Nishi (middle) with parents Shiromi (left) and Neelanga (right)
It would be a nerve-wrecking experience for a 12-year-old to answer degree-level questions within seconds on a reality TV show. But it was a piece of cake for Nishi Uggalle, now 13, who was adjudged Child Genius 2019 at the recently concluded Channel 4’s Child Genius contest. Born to Sri Lankan parents, Neelanga Uggalle and Shiromi Jayasinghe, Nishi from Audenshaw, Greater Manchester, calls herself a ‘geek’ and spends her spare time reading philosophy and solving complicated maths questions. Nishi stunned audiences as she fired off a series of correct answers in seconds without using a calculator. On the final day of the competition she had already scored 16 points while three children, who were at 12 points each, had to go through a series of tie-breakers before they joined Nishi in the final. Nishi achieved the highest possible score of 162, topping Albert Einstein and her idol Stephen Hawking who have only scored 160.
"Yes, there are places and cultures where females don’t have the same level of freedom and respect that they deserve. My message to them would be to believe in themselves and to work towards gaining the rights they deserve. "
Following her triumphant win, Nishi has already achieved celebrity-status at her alma mater, Altrincham Grammar School for Girls. Nishi’s greatest inspiration is Stephen Hawking and by age 10 she had already completed reading Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’. Following in his footsteps, she aspires to be a theoretical physicist and plans to research on ‘black holes’ which was also her special subject at Child Genius. Her acceptance speech was applauded by a wider community as she spoke to all females out there. After all, her attempt was to prove that even girls could be equally good at maths and physics as boys. And she definitely walked the talk.
“Being a Sri Lankan made me have a multi-cultural and international outlook,” said Nishi in an exclusive interview with the Daily Mirror.
How do you feel about winning the coveted Child Genius title, now that your name is read alongside those of Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking?
I feel that it’s a great achievement, as it’s the highest academic competition that a child could take part in within the UK. It’s a once-in-a -lifetime opportunity, and it made it even more special that I’m the first Sri Lankan child to be selected into the top 20, and then to go on and win, which is an unbreakable record.
Apart from being a massive fan of both these scientists, I am not fond of being compared intellectually with these great icons as they are my idols, and for me they will always sit above me.
Being a Sri Lankan made me have a multi-cultural and international outlook
I am not fond of being compared intellectually with these great icons as they are my idols
I was very excited to enter the final, because all the hard work and effort to reach that point had paid off
I can speak to them about anything and I can improve myself with their knowledge and experience
I prefer to study/do activities in my own time, so that I can choose what I am doing and do them at my own pace. However, I do take part in a few lunchtime clubs
What thoughts were going in your mind when you reached the final part of the competition?
I was very excited to enter the final, because all the hard work and effort to reach that point had paid off. However, during the actual final, I was completely focused on the task at hand.
You were always engaged in advanced reading or mathematical exercises. What is the most satisfying part about doing these exercises?
Reading fills you with knowledge, so even reading a single page leaves you with a little more knowledge than you started with. Maths is different, because when you get the right answer it’s very satisfying when your method works out.
Your parents claim that they have never pushed you to study. In your opinion why should parents give that freedom to children to explore themselves?
I know parents always try to do what is best for their children and I can understand some parents having to push their children because they refuse to do anything. But when children are willingly studying, pushing might have a negative impact, so it’s best for the children and parents to work together, like my parents and I.
Nishi at the competition. - Pic courtesy Daily Mail
Tell us about the support extended by them.
They are always there to support me in any and every form I need. I can speak to them about anything and I can improve myself with their knowledge and experience.
Extra curricular activities are seen as a must in school life. Why didn’t you show an interest in them? If at all you liked such an activity, what would it be and why?
I prefer to study/do activities in my own time, so that I can choose what I am doing and do them at my own pace. However, I do take part in a few lunchtime clubs, such as STEM club and Coding club.
Didn’t you feel you were at a disadvantage when you were promoted to higher grades than peers of your age?
Not at all, I never felt I had a disadvantage academically, however in height, definitely.
" After all, her attempt was to prove that even girls could be equally good at maths and physics as boys. And she definitely walked the talk"
How have your Lankan roots helped you to be who you are today?
I don’t think I can differentiate who I am from being a Sri Lankan. However, it led me to become bilingual from when I could first talk and to have a multi-cultural and international outlook.
In your acceptance speech you said that you wanted to prove that even girls could do physics or maths. But not every female has the freedom to be who she wants to be. What is your message to them?
Yes, there are places and cultures where females don’t have the same level of freedom and respect that they deserve. My message to them would be to believe in themselves and to work towards gaining the rights they deserve. The best tool for that would be to educate themselves.
You aspire to be a theoretical physicist like your idol Stephen Hawking. Have you thought of any discovery you want to get your hands on? If yes, what is it and why?
Something I would like to discover is ‘what is inside a black hole?’, because currently our science and technology are not capable of this, and I think it would be something interesting to develop in the future.
Nishi posing with the trophy