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PERMATApintar hopefuls who sat the UKM Test 1 this year.
PERMATApintar students take a breather while at the recent Dunman High Model Asean Plus Summit in Singapore.

ROZANA SANI [email protected]

FULFILLING POTENTIAL: Gifted and talented children have educational needs that are different from other scholars. The country’s PERMATApintar Programmes identify and select the cream of the estimated 350,000 such children to groom them into a pool of talents that the nation can tap into

ROZANA SANI

[email protected]

WITHIN the sprawling Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) campus in Bangi, Selangor, there is a school not many are aware of. At first glance, it looks like one of the many typical government boarding schools around the country — their classrooms and dormitories occupied by students who reside there during a school term.

But the similarity ends there.

Pusat PERMATApintar Negara is no ordinary school. It is the only Centre of Excellence in the country tasked with identifying gifted and talented children, and giving them opportunities to develop their potential.

Conceptualised in 2007, the centre began operations in 2011 and it currently manages Program Perkhemahan Cuti Sekolah UKM-CTY (Johns Hopkins University-Centre for Talented Youth or JHU-CTY), the high school programme known as Kolej PERMATApintar and its pre-university programme ASASIPintar under UKM in addition to identifying gifted students.

Students, who take part in the PERMATAPintar programmes and attend the PERMATAPintar Centre, have an IQ range from above 130 up to 158. Two sets of online IQ tests — UKM Test 1 and UKM Test 2 — assess the candidates’ mental age before a selection of students is made. The candidates’ mental age must be at least three levels higher than their chronological age.

Centre director Professor Datuk Dr Noriah Mohd Ishak said: “Students who come here are not necessarily straight A scholars, they have educational needs that are different from other children. Although the current educational system was designed to fulfil the needs of the majority of schoolchildren, it does not necessarily meet the requirements of gifted and talented children. Consequently, many of these students do not seem to be able to stand out and are usually unable to perform well in national exams like UPSR, PMR and SPM; some are school dropouts.”

She added: “Some of those who come from well-to-do families have opted to study abroad to develop their potential and enjoy a much more enriching educational experience.”

The youngest student at Kolej PERMATApintar is a 11-year-old who attends Foundation 1 (Form 1).

The students’ natural talents are nurtured by a suitable system of learning that enhances their potential via a comprehensive and holistic high school education programme. The curriculum has six components, which include international languages, scientific projects, citizenship and co-curriculum activities, specifically designed to develop not only academic ability, but also enhance creativity and innovation. This learning approach provides a student with a more challenging mode of study, befitting the child’s intellect, while enabling a shorter route to pursue tertiary education.

To date, more than one million students aged between 9 and 15 have sat the UKM Test 1 and more than 30,000 have taken UKM Test 2. More than 3,000 students have participated in Program Perkhemahan Cuti Sekolah and 489 students have enrolled for the high school programme. As of this year, 241 students have graduated from the high school course.

START OF THE JOURNEY

When tasked with the setting up of the centre in 2007, Noriah travelled to various countries to look at their respective programmes for gifted children.

“I came back overwhelmed and took some time to ponder on what to do next,” said the counselling psychologist whose first degree was in mathematics. Noriah promptly went back to school to better understand how to work with gifted children.

She also took time to vet the various curricula in high schools around the world such as the International General Certificate of Secondary Education and International Baccalaureate programme to gauge what would best suit the PERMATAPintar programmes.

“After looking into the cost factor of using an established curriculum, we decided to create our own and make it such that those who have gone through it will be accepted at the top universities in the world, without having to sit national exams like the SPM.

“It was a risky move but it worked. Holders of our unique High School Diploma have been accepted at the top 50 universities in the US such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, Yale and Princeton. In the UK, our graduates are making inroads into Loughborough and Warwick, and we intend to have them accepted into Oxford and Cambridge too,” said Noriah, adding that students as young as 15 have gained placements in renowned universities.

Next on the cards is to place students in top universities in Europe and Australia.

As for teaching staff, UKM sent 14 lecturers from the various faculties (Engineering, Social Science and Education) to the Educational Institute at JHU-CTY for one month of training on gifted education. Upon their return, the lecturers trained 45 school teachers to conduct an enrichment programme for gifted Malaysian students.

“We use a differentiated approach to teaching and learning according to the ability of each student — those who are advanced are tasked to do their own research into a certain topic, some do group work and discussion, and others attend traditional classes by the teacher.

“But at the end of the day, everyone comes back to class where each group contributes and shares what it has discovered. We always experiment to discover the best method to help the children.”

Students are encouraged to pursue a field of their interest through research work.

“They have to prepare research proposals and submit them to the respective professors on campus and ask them for their input. The professors give guidance but at the end of the day, it’s up to the students what they want to do. Research is 10 per cent of the total assessment.”

BEYOND ACADEMICS

Other than academics, students also take part in non-academic activities of the PERMATApintar Global Outreach Programme. Aimed at providing a different approach to learning, the programme encompasses many activities including student exchange programmes with gifted schools around the world, conferences and seminars on research and innovation, summer/volunteer camps in the UK, US and Europe, leadership summits, robotic competitions and benchmarking courses.

In February, students Nadia Athirah Ahmad Nazair and Rizq Afzareen Afdlin Rozaidi attended the Sir Karl Popper Shule in Vienna, Austria for one month. In May, Abul Munzeer Mohd Isa, Ahmad Nur Afieq Idrus and Muhammad Hisyam Saiful Hakimi attended a Volunteer Work Camp at Marburg, Germany for two weeks.

Students Karthigeyan Mohhan, Manesha Thiyagarajan and Rowenna Renee Rigen attended the same work camp at the end of June. The aims of this camp are twofold: develop citizens of the world who are sensitive to their living environment and the well-being of others, and learn German by immersing in German culture.

Students Rahazimah Al Zahrah Abu Bakar Sadiqin, Kasdi Nata Sujono, Mohd Firdaus Yaacob, Arathi Jeyaratnam, Athira Nair Surendran and Karthigeyan Mohhan attended the Dunman High Model Asean Plus Summit, which was held in June in Singapore. They took part in debates, quizzes, elocutions and round-table discussions during the five-day event. Rahazimah won the Verbal Recommendation Award.

Ng Yew Yang attended the Kingdom Education Summer Programme at Oxford and York University, UK last month. Apart from that, PERMATApintar students Amir Fikri Abdul Khalil, Izzat Zuhailee Abd Hamid, Nur Alia Mohd Meliki, Mohamad Danial Mohd Firdaus, Muhammad Farhan Roslan and Nur Hanisah Ismail, together with the centre’s biology instructor, Ong Sy Ing participated in the 28th Caretakers of the Environment International Conference in Yilan, Taiwan also in July.

Students Achmad Bakhtiar Yuni and Inderjit Kaur Manjit Singh are currently taking part in the London International Youth Science Forum in England.

“Our vision is to nurture balanced, gifted and talented individuals with inquisitive minds who contribute as world leaders, thinkers, innovators and humanitarians. Our mission is to be a fountain of inspiration for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Programme and Research in Gifted and Talented Education,” said Noriah.

WHAT NEXT

Having proven that the PERMATApintar curriculum is a success, Noriah and the PERMATApintar team are more than ready to help roll it out beyond the centre.

“One centre can’t do it alone in terms of helping the gifted and talented bloom and reach their potential. And to build such a centre is expensive. We are helping the Education Ministry to coach teachers on gifted and talented education. We are now building a programme for teachers so that they can come and learn,” said Noriah said, adding that PERMATApintar is in the midst of copyrighting its curriculum.

Noriah’s wish is for PERMATApintar to produce a Nobel laureate. PERMATApintar’s participation in the Nobelist Mindset Programme, a project under the Global Science and Advisory Council — a Cradle to Career Initiative championed by UKM — is a step towards this goal.

UKM in collaboration with The New York Academy of Sciences and the Higher Education Ministry with the support of MIGHT organised the first Nobelist Mindset Workshop at Pusat PERMATApintar Negara, UKM Bangi in January last year. Some 11 trainers from the New York Academy of Sciences, 80 students and 20 teachers from various schools, and 20 young scientists from mostly local research universities participated in the workshop. This year the workshop will be held in the US in mid-September and a few PERMATApintar students will be involved.

“As a preparation to become a developed nation, Malaysia needs scientists, technocrats, thinkers, and Nobel laureates who, we hope, will be able to help the country face future challenges that are unforseen by many members of the society today. May some PERMATApintar graduates become those individuals,” Noriah said.

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