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Educational changes needed to realize talented children’s potential

Author  :  Zhou Xiaohong     Source  :    Chinese Social Science Digest     2014-07-18

Geniuses are undoubtedly outstanding in terms of intelligence, creativity and imagination, but more troubling signs including eccentricity and even manic depression can lurk beneath their superior intellect.

Geniuses deemed “mad” or “eccentric” are difficult for many people to accept in daily life. But when the same traits are exhibited by gifted children in an educational environment, it can be even more challenging for them and others to cope.

There isn’t adequate room for gifted children who display bizarre behavior or even manic depression to develop within China’s current education system. They are instead constantly disciplined and forced to conform to their surrounds just as ordinary students, leading them to lose their creativity and innovation or slip deeper into the depths of mental illness.

Ning Bo, Xie Yanbo and Gan Zheng are three prodigies who dropped out of the Special Class for the Gifted Young at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC). Their cases indicate that not all gifted children can become geniuses. Indeed, some cannot even graduate like their ordinary peers.

Almost every year a few “problem students” drop out of the special class at USTC. A former teacher of the special class wrote in an article that many students encounter mental barriers. The teacher emphasized the importance of ensuring gifted children’s mental well-being, claiming that a real genius must be of a sound mind.

But whatever becomes of the once touted “prodigies” and “geniuses” who fail to adapt to the education system and fade from the spotlight?

We can learn a lot from the education models for gifted children in Western countries and South Korea, which cater more comprehensively to the needs of children based on their talents. Whether they are teenagers of staggering intelligence or preadolescents with non-academic talents, gifted children aren’t shunned even if they display eccentric behavior or signs of mental illness.

Instead, education systems in many of these countries promote students’ talents and individual development in a long-term, sustainable manner. Under the principle of diversification, they stress that every gifted child should be educated according to their needs. Identification of gifted children is also conducted based on long-term observation and facts rather than simple inference.

Accordingly, the following aspects should be noted in the development of China’s education of gifted children.

Firstly, methods of identifying gifted children must be improved. Currently, many of China’s gifted children have had restricted educational development because they are primarily identified based on their grades.

The US Department of Education proposed six criteria in 1972 for identifying gifted children, namely superior intelligence, specific learning aptitude, creative thinking, leadership skills, visual and performing arts talents and psychomotor ability. Children who excel or show great potential in any of the six criteria can be regarded as “gifted” regardless of their personality traits.

European countries generally rely on creativity tests, in-class assessments, teacher or expert recommendations, intelligence tests and grade tests to identify gifted children.

China's gifted children have their own characteristics due to differences in culture, politics and economics between China and Western countries.

When identifying China's gifted children, we should therefore take their background into consideration in regards to culture, religion, language and communication methods to learn from the advanced Western experience.

Secondly, the government should advocate and strongly support education of gifted children. The US Department of Education founded the Education Bureau for Gifted Children in 1972. It later issued a series of laws, such as the Gifted and Talented Children’s Education Act (1978), and funded development of their education.

In Britain, the National Gifted Children Association was founded in 1974. It funds implementation of the country’s education of gifted children.

Thirdly, the government should offer legal protection for the education of gifted children. To ensure healthy development of different personalities and characteristics, the government should do more than just allocate funding and establish related institutions. It should also issue related laws and regulations to guarantee the further sustainable development of education of gifted children.

The US has not only formulated specific and detailed regulations, but has also offered guarantees for education of gifted children. The Philippines enacted an agreement on education of gifted children into law in 1987. South Korea has also followed suit with its Gifted Education Act (2002).

However, China still lacks specific laws, regulations and government departments geared at developing education of gifted children.

Fourthly, a more open educational system should be established. In order to promote China’s education of gifted children, we must set up educational organizations and institutions that satisfy children’s requirements in terms of personality development at mainstream and special schools for gifted children.

Fifthly, greater importance should be attached to curriculum and teacher training. The implementation of talent education requires different courses, teaching plans suited to different students and high-level teachers with broad horizons. South Korea emphasizes teacher qualifications and team unity in its efforts to promote education of gifted children.

Gifted children can be sensitive, impulsive, melancholy and even manic depressive. In advancing their education, we should not castigate their unusual behavior or force them to become “perfect teenagers” in the eyes of society. Education of gifted children requires tolerance, care and guidance to harness their talents and help realize their full potential.

 

 

The author is from the School of Education Administration of Beijing Normal University.

 

 

Translated by Yu Hui

Revised by Tom Fearon

Editor: Chen Meina

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