DUBAI // A week before the Grade 12 Indian board examinations, the world's highest achiever, Rohan Sampath, dared to take up the task of organising an international debate competition at his school.
Despite the distractions, the Science pupil received a 99.5 per cent in the Indian School Certificate (ISC) exams, making him not only the highest scorer this year but also the first pupil to achieve the score in the history of the examinations, it was confirmed yesterday.
"We had to organise the Modern World Debates which had teams coming in from the UK, Qatar, India and Singapore," said the pupil who studied at Dubai Modern High School. "It may have taken off a few marks here and there but that really does not bother me. Though, at the time, it was a cause of some anxiety to my parents."
Outside of India, the ISC examinations are taken in schools in Indonesia, Singapore, Bhutan, Yemen and the UAE. This year more than 100,000 pupils sat the exams.
The ISC is considered as a more stringent and rounded approach to education than the Central Board of Secondary Education curriculum prescribed by Delhi.
It is also the only qualification from India that does not require pupils to take additional A-level courses or bridging programmes needed to enter several international universities.
Rohan scored 100 per cent in mathematics, physics and computer science and 98 per cent in chemistry and English.
Since his position was confirmed on Saturday, the phones in the Sampath household have been ringing off the hook.
Sandhya, his mother, said all their well wishers have only one question: "How did he do it?"
"I think we always knew he would be at the top in school, but of course being at the top globally, that's a different feeling," she said.
"However I think I was more elated when he got the Stanford offer in March.
"When it comes to academics I think intelligence plays a role. But Rohan has always being focused in class and has had dedicated teachers. What he should be credited for is doing all of it without giving in to private coaching, which is often the norm among Indian families here."
She admits she would get jittery when he took on a lot of activities at school. "I would wonder, how will he manage without private tuitions, and would the school lessons be enough?"
However, Rohan says after-school classes "would have been an insult to my school teachers".
The family has not yet had a quiet moment to reflect on his success as Rohan spent the day giving talks to his juniors at school yesterday.
"I have become a small celebrity. It is quite embarrassing," said the 17-year-old who considers this the happiest moment of his life after the birth of his brother.
"I wasn't planning to, but ended up giving talks to the Grade 11 and 12 students. Academics was only a small part of my conversation, it was more about how to manage time and study smart. Focus on at least one or two extra-curricular activities as well."
He said his involvement in activities outside class is what eased the stress during the examinations.
"Grade 11 and 12 can be really tiring and the time spent in swimming was what kept me motivated throughout the day. If I hadn't being doing that or debating I wouldn't be as focused in the schoolwork either."
Rohan was the president of the Modern Debating Society at school and represented the UAE at the World School Debating Championships in Scotland, last year. The team came fifth out of 48 schools.
Grant Smith, founder and coach of the UAE Debate Federation, said Rohan displayed a broad knowledge of current affairs, "beyond what academics taught him".
"A very sharp young man, someone who can think on his feet," the coach said.
His ability to balance academics and personal interests has won Rohan a place at Stanford University in the US, where he starts in September.
"I don't have to immediately decide on majors but I am looking at engineering and economics in equal measure," he said.
"But the big picture for me is to make a difference in the world, and that could either be through innovation and entrepreneurship or making policy for organisations like the UN."