Sunday April 1, 2007
Meeting the needs of gifted children
All children have a right to education but is enough being done to help those who are gifted realise their full potential?
AT 23 months, B was already proficient in navigating the World Wide Web.
“She is completely independent on the computer,” says her mother Minni.
Her giftedness comes through in many ways – from her drawings, conversation and even the complex jigsaw puzzles that she puts together independently.
“She can even remember where I parked the car, and what the number of the pillar is,’’ says Minni of B, who is now 29 months old.
A big group
Giftedness is most frequently identified as scoring at or above the 98th percentile on standardised intelligence tests.
This means that 2% of the population is potentially gifted, which translates to half a million Malaysians.
A gifted child is someone who shows an exceptional level of performance in one or more areas of expression.
Gifted people are typically identified based on their Intelligence Quotient (IQ) although this may not be evident in some forms of giftedness, such as musical or artistic ability.
According to author Jane Franklin Smutny, gifted children have advanced intellectual ability, a high degree of creativity and heightened sensibilities. They are usually advanced readers, have precise memories, think logically and critically, are curious and like to ask questions constantly.
Currently, there is no specific programme within the national education system to identify and develop gifted children.
There is hardly any mention of gifted children in the Ninth Malaysia Plan or the Education Ministry’s latest policy document – the National Education Blueprint 2006-2010.
The seven-year-old maths whiz found it difficult to adjust to the normal curriculum and was bored and unhappy in school.
This is a situation faced by many gifted children in our “one size fits all” system.
Many parents decide to home-school their gifted child as they feel this option provides sufficient intellectual stimulation while catering for their emotional as well as individual needs.
Last year, the National Association for Gifted Children Malaysia (NAGCM), a non-governmental organisation, held a forum to discuss the issues affecting gifted kids.
At the forum, it asked the Education Ministry to:
Every child, says NAGCM committee member Zuhairah Ali, deserves to be educated to his full potential.
“We want gifted children to be able to access an education that meets their needs. Currently, the Malaysian classroom does not cater to diverse learning styles.”
Zuhairah also emphasises the importance of recognising that children develop at different rates.
“When the needs of each child are considered and the educational programme is designed to meet these needs, the child can make significant gains in achievement and his well-being is enhanced.”
The present system
The national educational philosophy states that education is the total development of a child – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
While there are provisions in the current system for children who suffer from learning disabilities, the needs of gifted children have been largely ignored.
Zuhairah says that this is partly because of the fallacy that such children can flourish in any educational system.
She is hopeful that the recently mooted cluster of excellent schools concept will help gifted children realise their full potential.
“With increased autonomy given to schools, specialised programmes can be drawn up to develop gifted children's intellectual potential while providing a suitable environment that allows them to grow emotionally and socially,” says Zuhairah.
Legally, primary education, which starts the year a child turns six, is compulsory by virtue of Section 29 of the Education Act 1996.
Section 143 provides for exemptions “either absolutely or subject to such conditions as (the Minister) may think fit to impose...”
The last experiment with accelerated learning was the Penilaian Tahap Satu, which enabled bright Year Three children to go direct to Year Five.
The PTS was later abolished, partly due to evidence that those who skipped a grade had not done as well as expected in the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah.
Parents who opt to home-school their children say they do so mainly because their children’s developmental needs are not being met in the conventional system.
The more flexible home-schooling system allows gifted children, often self-guided learners, to follow a less structured style of learning and determine what, when and how they learn.
Most parents use overseas curricula and programmes when home-schooling. The Internet has made this option even more viable.
Patricia Goh* has a nine-year old daughter, Sarah* whom she home-schools.
“She’s never been to school and never wanted to go to school.”
“There is no typical day. Sometimes, she draws for two days, then she plays music. Basically, she does anything she feels like doing,’’ says Goh, who describes Sarah as hyperactive.
Rani*, whose 12-year-old has never been to school, says, “Kindergarten put him off school as he was constantly scolded for asking too many questions and not doing as he was told.
“He could read fluently by the age of three, and being bored, he often got into trouble.”
Rani adds that many parents of gifted children are in the dark as to how to help their children since there are no resources or reference points in Malaysia.
“It is frustrating not having any guidance and help and not knowing what to do.”
Parent Robert Lam* says the Government needs to recognise that the developmental needs of gifted children are very different.
He sent his son to a regular school but gave up as the child was miserable and not socialising with his peers.
“The teacher said he was always dreaming in class. My son told me that he didn’t want to learn what was taught in school and that school was of no use to him.”
Lam says his son now has opportunities to mix with his intellectual peers, who understand him because “they are like him.”
* Names have been changed. To obtain more information, go to