Hong Kong Baptist University's recent decision to admit the nine-year-old prodigy, March Tian Boedihardjo into a five-year undergraduate and master program in mathematics triggered a debate in the media and academic circles on whether grade skipping augurs well for highly talented children.
A child enters our lives with many hopes and dreams. Children born with exceptional talent are capable of doing amazing things. The mental capacity of these children is mind-boggling. They are a source of boundless joy not only to their parents but also to the schools. But, grooming and guiding them is an enormous task.
Parents as well as educators must recognize the truth in Francis Bacon's famous saying: "Knowledge is power". Talented children are not the only ones who need to confront and construct knowledge, parents and teachers must also learn and grow in their knowledge and expertise to groom and guide these gifted children.
Children have many strengths and it is the responsibility of both parents and teachers to attend to the potential and promise in all children. And for the gifted ones, teachers must have the necessary training. Their challenge is how best they can serve these super-bright children.
Parents of gifted children face a tough challenge. Once they are aware of their kids' amazing ability, their expectations reach sky-high. And they tend to force these children to achieve success much faster.
But, possessing a high IQ only is not sufficient to be successful in life, what is equally important is emotional quotient. The mental enrichment of children takes place at home, in schools, on athletic fields, in community clubs, churches, museums, theaters, and other potentially stimulating locales. So what is also important is how capable these kids are in emotional adjustment.
Gifted children, when put in advanced classes, tend to face behavioral problems in interacting with adults. Striking a balance between academic achievement and social adjustment, therefore, will help them realize their potential.
Parents must remember that forcing these kids into achieving things faster may prove fatal and they may run out of steam early. Parents must prepare these kids for a lifelong love of challenge and learning which will give them confidence to make decisions about what interests them and, eventually, what they want to do with their infinite mental capacity.
Parents and educators must strike a balance between nurturing specific talent strengths and creating well-rounded individuals. They must also help young children to identify and run with their strengths, for it takes time, commitment, and hard work to develop talents to their fullest.
Also, we should not force young children into one particular area, but rather let them explore and allow their talents to unfold naturally. The ancient Greeks emphasized the "golden mean", where the truly talented individual was seen as having interests and abilities in a variety of domains. Early overspecialization in a single realm can be limiting, and cause other talents to be overlooked.
Give the talented kid the most important gift we have - time. It would be a great mistake if we expect too much too soon. Let the kid do things at his or her own pace.
Childhood is the best time in one's life. Einstein said he would always like to remain as a child. By allowing the gifted children to skip grades and to put them in a grueling schedule, parents must not let them miss the joys of childhood. Let these "beautiful minds" have fun and enjoy the bliss of childhood in their pursuit of knowledge. This will help them grow up to be a complete individual in life.
(China Daily September 19, 2007)