Dorothy Walker talks to seven-year-old record breaker and IT whizz Geetha Thaninathan

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
Geetha Thaninathan likes computers, Barbie dolls and chasing her little brother around the house. "And I like learning," she adds. She's so good at learning that last year, aged six, she became the youngest student ever to pass a GCSE in information technology.

Geetha, from Maidstone in Kent, completed a two-year course in just nine months, achieving a C grade, the highest possible at foundation level. She fitted her studies around mainstream schooling with the help of a specialist college which targeted not child prodigies, but youngsters of average ability. Studying ICT not only provided Geetha with exam success, it helped other schoolwork and her primary teachers awarded her the prize for best pupil in her year.

Geetha first discovered ICT at the age of two. Her father, Kandasamy, an electronics engineer, says: "Whenever I worked on the PC, Geetha wanted to join in. I took her through the alphabet, typing each letter so she could see it on the screen. Soon she was saying: 'Tell me what you want to write and I will type it.'" Typing first with one finger, then two, Geetha's skills developed by exploring drawing programs and games and she showed a thirst for learning about computers. When she was five, her parents realised they would need help to teach her all she wanted to know.

Kandasamy approached Ryde College, a tutorial college in Watford renowned for its success in teaching young children. Two years ago, Geetha began an introductory course in computing, attending primary school in Maidstone during the week and fitting in classes at Ryde on Saturday, with her father sitting in on lessons.

Her tutors were impressed and suggested she study for her GCSE. Other six and seven-year-olds from the school had gained GCSEs and a ten-year-old student recently passed his A-level in computing.

Geetha had four hours of classes every Saturday and as she was still getting to grips with reading and writing, she was again joined by her father. He says: "The class included older children and Geetha was just starting to learn spelling so couldn't write as quickly. At first I took notes, but her spelling improved very fast."

Geetha particularly enjoyed the projects, which included programming in the language Visual Basic. "I did a traffic lights program," she says. "I had to get the lights to go from yellow to green and back to red. I tried it again and again and at last it worked."

She passed her exam with flying colours. What did she like best about the exam? "Writing the answers." And the most difficult part? "Thinking about what I was going to write."

Her father says: "Thanks to the programming and typing, Geetha became very confident with English - that's why I was so keen to support her."

Mike Ryde, managing director at Ryde College, says: "Children love to learn and most can study at an earlier age than the current system allows. Very young children develop very fast and we have to judge if a GCSE is right for them. But I am confident any nine or ten-year-old of average ability should be able to get a GCSE in IT and maybe maths."

He believes letting children take two GCSEs a year from the age of nine or ten would ease teens' exam pressure and provide ample scope for re-sits.

The college has recently been working with three secondary schools in the Waltham Forest area of London. Children who have difficulties at school have been attending after-hours classes and their achievements are heartening. One formerly troubled teenager took a GCSE three years early and rang Mike to say he was now viewed as a star by his classmates.

Geetha now plans "a long break" before any more record-breaking feats. Besides, she is busy - teaching younger brother Pragash how to type his name on the computer.

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