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Education

World’s top five whiz kids, Hong Kong-born prodigy Wang Pok-lo included, show age is no barrier

Whether they have graduated from university at the age of 13, spoken at TEDxTeen, or been able to name world’s 196 countries before starting school, these five prodigies hope to use their talents to make the world a better place

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, 6:00pm

In 2002, Richard Lynn, a British professor of psychology, and Tatu Vanhanen, a Finnish professor of political science, released IQ and the Wealth of Nations.

The controversial study of more than 80 countries and territories concluded that their average IQ was roughly linked with national wealth. It did this by averaging and adjusting existing studies, and found that Hong Kong had the highest estimated average IQ – 107 – followed by South Korea.

Why was Hong Kong ranked so high? Nobody knows. Perhaps a brains trust should investigate. In the meantime, here is a look at some of the world’s top whiz kids – prodigies who just might just blossom into future Albert Einsteins.

Wang Pok-lo

Hong Kong-born, British-based teenager Wang Pok-lo graduated from university at the age of 13. While at Queensferry High School near Edinburgh, Wang pursued an Open University course in the United States during his spare time and aced it, graduating with a first-class honours degree. He even scored 100 per cent in one module. He has now enrolled at Sheffield University in northern England to read statistics with medical applications for his master’s.

Wang began doing sums when he was little more than a baby. He passed his Advanced Higher Maths exams when he was just 11. He moved to Scotland from Hong Kong in 2006.

“I enjoy doing maths but it is getting very challenging. It started to get more difficult as it became more about concepts which are a lot more abstract and it’s mostly logic and reasoning,” Britain’s Express newspaper Wang as saying.

Hong Kong’s 7-year-old piano prodigy plays “Flight of the Bumblebee”

A big hit with Britain’s tabloids, he has also featured in the Scottish Sun and the Daily Mail.

Wang has been able to do addition, multiplication and division from the age of two. Early on, he also showed outstanding memory ability. When he was just one year old, he delighted in reciting Chinese poems to his family.

Queensferry teacher Cara Prot described his natural flair as inspiring. Despite his devotion to study, he finds time to play the piano and guitar. His friends call him Pok.

Danish Mahmood

Canadian Danish Mahmood landed the top prize at this year’s European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Tallinn, Estonia, for “the Wireless Interconnected Non-Invasive System”. The results were announced on September 26. The science fair circuit regular, aged just 14, shared the honours with two other whiz kids: Adam Jan Alexander Ohnesorge from Switzerland for “The forgotten prisoners – Civilian prisoners of the Great War in Corsica” and Karina Movsesjan from the Czech Republic for “The role of RAD51 mutations in cancer development”.

I love looking at problems the world has and trying to find solutions to those as that’s what basically every scientist tries to do.
Danish Mahmood

Mahmood’s wireless system comprises a wearable finger sensor that continuously gauges a patient’s vital signs, including heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure. Patients often wait hours in waiting rooms where they are not screened closely, according to Mahmood. The result may be a worsening of symptoms. The problem is compounded in cases of mass casualties.

Mahmood dreamed up his idea while waiting in an emergency room.

His triumph earned him 7,000 (US$8,280). His prototype is priced at US$110. “I love looking at problems the world has and trying to find solutions to those, as that’s what basically every scientist tries to do,” he says. He also you need to raise your game after junior school.

“He loves applying STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] in creative ways to solve challenging problems,” his profile says. Mahmood’s advice to other students is to work on projects that they feel passionate about.

Isaiah McDonald

Fellow Canadian Isaiah McDonald may well be the most inspiring smart kid in this round-up. At the age of four, he was credited with knowing all 196 countries in the world, their flags and locations.

Earlier this year, he appeared in a talent show Kids That Are Kind Of Amazing At Stuff. Then he featured in the talk show Live With Kelly and Ryan, humbling hosts Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest by thrashing them in a country identification contest.

His mother, Lisa Bowen, is a children’s book author. She home-schooled him and his two-year-old brother Elijah. Bowen realised he was talented at the age of two when he began learning words meant for kindergarteners, and proved to have a fascination for geography.

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When mother and son visited New York for their Kelly and Ryan gig, his mother encouraged him to start learning about landmarks including the United Nations headquarters and the Statue of Liberty, which helpfully have flags on display.

When he is at home, his mother often takes him to a science centre, a zoo, an aquarium, and crucially a library. “We spend a lot of time at the library … I think the max is 50 books you can take out and we are always at our max. Sometimes I return five books just so I can take out five more,” she told the Toronto Caribbean Newspaper.

Just for good measure, Isaiah is learning how to play violin and is getting good at doing recitals of songs such as John Legend’s All Of Me. With a little luck, soon he will be playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

He might be good at futurism, too, with his name referencing a prophet. His ambition is to be a police officer or, aptly, Iron Man.

Claudia Vulliamy

TEDxTeen speaker Claudia Vulliamy made news when she turned a rejection letter from Oxford University, where she had applied to study classics, into a vibrant artwork. A tweet about her offbeat masterpiece gained viral momentum. It was shared more than 50,000 times by others who were moved by her vision and grit in the face of the letdown. According to her mother, some social media sources compared the painting to work by the Dutch abstract painter Piet Mondrian.

Vulliamy is a big believer in education for its own sake. When she was just 14, she wrote an opinion piece that featured in Britain’s Independent newspaper. In it, she said that surplus homework was thwarting understanding and strangling imagination.

“If it seems that the idea of abolishing homework belongs in some trendy, hippie school, the head teacher of Tiffin School, one of the top grammar schools in the country, would disagree. He has reduced homework to a maximum of 40 minutes per night – and says he wishes he could get rid of it altogether. I wish my London comprehensive school would do the same,” she wrote.

We spend a lot of time at the library … I think the max is 50 books you can take out and we are always at our max
Lisa Bowen

She also wrote that children are naturally creative. And she advocated developing an independent work ethic, which she clearly has.

According to her TEDxTeen biography, she has decided to study a foundation diploma in fine art at Central Saint Martins, part of the University of the Arts London, then pursue her original ambition of obtaining a classics degree.

Ziad Ahmed

Already fellow TEDxTeen prodigy Ziad Ahmed has the makings of a renaissance man: someone with a wealth of talents or knowledge. In September 2013, Ahmed formed the teenagers’ organisation Redefy, which is devoted to empowering schools and communities to become more inclusive. According to TED, Redefy has ballooned in popularity. Its Facebook page has 3,300 likes, while Redefy.org has gained more than 100,000 hits.

The Yale graduate’s work has been praised by former US president Barack Obama, Business Insider, and MTV, among other heavyweight sources.

He somehow finds time to operate as an entrepreneur. He is the co-founder of youth consultancy JÜV Consulting. He serves as the organisation’s chief visionary officer (CVO). The aim is to radically change the way that firms market to Generation Z – the super-youthful demographic that comes after millennials.

Plus, he has worked in politics as an intern for politicians, governmental agencies and projects. “His hope is that through unapologetically standing up for what is right within his community, school and beyond, he can be part of the solution,” his TED profile says.

I enjoy doing maths but it is getting very challenging
Wang Pok-lo

So far, he has given four TED Talks and contributed to media outlets including the Huffington Post and Teen Vogue. In addition, he runs his own website, www.ziadtheactivist.com, on which he says his aim is partly to pass the mic and give an outlet to the voiceless.

In his Teen Vogue story which ran in June this year, the Muslim Bangladeshi American lamented the fact that, when he speaks English, students assume he is speaking Spanish because of his accent. In response, they would apologise for not speaking Spanish, which broke his heart because it showed how little we listen.

Despite all his pursuits, TED insists, he is just your average teenager struggling with his identity while pursuing his passions.