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 Off to uni as a child prodigy at 13, working as a prostitute at 23

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RR Phantom

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Off to uni as a child prodigy at 13, working as a prostitute at 23 Vide
PostSubject: Off to uni as a child prodigy at 13, working as a prostitute at 23   Off to uni as a child prodigy at 13, working as a prostitute at 23 Icon_minitimeFri Apr 04, 2008 7:04 pm

Sufiah Yusof's case has thrown a spotlight on the practice of hot-housing children for academic success, writes Lee Glendinning.

ON A bright afternoon in 1997, Sufiah Yusof stood sandwiched between her father and younger sister, grinning into the middle distance. Dressed in an academic cap and gown, she posed for a photo after becoming one of the youngest undergraduates to gain entry to Oxford, aged just 13.

Last weekend, a little over 10 years later, she is pictured in grainy black and white images that have surfaced in a British newspaper. They reveal the 23-year-old has reportedly begun working as a prostitute, hiring herself out for £130 ($285) an hour in a Manchester flat.

Just what happened in the intervening years has been revisited this week - and much of it surrounds the rule laid down by her father in the family home, which appears to have been the precipice for her later unravelling.

Farooq Yusof believed that his children - and others around the world - could be made into geniuses (something he once referred to as "producing more Sufiahs") through his methods of accelerated learning.

His five children were subjected to intense home tutoring that began with an Islamic prayer routine in the morning, and studies in a cold house to aid concentration. Shallow thinking and access to popular culture were forbidden. Games of tennis were tough and competitive.

His spartan program propelled Sufiah into one of the best universities in the world, but she effectively ended up in a strange purgatory between childhood and adulthood - and sadly cheated of both.

British research on hothousing is scant and as it falls into a loose gap between the law, government departments and pastoral care, it is under no particular jurisdiction.

Margaret Morrisey, chairwoman of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, spoke of her concern for child prodigies such as Sufiah who are home-schooled and arrive early at university when they are not equipped to deal with it emotionally or socially.

"If you're considered to be gifted academically at 12 or 15, you are still 12 or 15, and putting these children in the company of 18- and 19-year-olds is a recipe for disaster," she said.

"The signs are telling us that this is something we need to seriously address - not necessarily in legislation but more a government initiative to provide for and challenge gifted children in some way so that they don't end up at university so young."

A report in the Guardian this week revealed the number of students under 18 at English universities has risen by half in the past six years. This has been attributed, in part, to a change in discrimination laws introduced two years ago that require academic institutions to consider all applicants on merit, regardless of age.

Professor Tim Gowers, who teaches mathematics at Cambridge University, says there is no benefit in early undergraduate studies, no matter how proficient the student.

"I'm not at all in favour of accelerating people, especially not students attending university in their mid-teens," he said. "Deciding in advance that you are going to produce a genius, as Sufiah's father seems to have done, carries the risk of all sorts of emotional problems, and the benefits are not just clear in the long run.

"Of the students I have watched who have come to study early there don't seem to be any advantages at all. In general, they don't go on to become extremely successful."

He cites the case of Ruth Lawrence, a child prodigy from Brighton who graduated from Oxford when she was 13 after being home tutored by her father from the age of five. Her university career consisted of being chaperoned and shadowed by her father to every tutorial

and lecture. She is now a university professor in Jerusalem and has vowed she will not hothouse her own children.

"Pushing children into university at the age of 14 is destroying their childhood, and you end up with a lopsided, maladjusted individual," said Dr Peter Congdon, consultant educational psychologist and director of the Gifted Children's Centre. "What I have learnt is that gifted children can go in any direction - they are just as likely to become a criminal as they are a moral philosopher."

In 2000, after her final exam for the academic year, Sufiah vanished, sparking a nationwide police search before she was found two weeks later working as a hotel waitress in Bournemouth. At the time she asked not to be returned to her parents, describing her childhood as a living hell.

"I've finally had enough of 15 years of physical and emotional abuse," she said.

In January her father was jailed for 18 months after indecently assaulting two 15-year-old girls he was tutoring. In 1992 he had been jailed for mortgage fraud.

Nikita Lalwani, author of Gifted, a book inspired by Sufiah's story, wrote this week about her anger at what the country had done to Sufiah.

"The Yusofs have played their painful family drama out on the media stage and we have lapped it up," she wrote.

"We like our wunderkind stars to be young in this country … and woe betide any discovery that … they might be battling with the same dirty confusions and hand-me-down horrors as the rest of us."

[url=Professor Tim Gowers, who teaches mathematics at Cambridge University, says there is no benefit in early undergraduate studies, no matter how proficient the student.

"I'm not at all in favour of accelerating people, especially not students attending university in their mid-teens," he said. "Deciding in advance that you are going to produce a genius, as Sufiah's father seems to have done, carries the risk of all sorts of emotional problems, and the benefits are not just clear in the long run.

"Of the students I have watched who have come to study early there don't seem to be any advantages at all. In general, they don't go on to become extremely successful."

He cites the case of Ruth Lawrence, a child prodigy from Brighton who graduated from Oxford when she was 13 after being home tutored by her father from the age of five. Her university career consisted of being chaperoned and shadowed by her father to every tutorial

and lecture. She is now a university professor in Jerusalem and has vowed she will not hothouse her own children.

"Pushing children into university at the age of 14 is destroying their childhood, and you end up with a lopsided, maladjusted individual," said Dr Peter Congdon, consultant educational psychologist and director of the Gifted Children's Centre. "What I have learnt is that gifted children can go in any direction - they are just as likely to become a criminal as they are a moral philosopher."

In 2000, after her final exam for the academic year, Sufiah vanished, sparking a nationwide police search before she was found two weeks later working as a hotel waitress in Bournemouth. At the time she asked not to be returned to her parents, describing her childhood as a living hell.

"I've finally had enough of 15 years of physical and emotional abuse," she said.

In January her father was jailed for 18 months after indecently assaulting two 15-year-old girls he was tutoring. In 1992 he had been jailed for mortgage fraud.

Nikita Lalwani, author of Gifted, a book inspired by Sufiah's story, wrote this week about her anger at what the country had done to Sufiah.

"The Yusofs have played their painful family drama out on the media stage and we have lapped it up," she wrote.

"We like our wunderkind stars to be young in this country … and woe betide any discovery that … they might be battling with the same dirty confusions and hand-me-down horrors as the rest of us."

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