his unique needs. He had only spent 4 years in primary school, out of which two was fraught with suspensions and he was completely disengaged in P4. These culminated in a meeting with the Ministry of Education in the presence of the Director of GEP, his principal and the Education Psychologist, where it was suggested he be isolated from his peers.
Faced with limited options, I sought alternatives, but encountered roadblocks. They advised that given his learning disabilities, he should be attending therapies instead of class. Suggested schools like Pathlight was not appropriate for him according to our own psychologist. We explored the option of enrolling him in international schools, but the administrators at these schools informed us that while they had successfully obtained Ministry of Education (MOE) approval for gifted girls, their efforts to do the same for gifted boys like my son had never been fruitful. They advised us that pursuing this path might not be worthwhile, both in terms of effort and the associated administrative costs.
Determined to provide him with the education he deserved, I improvised. I crafted a makeshift uniform for him and integrated him into my daily routine at Singapore Management University where I taught. Our days began with a simple breakfast ritual at Koufu, featuring lor mai kai and milo, before diving into academic work. I prepared a syllabus for him, and he had to study on his own for three to four hours while I lectured in the university. In just six months, we covered the entire high school curriculum, enabling Sunshine Boy to apply to university at the age of 11.
His educational journey didn’t stop there. As Sunshine Boy wanted badly to go to school, I had to look for alternatives so that he could play with his age peers. While overseas, he concurrently attended primary school and university. At 15, he expressed a desire to experience high school, which we honoured, so he spent two years attending just high school with his friends and playing tennis for the school. By 17, he celebrated his graduation, marking the end of a challenging yet rewarding path.
Throughout this journey, I’ve shared our experiences on social media and encountered a variety of responses. Some offer support, others express curiosity about our unconventional approach, and many reach out for guidance, facing similar challenges with their atypical children.
To those who empathize with and recognize our struggles, I extend my deepest thanks. For the inquisitive, I wish to clarify that, if possible, I would have chosen a traditional educational route for my child. However, our unique situation required a different approach. There’s a common misconception that radical acceleration in a child’s education necessitates intense, pressured learning, or ‘hothousing.’ I disagree with this notion. If a child must be pushed to the limits to achieve rapid advancement, it contradicts the very principle of tailoring education to the child’s natural pace and abilities.
In my view, radical acceleration is not a first choice but a necessary intervention. It’s a crucial step, particularly vital for bolstering the self-esteem and self-worth of a child who may have been deemed lacking in other areas, such as social skills or physical abilities, by experts. As parents and educators, our role is to create pathways for success, adapting our strategies to meet the unique needs and talents of each child.
This is at the heart of the advice I offer to those in need of guidance: the importance of tailoring education to fit the child, rather than forcing the child to conform to the education system. It’s essential to align each child’s education with their path to success, which requires a profound understanding of their individual needs. For some, this may mean accelerating their education, while for others, a slower pace is more beneficial. Success for one child might be found on the sports field, while for another, it could be in artistic or aesthetic achievements.
Drawing from my experiences with my children, I have established a school dedicated to nurturing children with exceptional capabilities. We have encountered a diverse array of children, each with their unique gifts, challenges, and issues. Like Nathaniel, many have flourished in their own unique ways and on their own terms. So I know that, no matter what you are facing, there are solutions.
Most importantly, no matter the opinions of experts regarding a child’s abilities or limitations, the ultimate responsibility for a child’s education rests with the parents. This duty involves adapting to their distinctive needs and ensuring the preservation of their self-worth and esteem. It’s crucial to remember that every child’s educational path is distinct, and sometimes, opting for a less traditional route can lead to the most gratifying achievements.