With the news earlier this year that the government is going to spend more money on gifted education in Hong Kong, lots of people have been asking what defines a “gifted” child. We often hear people talk about gifted dancers or gifted speakers, but what qualifies people for gifted education?
“Gifted children have a different way of thinking and a different way of learning compared to other students. Normal students might solve problems step by step while gifted students might find an advanced and more efficient way of solving problems,” says Shirley Kwok, manager of affective education at the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education (HKAGE), a non-governmental organisation.
Being gifted might seem like it would make life easier, but in reality, gifted children face lots of problems in daily life. “They are more sensitive when dealing with their emotions and they can be very stubborn. Some failures or trigger words can affect them to such an extent that some people may say that they are overreacting, or being drama queens,” Kwok says.
She has been working with gifted students for a decade. As well as teaching them, she also tries to understand them. “Lots of people think that they are weird, because they are always asking questions. It can sometimes seem like they’re showing off. But they just have a different way of thinking, and are very curious about the world,” she says.
Hong Kong’s narrow education system with a fixed syllabus can be difficult for gifted students. They enjoy learning about new things, whether it’s for an exam or not.
“I know that my classmates are very focused on the DSEs and spend their free time studying and at tutorials,” observes Harry Yu Hoi-wai, a 17-year-old student at La Salle College. “Not many have time for extra-curricular activities, or even things that aren’t on the syllabus. I wouldn’t mind if the teacher talked about something that wasn’t on the syllabus during lessons but my classmates seem to dislike that a lot.” Harry is a member of HKAGE and the Hong Kong International Mathematical Olympiad Team.
But being gifted doesn’t mean students can learn by themselves. “People think that anyone who is gifted doesn’t need training or help to develop. They think that gifted people can handle everything by themselves. They assume gifted students get really good grades at school, but this isn’t always the case,” says Kwok.
In fact, there are many gifted students who are weak in certain subjects. For example, a gifted student who is really advanced in maths might struggle with languages or writing an essay. “Some gifted students might be strong in one area, but without training and coaching, they could struggle to develop it,” says Kwok. And even then, it isn’t just about working on their strong subjects.
Kwok says they focus on helping students fit into society; if they only helped them develop their strengths, that wouldn’t be good for the students.
Gifted students often struggle to be accepted in society. But the public can help change that. “First of all, we need to be able to accept their uniqueness. They learn in a different way. We also need to remember that their emotions and actions might seem exaggerated. Are we able to first accept, and then listen and understand? If people can understand why gifted students need the help and the attention of others, and are willing to give it to them, or even just support them, it would make a huge difference,” says Kwok.
It is hoped the new funding will promote better and more advanced education for gifted students in Hong Kong.
“One of the main problems in the gifted education world is that we lack the staff to help such students. I hope the funding will help Hong Kong to find better resources or staff to teach us and to train us,” says Harry.
“It’s going to help gifted children a lot. Academically they will benefit from better resources. But most importantly, they can be taught and helped to fit into society. We hope that through such education, gifted students will understand that they have different traits from others. We also hope they accept themselves and understand that they are not ‘weird’,” says Kwok.
It’s all about encouraging gifted student to treasure their strengths and make the most of their potential, she adds. In that way, they can use their skills, talents and differences to contribute to society in the future.