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Malaysian immigrants Rosemary and Choon Tan aren't like many other parents in the New Zealand south island city of Christchurch. They don't have to persuade reluctant offspring to hurry or be late for school. Instead, they have to stop their highly enthusiastic seven-year-old from leaving too early in the mornings for university!

Young Michael is no boring book-worm. He's often glued to TV cartoons. Like other kids on his street, he shatters the suburban silence with the sounds of skate-boarding, soccer, cricket and push-bike races. But his pals have become used to Michael racing indoors in the middle of a game. "Gotta go!" he yells. "I've worked it out!"

The kid is a mathematics genius. But, then, it's an ability that runs in the family: the two other Tan children have academic records that are almost as impressive. Brother David, now 24, started at university when he was 13, had a Ph.D. under his belt at 20 and is now in England where he's continuing his studies at Cambridge. Sister Audrey, now 17, went to university when she was 15 and is set to graduate with an honours degree this year.

Rosemary, 45, is a full-time mother. Choon, 49 is a former electronics engineer who now works from home as a mathematics tutor to a half-dozen bright children.

A couple of them, like Michael, have never been to school. Studying at home is allowed in New Zealand, if education authorities' permission is obtained. Choon teaches Michael a range of subjects such as English grammar, geography and physics "informally, at his own pace. If he wants to pass exams in them later we'll adapt to the official curriculum". He says his lad is particularly well-informed on current events. "We read and watched TV together as the Soviet Union broke up," reveals Choon. "He asked questions and I explained. He knows what's going on."

Only in mathematics is the official syllabus adhered to. Choon says he didn't force Michael. "His interest bubbled up on its own. But I suppose that's not strange in a home where so much of the talk is about mathematics. It's my hobby and the bigger kids excelled in it."

On his father's knee, Michael learned to add, subtract, multiply and divide before he turned four. Choon reveals: "I encourage Michael by provoking his interest -- his desire to solve a problem. Sometimes I'll say, 'Come on, you can do it'! But just as often I'll go the other way and say, 'How about putting those books away and going out to play with your friends'?

"Then he'll go off -- with a mathematical problem still rolling about in his brain. Sure enough, he'll race back in, a broad grin on his face, an hour or so later, shouting: `I worked it out!' He loves his math."

Early progress wasn't spectacularly fast, says Choon. "But, by the time he was five and had mastered the basics, there was no stopping him."

Rosemary laughs now that she recalls going to the supermarket with Michael when he was five years old. "We got to the check-out line and he asked, `Mum, are you sure you have enough money? You've spent more than usual: $87.30 altogether'. I thought he was guessing. It couldn't be that much. But the register reached exactly the same total. I was dumb-founded."

Answer the following questions using complete sentences
  1. How is Michael different from other children his age ?
  2. Why is Michael's ability considered genetically inherited ?
  3. Why is Michael's education considered informal ?
  4. What do you think sparked Michael's interest in Mathematics ?
  5. How old was Michael when he first learned how to count ?
  6. What approach does Choon use to teach Michael ?
  7. What mathematical skills did Michael have by the time he was five ? Give evidence from the passage that suggests this.
  Fill in the blanks with one correct word from the passage.
  8. My eldest brother is going to ______ with a medical degree from a local university next year.
  9. You should always ask for ______ first before using things that belong to other people.
  10. They were ______ for a moment when they heard that lazy John had come out top in the SPM examination.
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He is a mathematical genius and an undergraduate although he is only seven years old.


This is because his two older siblings are also academic geniuses.


This is because he learns from his father at home and takes examination at his own pace.


His interest could have been sparked by all the talks about Mathematics in the house among his family members.


He learned how to count before he was four years old.
  6. Choon probably uses the interest-provoking approach to teach Michael, that is he creates a situation which arouses Michael's interest to find solutions to problems.
  7. By the time Michael was five, he had more than mastered the basics of Mathematics. An evidence for this was when he was at the check-out line in the supermarket with his mother, even before the cashier had calculated the amount, he had already worked it out correctly.
  8. graduate
  9. permission
  10. dumb-founded

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Comprehension 1


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