Young Brains of Britain: Feature

Article excerpt

Some children are exceptionally intelligent and capable of racing through their education - they may have a degree before they are old enough to vote. Kerra Maddern talks to four such prodigies and their families about their experiences and the decisions they had to make.

To many, the idea of a childhood genius - a prodigy, if you will - has an almost mythical quality. The tales we read in newspapers each year of young children taking GCSEs and A levels portray them as superhuman.

But isn't it an impossible paradox? Surely, having a towering intellect can't be teamed with playing with dolls or soldiers? But it is.

These children look like any other children. They don't go around wearing bow ties or carrying large piles of books. They are not all pupils at private or even grammar schools.

Instead, most live normal lives, having fun, taking part in games; but all the time they are having to combine this with possessing an exceptional intellect, which means they often celebrate achievements most children attain years later.

TES has met some of these young people trying to negotiate the tricky path between making the most of their academic gifts and having the freedom to act their age. They and their families have told us their stories and explained the unique and difficult decisions they have had to make about their education and future.

Wajih Ahmed

Wajih is the University of Southampton's youngest ever student, having started his economics degree at 14.

Wajih's potential was spotted early and encouraged by his parents, Saadia and Usman. Some of his achievements are nothing short of jawdropping. At the age of 3, Wajih could understand simple mathematical concepts and by the age of 8 he was working at GCSE level at home, while at his primary school he followed the normal curriculum.

Wajih took his maths GCSE aged 9, and got A . By 12, he had taken his maths and further maths A levels, and had been awarded A grades. He had also taken an additional four GCSEs, in the three sciences and statistics, getting the top grade in each one.

By 14, Wajih had taken 10 more GCSEs, an AS level in economics and A levels in physics and chemistry.

He still lives at home in Hampshire with his parents and his brother Zohaib, aged 13, who is also gifted - he achieved A grades in maths and further maths A levels at the age of 10. Saadia, who trained as a lawyer, is a full-time mother and Usman works for the Ministry of Defence.

"We thought 14 was a good age for Wajih to complete all his GCSEs and A levels," Saadia says. "I think it's very good that he has experienced working with people from another age group already - most children don't have that opportunity. He is able to make friends with people of all ages."

In Year 9, he studied for his GCSEs along with Year 11 pupils at Thornden School, his local comprehensive, and had his own timetable so that he could also attend Barton Peveril Sixth Form College in Eastleigh.

"When he wants something he works really hard. All we have ever told our boys is to give their best effort," Saadia says.

But Wajih's proud parents say their son is enjoying himself and having fun. They insist that when he was working to achieve a university place he "spent a few hours each day doing focused work".

"The rest of the time he spent playing. He wasn't sitting in his room all day working, he has friends and a social life. The assumption that gifted children are 'nerdy' is wrong," Saadia asserts.

And Wajih, now 15, is settling well into university life. "I'm really enjoying it and I've made a lot of friends, but I also still see my friends from school," he says.

"The other students don't treat me that differently. When they ask about me I just say I'm 15, I don't say a lot else about my exam results. The work is great. It is a lot more challenging. I really enjoy the independence of university."

Wajih hopes to become an actuary in a City firm when he has finished his studies, but first he wants to get a PhD in economics at a London university. …