Omar Kilani, a Year Six pupil in Dubai, had long dreamt of sitting his GCSE maths exams before his 11th birthday.
Two days before the big day, Omar sat the exam, which is typically taken by 16 year olds in Year 11.
When the results were released on Thursday, Omar discovered he had scored an A*.
The feat was even more remarkable because he had been unable to attend a single in-person maths class at Dubai British School Jumeirah Park over the past two years due to Covid restrictions, but continued to study online and with the help of his teacher and his mother.
The Palestinian-Jordanian-American pupil is the youngest to have sat a GCSE maths exam at the school.
“I prepared for this exam for two years and it was very challenging not having in-person classes,” Omar told The National.
“It was my dream to sit my maths GCSE before I turned 11 … I wanted to challenge myself.
“I did not have any in-person classes so my teacher would assign me work and when I would need help, I would message her. Sometimes she would be busy and I would ask my mum for help.”
Due to a bubble system that was in place at the school during the Covid-19 pandemic, Omar could not attend classes in the secondary school while his maths teacher could not teach him in primary school.
And he was unable to sit the mock exam because he was in primary school and was not allowed to mix with secondary school pupils.
In addition, Omar did not have classmates to share his challenges with, instead discussing his workload with his mother.
The school did not have an accelerated learning programme but supported Omar with his dream to take his exam early. Omar would sit in a corner of his classroom while his Year 5 peers took their daily maths lesson, working on separate maths assignments.
“It was very hard to do it myself,” said Omar.
“I could not have in-person classes due to the coronavirus pandemic, so could not meet [classmates] or make friends.
“But, I got an eight, which is equal to an A*. I am happy and excited.
“I was at school when I saw my results and I was very excited and I hugged my mother and my teacher.”
Omar said he had hoped to get a nine but had missed the grade by five points. He said he may send his paper for a remark.
It was his first time sitting a public exam and he described the experience as nerve-racking.
“It was intimidating because everyone was older than me,” he said.
Inspired by his mother
Asked what kept him motivated, he said it was his mother and his determination to make his dream come true.
Omar plans to sit his GCSE physics exams two years early and wishes to do his maths A levels next year or the year after.
In the future, Omar said he wants to venture into entrepreneurship in the realm of maths and science.
Rula Atallah, Omar’s mother and a former banker in the UAE, said his school supported his ambitions in the face of all odds.
“I am extremely proud of my son’s achievement and grateful to God. We are very happy; it’s an excellent grade,” said Ms Atallah.
“My son dreamt this dream when he was nine years old and he never attended any in-person classes. It was all online.
“His teacher would post a video and send him a question on his iPad and when he got stuck, he would either message his teacher or ask me”.
She often raced with Omar to complete a past exam paper to keep challenging him.
Gifted from a young age
Ms Atallah is also a maths whizz, who scored the highest grade in Jordan in A Level Pure and Mechanics Maths as a pupil in 1992.
She said Omar’s three older sisters — Yasmeen, Sereen and Noor — supported their younger brother with his dreams while his younger brother Mohammad was extremely proud of him.
Omar’s talent in maths was discovered by his Year One teacher, Ritu Vasandani, who started giving him extra exercises.
When he was in Year Four, his teacher Louise Kavanagh, head of the Gifted and Talented Team at the school at that time, and Melissa Skilles, head of Inclusion at that time, understood that Omar was getting bored and needed more challenging exercises.
They contacted his parents and put a plan together to help Omar excel. By the second term of Year Four, Omar was attending maths with pupils in Year Six.
“What made results day extra special was being greeted by Ms Falhi, head of primary, who attended specially to support Omar while opening his results envelope,” said Ms Atallah.
“The look of love and pride and the warm hugs from all the teachers made Omar feel much happier. He felt he was among his extended family that loved and supported him right from the beginning and will continue to support him.”