I gave a speech, as one member of the panel, at the National Association for Gifted Children, Malaysia (NAGCM) forum, at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) on the 28th April 2012. The forum was entitled: "Fast Track Kids: should acceleration be allowed - for whom and why?"
I was the first speaker, since my speech was designed to introduce the issues. Following me was Ms. Kylie Booker, a gifted education teacher, who is Head of the Middle School at the Australian International School Malaysia. Lastly, Master Lucas Teh spoke, a teenager, who started University, locally, in Malaysia at the age of 15.
The forum was very well received, attracting lots of interested questions from the audience and plenty of interaction with the panel. I do believe it was the most well received forum/talk at NAGCM that I have personally witnessed (and I am not saying that just because I was on the panel!). Seriously, I think the topic "hit a nerve" and was really important to the audience, many of whom were parents of gifted children, or adults who had been gifted children themselves.
The text of my speech has been pasted below. I wrote it late the night before the forum, thinking it would be best to have a prepared speech - so it was written in a very short time frame. Therefore, it might not be perfect - but these are the words I spoke.
The essential problem of giftedness in the
by Valentine Cawley
The modern world is all about equal
opportunity for all. Too often, this is misunderstood to mean the same
opportunity for all. What happens, however, when a child is born, who doesn’t
slot into the one size fits all education models, most countries offer? Too
often, such a child does not, actually, receive an equal opportunity, because
such a child is too often given NO opportunity to reach their potential. So, my
basic view is that children should be given opportunities to match their
potentials. A child of great potential, should be given a different response to
a child of average potential. This is not being unfair. This is actually being
fair to the talents of both types of children.
Sadly, however, my view is not one shared
by governments around the world. Sadly, in fact, governments are busy ensuring
that education comes in one cookie cutter variety that is supposed to suit all.
This is most dangerous to gifted children, since it cannot possibly meet their
There is another problem. Every education
system has budget limitations. It is difficult for them to meet the full needs
of ordinary children – how, then to meet the needs of a few special ones, too?
In most cases, this is considered impractical, so nothing is done, at all. The
gifted children are left to suffer, often excruciating boredom, in the
mainstream. Their talents are ignored and their gifts wasted. Education systems
generally judge that it is not possible for them to run multiple systems to
respond to multiple types of kid, with different intelligence levels – for the
moderately gifted, highly gifted, exceptionally gifted and profoundly gifted
are all different from each other in their respective needs and abilities.
There is a much greater difference between a profoundly gifted child and a
highly gifted child, than between a moderately gifted child and an average
child. This is too often forgotten. Yet, those education systems that are aware
of it think, like Singapore did for our son, that it is too “resource
intensive” to do anything about it.
Yet, there is a cost effective answer to
this problem. It is an answer that doesn’t require education authorities to
spend a single dollar more, than doing nothing at all. That answer is
Quite simply, acceleration means allowing a
child who is younger than the typical age of a class, to join that class,
either for isolated subjects, or a whole year. It can mean as moderate an
intervention as skipping a year – or a major one like having a primary school
kid in tertiary education. In all cases, there is no real additional cost to
the system, for allowing this. Yet, it affords the gifted child an opportunity
to study at a more appropriate level. It is, therefore, an ideal basic form of
educational intervention in the lives of gifted children. It costs nothing, yet
has definite benefits to the children so accelerated. Perhaps for the first
time in their educational lives, such children may be exposed to material that is
sufficiently challenging to interest them. This is a great boon for children
who find age lockstep education interminably boring.
Research by Miraca Gross of the University
of New South Wales gifted programme, Gerric, has shown that gifted children who
are accelerated are better adjusted socially than gifted children who are held
back in age lockstep classes. So, the argument that gifted kids should be held
back, for social reasons, doesn’t hold water – in fact, it is dangerously
So, acceleration is beneficial and free for
education systems. But what happens in practice?
I would like at this point, to speak of our
own experience of acceleration.
Our son, Ainan showed very early scientific
promise. He passed O level Chemistry at 7 years and 1 month. So, we expected
that the Singaporean education system would allow him to accelerate. However,
the response was not what we expected. Ainan was offered one hour a week at a
High School in Singapore, for Chemistry, at a level he had already covered. They
wouldn’t offer him the only thing we were asking for, which was practical
classes – and they wouldn’t give him more than one hour a week. Eventually we
managed to get six practical classes out of them. But that was it.
We asked them if he could audit other
courses like Maths, at a higher level, because he had shown interest and it was
necessary to balance his Chemistry, but they refused, saying he had only proven
himself in Chemistry. They wouldn’t even let him sit on a class.
Note throughout this period we were forced
to send him to Primary School, on pain of a fine and imprisonment if we didn’t.
This was despite the fact that he found primary school a torture beyond belief,
so boring was it for him. Yet, there was nothing we could do.
We asked for permission to home school him
– but that permission never came. Every time I wrote to them, they would write
back saying “We will revert to you, shortly” – but they never did. Months would
pass, and I would write to them again – only to receive the same delay tactic
reply. Finally, I got to speak to someone in the Compulsory Education
Department, which is an oddly named place, for securing homeschooling
permission. She would only say: “I cannot give you an answer”.
It was frustrating. So we began to make our
own arrangements. It took us 22 months, from the moment we first started
looking for a practical class for him, but we found them at Singapore
Polytechnic, under his mentor Dr. Ng Kok Chin, who has since sadly passed away
of a brain tumour. It shouldn’t have taken so long – but it was a good
experience for Ainan.
Note that the educational system did not
and would not make this arrangement for us. We had to make it ourselves and it
took 22 months of knocking on doors to make it happen. That is a ridiculous
waste of time in a young boy’s life and growth. So, the resistance to
acceleration, in Singapore, had a really stultifying effect on Ainan’s growth.
They basically held him back for almost two years.
That being said, Ainan passed O level
Physics and AS level Chemistry in this time, by studying at home.
When Dr. Ng Kok Chin fell ill, Singapore
Polytechnic withdrew its support of Ainan. So, it was clear where the support
from him had come. Now, Dr. Ng Kok Chin was a Malaysian born Chinese man. That
gave us a clue that perhaps Ainan would be better supported in Malaysia. So, we
contacted the NAGCM President Zuhairah Ali and asked for her help in securing a
University for Ainan. In very short order, she secured Ainan a place and a
scholarship at a Malaysian University and we decided to emigrate to support
So, here we are now, two years later, and
Ainan is enjoying his American Degree Programme at Taylor’s University. Despite
Singapore’s belief that he would only be able to handle Chemistry, he has also
studied and secured qualifications in Physics, Biology, Economics, Maths,
Computer Programming, Computer Animation, English and History as well. So he
has become a very well rounded person. In his spare time, he composes music,
plays the piano, enjoys computer games, reads humorous books, and most all,
plays with his two younger brothers. He is so much richer an individual than
Singapore was allowing him to be...and all because we struggled with the
system, to secure him educational acceleration.
What would have happened had he not been
He would have become completely bored with
education, switched off entirely and become a kind of dropout. He would have
seemed to have failed – but what really would have happened is that the
education system would have failed, not him.
We saved Ainan from this fate, by battling
very hard to secure what he needed. Yet, it shouldn’t be a battle. I believe
that educational acceleration should be the right of every gifted child who
needs it. It should be automatic. It should not need to be fought for. It
should be there, for the taking.
Save our gifted kids, from wasting their
talents. Allow them to be accelerated appropriately, everywhere in the world.
That is the most economical answer as to how to educate gifted kids. Every
country can do this, since it costs no more than the education system already
So, I would urge the educational
authorities to have a flexible approach to the needs of gifted children and to
permit acceleration whenever it is necessary. It costs nothing, yet the pay off
can be huge. So, accelerate our gifted kids, please!
Posted by Valentine Cawley
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