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Homesingapore13-year-old Singaporean boy graduates from top Australian university with perfect GPA

13-year-old Singaporean boy graduates from top Australian university with perfect GPA

SINGAPORE – When Nathanael Koh was one year old, he was diagnosed with a condition that affected his cognitive and physical development, leaving his parents anxious that he may never function independently.  

His father, Mr Chris Koh, 45, told The Straits Times: “He could not walk without help at two years old. As a child, he never spoke and if he made a sound, it was a mess of words that no one understood. 

“Crying and feeling lost was a constant thing for (my wife and me) for months.”

But it was when the couple introduced Nathanael to books that they realised his ability to read and learn at levels far beyond those expected for his peers.

On Dec 15, at 13, he became one of the youngest students to graduate from the Australian National University (ANU), earning an honours degree in music composition with a perfect grade point average.

He also earned a high distinction in his thesis which explored the use of linear algebra to find possible harmonies and test it out.

Despite being surrounded by students often twice or thrice his age, Nathanael said that he has no problem coping with the academic rigours of university or fitting in with his classmates.

“I could think at the same level as them and we all communicated through our common language of music,” he said.

Nathanael started playing piano at three years old but switched to musical theory as per his teacher’s recommendation because his fingers were too weak. He later learned to play the piano, clarinet and saxophone.

At age nine, he completed his diploma in music theory from Trinity College London. That same year, he became the youngest composer-in-residence at the Singapore’s Kids Philharmonic Orchestra.

His original compositions have since been performed by professional musicians in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and Finland.

On top of his accomplishments in music, Nathanael is a member of high Intelligence Quotient (IQ) society Mensa in Singapore and New Zealand with an IQ of 132. He also scored A+ for several mathematics modules at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury at age 12.

Despite his achievements, Nathanael’s journey to academic success has been far from smooth.

He was diagnosed with global developmental delay which meant he lacked the muscular strength needed to perform everyday tasks.

His father, a director of a social enterprise, said that Nathanael’s speech was incoherent at four and that he could not eat solid foods at seven. 

Nathanael learnt to bathe, brush his teeth and go to the toilet independently only at 10.

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Mr Koh said: “Nathanael liked to stare at bright lights and make funny sounds. Most people avoided us as they thought he had some disease.”

Nathanael said that he has since embraced his condition.

“It’s part of me and I don’t particularly care. I can walk and run like other kids. I also do the things other 13-year-olds do,” he said.

Such activities include playing video games like Tetris, reading comics and solving a Rubik’s cube; he has even devised his own algorithm to solve a 2×2 cube.

Nathanael’s love for learning will not be stopping after his degree as he has applied to enrol in a PhD programme in music composition at ANU.

He said: “I love reading research journals, sharpening my mind and coming up with new ideas. I hope I can be a researcher and composer.”

When asked if he is worried about chasing his academic pursuits too early on in his life, Nathanael said he is more excited about his future.

He said: “I don’t mind (learning) at a faster pace than my peers because I enjoy academia and journal papers. 

“I feel like we shouldn’t judge people, especially people like me, because everyone has a different path and is unique.”

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