Fifteen subjects. Twelve grade ones. Ten distinctions. Three grade twos. These were the impressive numbers put up by 16-year-old Ravindra Mangar at this year’s Caribbean Examination Council /Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CXC/CSEC) exams. It’s a feat made all the more remarkable by virtue of the fact that heading into secondary school, the Augier, Vieux-Fort product had no idea the exams even existed!
“At common entrance I got 88% and that earned me 42nd place on the island. I came second in my school overall and first for the boys. After that I came to St Mary’s College. I had no clue about CXC actually. I didn’t know what exams you did after exiting secondary school,” Mangar revealed.
He explained that as a student growing up and attending the Plainview Combined School, his focus was on excelling but not necessarily smashing the status quo.
“You always want to do well at school. At primary school level you never thought anything much. You know you did well but it didn’t mean much to you. I guess academics was important but the importance didn’t really hit you until secondary school or at least grade 6 when you have to write common entrance.”
Mangar’s vision expanded in the summer leading up to his secondary education, after indulging in a few computer classes to pass the time. Following the recommendation of his instructor, he wrote his first subject in Form 2, earning a grade two in information technology. The young phenom was off and running.
“From Form 2 up until Form 4 I kept doing subjects. In Form 2 I did IT, Form 3 I did math and HSB (Human and Social Biology) just to see how I could challenge myself. Form 4 I did additional math, Biology, IS (Integrated Science), and Electricity. Those subjects I did earlier I really had a passion for them, especially additional math and Electricity. The whole reason I did additional math was that since I did math in Form 3 the teachers thought it was kind of boring for me to be there. Additional math is like First Year A Level math or Unit One CAPE math.”
It was a mix of sacrifice and determination, with Mangar often returning to his home late in the evenings thanks to after school lessons, even on a Sunday. But it led to huge payoffs.
Just before entering his final year at SMC, Mangar sent in an application to a student science and engineering program aimed at sourcing the most scientific adolescent minds in the Caribbean.
“I got accepted and it was modelled after an MIT(Massachusetts Institute of Technology) program and we had a professor there who taught us, mentored us and so on. They made us live at UWI for a month so we get a taste of college life and we also did a college course in biochemistry. I was placed in the advanced calculus class because I did additional math. So I was actually the youngest person there. I was the second youngest person in all. We did CAPE Physics and so on.”
This led to further opportunities when a professor from the University of South Florida sent an email to the participants suggesting they consider submitting an entry to the Sagicor Visionaries Challenge, sponsored by CXC, Sagicor, and the Caribbean Science Foundation. Mangar needed no prodding.
“I submitted a project mentored by Cardinal Ward, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT, and in May participants from all the English speaking Caribbean countries went to Barbados for three days where we competed. Each of us basically had an idea to make our communities, our islands, or our schools sustainable and help improve it. I didn’t place first but my project was dubbed the most innovative. It was a science fair project that I entered in the National Science Fair in Form 3 and it was designed to help persons who are visually impaired navigate around the environment.”
The prize was a seven day trip to Tampa where the budding scientist got to visit the Museum of Science and History as well as NASA.
Now back from his whirlwind summer, Mangar is currently getting acclimated to his new surroundings on the campus of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College where he is studying Physics, Chemistry and Pure Mathematics. But Mangar is more than an academic and he is looking forward to indulging in some treasured pastimes.
“I like cricket very much. I made the St Mary’s College cricket team in Form 4. When I was in primary school I used to play tennis. I won a tournament once. I actually really want to start again. So probably while I’m here, since I have a little extra time, I’ll want to do that but I’m trying to do SAT classes as well so it’s trying to balance that off now. Right now I’m just trying to settle in. I actually live on my own now with a friend. So instead of travelling we live around the area. Probably next week I’ll see what the campus has to offer. Take advantage of that. But I really want to start playing tennis again.”
Wait. Sixteen and on your own?
“My dad really supports independence. He believes that I am old enough to make my own decisions. Here you come across children who do subjects that their parents want them to do but my dad really values that I do subjects that I’m really interested in. Because it doesn’t make sense to do something you don’t have a drive for.”
But there is one thing he misses despite his newfound freedom.
“The cooking,” he laughs. “And laundry,” he sighs. “Today is actually laundry day.”
Besides his teacher dad, Mangar counts his mom as an inspiration. He also keeps in close contact with fellow CXC superstars and SMC brothers Jannickae Wilson and Dajr Alfred.
Keeping true to their fraternity, the boys created a group with a shared password, uploading past papers and offering solutions to those who encountered difficulties.
“Part of it was bent on beating Convent,” admits Mangar, “but we also want the best results for each other as well. We don’t want to see our friends fail and know that we could have actually helped them do better.”
So what’s next for the wunderkind?
“As a child I fancied aeronautical engineering. But lately it’s deviated a bit. I know I want to do something with the three subjects I am studying: Physics, Chemistry, and Pure Math. Probably a field of engineering but I’m not too sure. Maybe electrical or so on.”
Mangar also has his sights set on the island scholarship and his chances look good. At least by virtue of geography. Two students who live less than seven houses from his southern home have already taken the coveted title. MIT is his dream school.
But for now there’s only one thing on the teenager’s mind: that pesky laundry!