It's not easy being smart

It's not easy being smart

Gifted children study very hard to get good grades. Others' talents go unrecognised and that is society's loss

When you are next stuck on an exam question and wishing you had been born a bit brainier, take some comfort in knowing that even gifted children put their good grades down to sheer hard work.

Andy Loo, a Form Six, straight-A student, excels in mathematics and physics. "I think many people take giftedness for granted. They think a gifted person achieves great things only because they are gifted. But I want to tell them those achievements are built on hard work - and more hard work," says the 17-year-old.

"Gifted people have to put in a lot of effort - even more than a normal individual - to get to where they are. I think gifted people could be treated more fairly."

When Andy was in Form Two, he was nominated by his school to join the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education, which was set up by the government in 2008.

The executive director of the academy, Dr Stephen Tommis, agreed with Andy on the importance of gifted individuals working hard to excel. "Giftedness is like something being handed to a child. But it does not blossom on its own. Even if you have the talent, you need to work really hard to excel," he says.

He pointed out that gifted students are not always top of the class like Andy. Indeed, they may hide their intelligence to avoid standing out or being bored and disinterested.

Tommis says teachers should be trained to spot a gifted student - he's sure they will all come across talented children in their careers. "The [ideal situation would be] to have a gifted education manager and co-ordinator in every school to help gifted children," he adds. Gifted students should be allowed to skip grades, but only in the subjects in which they excel, he says.

"Gifted children may feel bored in class or do not want to stand out, but actually they are very talented," Tommis says. "It will be a loss to society if these gifted individuals are not spotted and properly developed, which is why local teachers need to be trained to provide for gifted students.

"Giftedness is complex; a gifted person can be gifted academically, creatively or as a leader, but they seldom excel in more than one area. Many people look at IQ test results for signs of giftedness, but that's not the best way because it does not measure creativity or leadership.

"Observations from parents and teachers are the best indicators. By listening to the questions children ask and looking at their homework, parents and teachers can spot giftedness."

Gifted children may also have trouble getting along with their classmates. Tommis says: "Gifted children are by nature more mature and are more interested in talking to older people than their peers. This may result in them being isolated or bullied.

"Parents of gifted children should explain to them that they are clever, but need to be tolerant and understanding and try to get along with others. Of course, this is easier said than done. Getting gifted children to develop a common interest with other children - for example, a sport - will be a good start."

Andy says some classmates laughed at him, saying he must have been doing calculus at the age of three. Now, however, he has no problems with his peers, and even enjoys playing soccer with them.

He plans to continue his studies in the United States or Britain after graduating from secondary school next year.

His big dream is to become a mathematician or scientist. "I would love to be a professor in a university, to do research and teach," Andy says.

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