When Elias Muthomi was barely one-and-a-half years old, his parents noticed something strange — he could read out English words on a wall chart. Moses Gitonga and Monica Wambui initially thought their son had simply memorised what he was saying after hearing adults speak, but each day was a surprise as he read more words accurately.
Today, at the age of two years and nine months, Elias has become something of a celebrity in his Ngumba estate neighbourhood in Nairobi for his reading ability — yet he has never stepped into a classroom and has not gone through home schooling.
When Sunday Nation visited their home, it did not take long for Elias to start reading the writings on the video camera. “Soony,” he said cheerfully, referring to the Sony camera.
More “tests” follow as he easily read the writings on the charts and even those projected by his proud father on the television screen. His parents had bought the charts to prepare him to join pre-primary once he attained the age of three years, but every time they showed him new writings and images, he promptly read them without any help. Apart from the alphabet, Elias can read and pronounce all vowels and the names of various animals.
“He likes watching news when most of his age mates like watching cartoons,” says his father, adding that Elias likes to read out the names of political leaders when their images appear on TV.
Elias is also interested in fighter jets. His father says he once displayed them and told him what types the planes were and since then he has never forgotten.
The dilemma his parents are facing is which school to take him to. They once sought advice from Elias’s paternal grandfather Stanley Ntiritu, a retired primary schoolteacher, who recommended further consultation with experts.
“People have advised me to take him to an international school where his potential can be exploited better but I do not have the money,” says the boy’s father. But his mother is concerned that Elias spends more time trying to read things while his age-mates are playing. She would like him to play more.
Whether their son is a genius or simply a fast-learner is a question the young couple continues to grapple with as they are keen not to put too much pressure on him.
History will teach Elias’ parents to be careful how they handle him, as such children have had problems realising the promising future that normally appears to be theirs for the taking.
Bethuel Mbugua stunned Kenyans in the 1980s with his mastery of the human anatomy as his ambitious father pushed him hard. He once got access to President Daniel Moi at a public function to ask for funding for specialist education but his request was unsuccessful. He ended up in the US where he got a reality check: he was not the genius he thought he was.
Mbugua, now a manager of information and records at a Nairobi company, returned to Kenya in 2003, his relationship with his father ruined.
Developmental psychologist John Oteyo from Kenyatta University’s psychology department told the Sunday Nation that parents should seek professional help in managing children who show giftedness early in life, to avoid ruining the youngsters’ future.
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