Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang - Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong
in Petaling Jaya
on Sunday, 26 January 1997

Education Ministry should urgently set up a Department for Gifted Children to fully develop the talents and abilities of 300,000 gifted children not only for their own sake but also for the larger national good

The admission by the Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak that the government had no experience in the management and education of gifted children is honest but nonetheless reflects a serious omission in the country’s education policy and strategy.

While admitting that a policy may have to be drafted to enable gifted children to complete their schooling in shorter time than other students, Najib said the government finds it difficult to cater to the needs of gifted children because it has to meet its overall responsibility to the masses.

It is wrong however to regard the question of education for gifted children as an issue of excellence versus equality, as it is now increasingly recognised world-wide that the gifted and talented require differentiated educational programmes in order to realise their contribution to self and society. Just as the under-achievers require special help, the gifted and talented have special needs which must be catered to as well.

The issue of education for gifted children should not be seen solely from the standpoint of allowing them to complete their schooling in a shorter time than other students. It is also wrong to mix up the two concepts of education for gifted children and “smart schools”, as the latter is basically about introducing information technology to education.

It is an important first step however for the government to admit that it had very little experience or knowledge on the issue of education for gifted children. We must also have the humility to admit that the country had done itself a great disservice in neglecting the special needs of the gifted and talented children in our schools and and be prepared to have the will to make up for the lost ground and time by learning from the large body of knowledge and experience in this field in other countries.

Utusan Malaysia yesterday reported a case of a gifted child in the early eighties, Mohd. Shukri Hadafi, but who is now reported to be working as a roti canai seller in Kedah after he was unable to proceed for tertiary studies because of financial difficulties of his family.

Ketua Unit Kaunseling dan Pengembangan Kerjaya Universiti Malaya, Mohd. Zain Abdul Kadir, was quoted as saying in the report that the government should give the same attention and support to students as gifted as Sufian Farooq Yusuf, the 12-year-old British citizen of mixed Pakistani-Malay parentage, who had been offered a government scholarship to read a four-year degree course in Oxford University.

Mohd Zain pointed out that there had been several cases where students as gifted as Sufiah had been identified in Malaysia, but subsequently there had been no news about them whatsoever.

He said: “Sokongan kerajaan juga jangan hanya sekerat jalan atau hangat-hangat tahi ayam kerana pada tahap usia yang terlalu muda menyebabkan mereka mudah hilang punca.

“Banyak kes menunjukkan pelajar pintar yang diletakkan di kelas yang sesuai berdasarkan usia, bukan kepintaran, akhirnya tidak kemana-mana. Ini kerana mereka akan cepat jemu belajar apa yang mereka sudah tahu.”

Universiti Malaya social psychologist Prof Dr. Chiam Heng Keng had estimated there were about 300,000 intellectually gifted primary schoolchildren in the country although there were far fewer child geniuses.

Chiam said the definition for “genius” was an IQ of at least 180 points, while those with an IQ of 130 points or more were classified as “intellectually gifted”.

She said although many of these children were doing well in school, the lack of a motivating and challenging environment hindered the realisation of their true potential. It was therefore important to provide an environment where these children could reach their optimum intellectual potential.

The Malaysian government and nation must recognise that 300,000 gifted children in our schools is a very important national asset and resource which should be fully developed and we must have the resolve that henceforth no gifted or talented child would end up working as a roti canai seller.

The question as to whether education for gifted children should be a government responsibility, a shared public-private initiative or a completely private effort, is a question which should be considered when drawing up a special policy on education for gifted children.

The first thing to be done is for the Education Ministry to set up a Department for Gifted Children to fully develop the talents and abilities of the 300,000 gifted children not only for their own sake, but even more important, for the larger national good.

In this connection, Malaysia can learn from many other countries which have taken Gifted Education more seriously.

There is no need to re-invent the wheel as there is no paucity of knowledge and experience on special education for gifted children in other parts of the world. A search of the Internet using the Altavista search engine shows up 70,000 sites on “gifted education”.

In recent decades, there had internationally been a paradigm shift in the field of education for gifted and talented children concerning the identification of gifted students, major researches on this subject, emergence of a new cadre of scholars and researches in the field and renewed support for gifted education in many countries.

One good example is Israel, which established the Department of Gifted Children in its Education Ministry 24 years ago in 1973 and integrated Gifted Education into its national education system.

Upon opening its doors in 1973, the Department for the Gifted considered ways of educating able pupils. The proposal of special schools for the gifted, however, was rejected for socio-political reasons. Instead a model was developed which placed two experimental classes of 25 gifted children in regular schools in two cities. The purpose of this programme was to provide a class with a special curriculum, and at the same time, enable students to make social contact with their peers in regular classes through participation in extra-curricular activities such as athletics, music, travel and membership on school committees.

The Department now assumes responsibility of some 30,000 students in the country. It is responsible for all matters related to gifted pupils, supervises the implementation and operation of all associated programmes including the pedagogical, organisational and budgetary aspects. This includes special classes in regular schools, pull-out programmes, afternoon enrichment courses and special science courses offered by colleges and universities and by municipalities. Tests identifying gifted students are funded by the Ministry and administered in schools throughout the country.

The Department staff maintains contact with the principals of schools in which programmes for the gifted are offered. Regular visits are made to these schools and meetings are held with pupils and parents. The department staff also co-ordinates enrichment programmes with local educational authorities, professionals and colleges and universities in Israel and abroad. The Department’s policy is to develop the gifted pupil’s individual ability for themselves as well as for their contribution to the society in which they live.

The Education Minister should act boldly on this issue, not only presenting his recommendations to the Cabinet, but should be able to report to Parliament when it meets on March 24 that the Education Ministry had joined other nations in recognising and catering to the special needs of the talents and abilities of gifted children in Malaysia.