The remarkable win of 12-year-old Nishi Uggalla, from Manchester, on Saturday night’s (2nd March) final of the Channel Four’s Child Genius competition was, no doubt, a proud moment for all Sri Lankans domiciled in UK. But it was much more because she made it ultra-special and won the hearts of everyone who watched the programme by an inspiring acceptance speech. Further, she was different from all the other contestants; whereas all the others were driven by their parents or relations, Nishi was the driving force herself.
Child Genius is an annual competition open to children from the age of eight to twelve years where they are challenged on spelling, maths, memory, vocabulary, geography and science. Of the hundreds auditioned, 19 came for the final cut and numbers were reduced daily through the week of the competition, to 6 on the final day. After the first round, the two getting the highest marks went head-to-head on a buzzer round, the first to get ten points being the Child Genius 2019.
Some of the questions were graduate level and it makes you wonder how these youngsters perform so well. Watching the background stories, I felt sorry for some, the way they were driven by their parents and elders. We wondered whether their childhood was lost and whether this pushing will leave them with psychological trauma. However, Nishi was totally different: she had nominated herself and her parents were there simply to help. Her father Neelanga Uggalle, who works in IT security, and her mother Shiromi Jayasinghe, who works as an accountant did their best to support her but were never pushy. They have all the reasons to be very proud of their daughter.
A superfan of Stephen Hawking, she is interested in black-holes. Dubbed the ‘human calculator’ she had no difficulty with complex mental arithmetic. In 2016, she got the maximum possible 162 marks in the Mensa test, the youngest to do so then. She has an IQ higher than Einstein. Therefore, it was no surprise she cruised to victory getting the required ten points when her rival, eleven-year-old William Harwood, had only five.
The biggest surprise came at the end of it all. Holding a trophy, half her size, she said:
“One of the main reasons I entered myself in the competition was to show that there are a lot of stereotypes about girls not being able to do maths or physics for example. I’d like to show that that’s not true at all.”
She was simply inspirational. World has gained from Sri Lanka’s loss. Do I see a leader in the making? Perhaps! More importantly, I see a great scientist in the making who will serve the world and inspire young ladies to take to all fields.
I am sure all Sri Lankans will join me in wishing Nishi all the best for a bright and productive future. You have made us proud!