The New Straits Times “Life & Times Section” should be commended for reporting on the sad and tragic story of a “boy wonder” in Malaysia who failed to bloom and contribute his gifts and talents not only for his own self advancement but even more important for national development because of the absence of a policy and programme to foster and develop gifted children in Malaysia.
In 1976, a toddler from Baling, Mohd Sohkeri Hadafi, once the seat of rural poverty, made headlines because by the tender age of four he could read passages from newspapers and magazines. But today, the former “boy wonder”, who is now 25, is a chicken seller in Baling after working as labourer for two years from 1989-1991 and selling roti canai.
Hadafi is a sad story of how gifts and talents of our children, if not recognised, fostered and nurtured, could atrophy - and be a loss not only to our gifted children but to the nation as a whole.
There is no doubt that if there had been a policy and programme to foster and develop the gifts and talents of our children in the country, Hadafi could have been one of the leading intellectuals whether in the government, universities or the private sector.
If Malaysia is to be a knowledge society, we cannot afford the Hadafi syndrome, where we feel no loss in wasting the gifts and talents of our children when they are our most important and irreplaceable national assets.
There should be a national awareness and concern that for decades, our national education policy and system had failed to recognise, foster and nurture the gifts and talents of our children.
Malaysia should not wait for another blaze of publicity about the discovery of another child prodigy related to the country, whether Sufiah Farooq, 12, who has been admitted to Oxford University to read mathematics, or Chiang Ti Ming who obtained a place at the California Institute of Technology in 1989 when he was 12 and who is now finishing his Ph.D. in Particle Physics on “Super String Theory” at Cornell University or Loh Chang Shiung, another boy wonder who read for a physics degree at the age of 12 at the National University of Singapore, before there is another brief but fruitless concern about the national neglect of the hundreds of thousands of gifted and talented children in our schools.
The country should feel ashamed that our national education system had failed to nurture Hadafi to develop his gifts and talents to their fullest potential. Hadafi should be an indicment of our education policy for failing to ensure that all gifted and talented students, regardless gender, racial, cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds, physical or sensory disability or geographic location, achieve optimum educational outcomes.
The Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, should take urgent action to set up a special department on Gifted Education in his Ministry to develop a policy and programme on gifted education to ensure that there will be no more Hadafis in Malaysia selling chicken or roti canai in the stalls when they should be leading in the intellectual renaissance of the country.