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The 9-year-old Indian attending college in the US

By George Joseph
October 31, 2012 17:25 IST
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Tanishq and Tiara Abraham with their parents This child prodigy tells George Joseph that he wants to be a scientist; discover something big.

Tanishq Abraham, 9, has already completed one third of the credits needed for a college degree at the American River College in Sacramento, California. The college allows him only to be a part-time student, though he desperately wants to be a full-time student.

Tanishq attracted intense media attention after he joined the Mensa programme for gifted children at the age of four-and-half years. He was recently featured on the premiere episode of Prodigies, a new bi-weekly YouTube series 'showcasing the youngest and brightest as they challenge themselves to reach new heights.'

"I like particle physics, anti-matter, the fate of the universe and the Big Bang," he said in the video. It got a quarter million hits and lots of media publicity, both good and bad, according to his mother Dr Taji Abraham, a doctor of veterinary medicine. His father Bijou Abraham is a software professional.

In the last two years since Tanishq started to attend college, he finished two subjects each semester. More subjects are not allowed. He has already completed astronomy, geology, and biotechnology. He sits with students twice his age and earns straight 'A's in all subjects. He topped the class in astronomy and geology. Of the 60 units needed for an associate degree, he has completed 24 so far.

In the class, he sits with other students while his mother sits in the back.

"Initially the students thought I am the student and Tanishq came with me," Taji said. "When they knew that Tanishq was the student, they were surprised and curious."

When some of the videos not fit for children to watch are shown in classes, she will ask him to close his eyes.

Tanishq tapes the lectures as he is not good at writing by hand. He told India Abroad that while writing essays was most difficult, typing is no problem.

"Tanishq is a very sociable person and he is not shy. At 7, he was giving lectures to others," Taji said. By then he had published essays about astronomy on NASA's Lunar Science Website.

The media is not always kind, Taji said. A recent New York Times article criticised her, asking why she was letting him take on such an academic load. Others said that children ought not to be in college.

"We don't mind the criticism," Taji said. "We are parents and we should take care of our children. We know their needs. He is happy going to college and studying there."

In Tanishq's case, rather than the parents pushing him, it is the other way around, said Bijou Abraham. The family does not receive any financial support, even though Tanishq's younger sister Tiara is also a child prodigy who got into Mensa at the same age as he did. At times, Tiara tests Tanishq's knowledge in various subjects, the parents said.

The parents saw their children's special skills when they were about two-and-a-half years old. At age 4.5, Tanishq was tested, and he scored in the 99.9 percentile on the standardised intelligence test and was inducted into Mensa -- an organisation for people with an IQ of 148 and above, or in the top two per cent of the population.

"He's a real asset," Professor Stephen Sterling, Tanishq's physical geology instructor, was quoted as saying. "He's the top student. The students love him and look up to him because they respect him (as they would) a peer."

In a clip on USA Today's Web site, Tanisqhq is shown giggling when he says, "Once I was giving a geology talk, and at the end somebody asked me for my autograph!"

According to Dr Paulo Alfonso, another professor who taught astronomy and who is also in the video, "He ended up in the class being the student with the highest grade. How many people at the age of seven or eight can discuss the expansion of the universe? He is different in a positive way."

Tanishq is at the middle school level though he and his sister have been home-schooled. Their parents teach them and once a month the charter school officials come and check the status.

The children do not want to go to school with other children. They tried it earlier, but found that neither other students nor teachers were kind to them.

Home-schooling has not affected their social skills, Taji said, adding that she spends all her time with the children.

Both children know Hindi and watch Hindi movies frequently. To their surprise, Tanishq knows his mother tongue, Malayalam, though they have not taught him nor use it frequently at home.

Tanishq wants to be many things, though the preference is for being a scientist, discovering something big.

Photograph: Tanishq and Tiara Abraham with parents Dr Taji Abraham and Bijou Abraham


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George Joseph
India Abroad