Adding value to learning ascent

Sunday September 23, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2012/9/23/education/12045481&sec=education
OPINION
By VALENTINE CAWLEY

The fast-track plan for high achievers is a good initiative but in doing so, the specific needs of ‘gifted’ children should also be given equal attention.

FOR THE past year, I have lobbied for educational acceleration, for gifted children, on behalf of and with, the National Association for Gifted Children, Malaysia (NAGCM).

Most recently, I spoke up for educational acceleration in a speech at the National Education Dialogue at Shah Alam, Selangor. I seemed to have “struck a chord”, because my short speech attracted rousing applause.

I was pleasantly surprised to find so many people in the audience, supportive of such a gifted education initiative.

http://thestar.com.my/archives/2012/9/23/education/e_pg04gifted.jpg
Now, I learn that the government is going to implement an acceleration programme aimed at “high achievers”. This will involve one year of acceleration at the beginning of primary school and another year, in secondary school.

This will mean that “high achieving” school leavers might be just 16 years old, having had up to two years of acceleration.

Yet, I must note an assumption that has been made. I understand that the initiative is aimed at the top 15% of students who are described as “high achievers”.

The material I have read suggests that this will address the needs of gifted children.

However, what has not been understood, is that gifted children are NOT necessarily high achievers. They are, quite often, in fact, underachievers.

A gifted child may be extraordinarily intelligent — but very ordinary in school performance, or, indeed, below average in school performance, if their needs are not being met.

Boredom

A gifted child, who underachieves, may be doing so out of sheer boredom. An education that does not meet their intellectual needs, will tend to “switch them off”. Such a child will be overlooked by any system that deliberately selects the top 15% of “high achievers”.

What is needed, therefore, is a system that tests all children for evidence of giftedness, or at least, all children that a teacher, or parent, brings to the attention of the educational system, as a potentially gifted child. Once identified, such children could be offered suitable acceleration.

There is another potential pitfall with the proposed system of acceleration: two years of acceleration may be enough for the moderately gifted, or thereabouts (with IQs of 130 or more), but it may not be enough for the more gifted students of significantly greater intellectual endowment.

This scheme, therefore, is a step forward, but may not be enough of a step for a small subset of gifted children.

For them, the possibility of much greater acceleration, may prove necessary. The numbers of children who might need such intervention will always be small, but they should not be ignored.

For this group, the most appropriate response, would be an individual one: a response that matches their exact needs, with an exact intervention.

For some, this would mean a few, or even many years of acceleration, across the board — just how many depends on the profundity of their gifts.

For others, it might not mean acceleration in all subjects at all, but just in one or two subjects. Each case needs to be addressed individually.

Saving money

Acceleration is an educational intervention with one unexpected merit: it could save money. If 15% of children were in the acceleration programme, it would shorten their basic education by two years, from eleven years to just nine. This would mean a reduction in the need for educational resources and teachers of 2.73% across the whole education system.

What this means is that by helping “high achievers” in this way — and hopefully the gifted too — educational resources can be liberated for use on other students.

Thus, educational acceleration is good for everyone in the education system, since it saves money for other students to benefit from.

Some may wonder why the gifted should be placed in an acceleration programme. “Why not stay “top of the class” in one’s own age range?” They think.

What such naysayers do not understand is that the gifts of gifted children need to be nourished, and stimulated, by an appropriately challenging environment.

If they are not, such children “switch off”, underachieve and lose all interest in school.

A child who could have grown into an adult of great contribution to society, becomes instead a dropout, or worse. Let us save our gifted children, from wasting their lives and welcome this acceleration initiative, as the first step towards ensuring that Malaysia’s gifted children get the chance to become the best they can be — for their sakes and ours.

Irishman Valentine Cawley, 44, is a psychology researcher focusing on giftedness. He is also chairman of the Research Committee of the National Association for Gifted Children, Malaysia (NAGCM). He is a graduate in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and has had a lifelong interest in giftedness. He is an author, actor, magazine founder and editor, physicist, teacher and performance artist. He keeps a blog on giftedness at
scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com.

For the gifted

The Australian International School Malaysia (AISM) in partnership with the National Association for Gifted Children Malaysia (NAGCM), will be organising a Gifted Education Conference from 9am to 5pm on Nov 10 at AISM.

The conference will provide parents and educators with resources, tools and opportunities to support gifted children through talks and hands-on workshop sessions showcasing international and local gifted education specialists.

For more information, contact
events@aism.edu.my or call the school’s Marketing Department at 03-8943 0622.

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