We must do better for gifted children

11 December 2016 @ 2:15 PM

MANY people believe that gifted children are the last to require nurturing and additional resources. They find the concept of gifted and talented children to be “problematic”, often associating them with parents who have had high levels of education. They wrongly believe that high educational achievements are due to wealth and privilege. In reality, online tests and analyses under the PERMATApintar programme have revealed that those who perform well include young Malaysians from places that educators did not even know exist. Many participants have succeeded in furthering their tertiary education locally and abroad.

Prestigious universities, such as Oxford, Cambridge and Stanford, have accepted the enrolment of some of these gifted children. Additionally, more than 60 per cent of the children in PERMATA’s early education programme are from rural areas and low-income families, say educators involved in the project. Only the ill-informed would criticise such programmes as elitist, say the educators, adding that being gifted is not dependent on one’s creed, colour or class. The move to expand education for the gifted, a recent development in the country, is gradually gaining momentum. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) launched the PERMATApintar programme and school holiday camp in 2009, with the aim of identifying and accommodating the learning needs of gifted children. The Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 by the Education Ministry has outlined long-term plans to provide support and implement programmes for gifted children. Statistics have shown that of every 100 children, at least two can be classified as being highly intellectual or creative, or have increased social abilities. Gifted individuals learn quickly. As infants, they pass the first milestones rapidly, talking and learning to read even before starting their formal education. They have a thirst for knowledge relating to unusual subjects and ask many questions to quench their insatiable curiosity. The PERMATApintar programme has, since its inception, identified 5,600 gifted children. The children have undergone enrichment and school holiday programmes that offer courses such as cryptology, biotechnology and inductive-deductive mathematics, among others. Some have qualified for enrolment in the high school programme through the PERMATApintar College at UKM, and 415 graduates of the college are studying in institutions of higher learning in Malaysia and overseas. There are those who enrolled in university at 15.

Discussions on gifted children would be incomplete without the debunking of some myths, one of them being, such children do not need help as they are beyond smart. Educators say this is a wrong way of viewing the matter. The truth is, gifted children are not gifted in every way. While they may be able to understand a book on a difficult subject, they may not be able to write well. Gifted students, like their “average” peers, need help in various ways, such as selecting a course of study or choosing a career. The education system must do more to identify gifted children, especially those from low-income families. Properly trained teachers can make a difference in spotting these children and giving them extra attention. There is a lot to be done, but first thing’s first: educators and the Education Ministry need to better understand the socio-emotional needs of gifted children.

Need to debunk myth that highly intelligent and talented kids don’t need our help