Nurturing the nation’s gifted youth

Date:

By Marc Owen Rentap Dineal Gumis

Yayasan Sarawak has been actively supporting Kolej GENIUS@Pintar students since 2016. This is evident by the fact that in 2021, there are 26 Sarawakian students in Kolej GENIUS@Pintar currently under Yayasan Sarawak scholarship.

Students enjoy many benefits such as monthly allowance, financial aid for spectacles, school uniform, school fees, laptop, flight tickets and accommodation. The students are required to join enrichment programmes held by Yayasan Sarawak during school holidays. Occasionally, officers from the foundation meet with officials of Kolej GENIUS@Pintar to discuss about their future and academic pathway.

Definitions of giftedness

The debate in setting the definition of giftedness has been long and exhaustive. Renzulli (1977) stated that gifted and talented children can be characterised by their above-average ability, task commitment and creativity.

However, this view is seen by many as too simplistic. On the contrary, Gagne (2004) defined giftedness as inherent abilities in various forms that can be transformed into talent by systematic training, in which he proposed the four domains of giftedness: intellectual ability, creativity, socio-affective and sensorimotor.

De Hann (1957), however, suggested that there are six domains of giftedness including intellectual ability, creative thinking, scientific ability, social leadership, mechanical skills and talent in fine arts.

On the whole, Tuttle and Baker (1980) summarised that the common unique traits of gifted learners are as follows:

  • Well-developed power of abstraction, conceptualisation and synthesis;
  • Deep understanding of cause and effect relationships;
  • Quick understanding of similarities, differences and anomalies;
  • Fluent thinking, generating possibilities, consequences or related ideas;
  • Flexible thinking, using many different alternatives and approaches to problem solving.
Sarawak Foundation officers interacting with students of Pusat PERMATA@Pintar Negara UKM.

Importance of gifted education

Thomas Edison, one of the most prominent inventors who changed the way we live today with the invention of the light bulb, was told by his teachers that he was not up to learning anything.

Inevitably, gifted individuals bring with them a set of rare talents that are not usually identified in their peer group. Many of them have been wrongly diagnosed and have received education that is not supporting their learning needs due to the lack of gifted education training among educators.

The level of education offered in normal schools does not challenge them enough. Hanna (2018) stated that quite often, many gifted adolescents feel that they waste time when sitting in class where they learn nothing and that they could have learned in a much speedier pace either by themselves or in a more challenging class.

Unfortunately, too many gifted adolescents still learn in regular classes where they are bored because of the slow learning pace and insufficient knowledge of the teachers.

Without a proper education pathway that is specifically geared to them, gifted students can lose their interest in learning, causing them to perform badly in academics despite their intellectual prowess, thus becoming an underachiever.

Of course, the distinctive personalities of gifted children can bring about negative attitude of their peers. This is tightly connected to feeling different from their peers in terms of pace and depth of learning and their unusual areas of interests.

However, they can learn to overcome these feelings when they occur (Hanna, 2018). Although gifted adolescents are often the target of jealousy, Massé and Gagné (2002) found that the jealousy and gifted adolescents feel are often not as harmful as how they perceive it.

Moreover, these scholars found that students showed more envy toward social and financial successes compared to academic achievements or intelligence. Nonetheless, a gifted school is important to provide an environment that is free of judgement so that they can express their giftedness into talents without fear.

PERMATA@Pintar Negara UKM Programme students receive a laptop donation from Yayasan Sarawak.

While many non-gifted adolescents are allowed to indulge in non-cognitive activities, gifted adolescents are usually under pressure to focus in learning rather than having social connections, body image, impulses and non-educational activities.

This external pressure forces them to process the conflict between the demands of others and his own expectations. Being unsuccessful may lead to depression, feeling invaluable and being desperate.

They may have thoughts such as I am smarter than everybody around me, why do I have to obey adults who are less intelligent than me? And why do I have to accept society rules made for ordinary people?

Hanna (2018) says that such thoughts lead to unsocial behavior, school problems and loss of parental authority.

For this reason, understanding how to identify these distinctive individuals as well as catering to their intellectual demands in proper learning environment are important to maximise their intellectual ability.

Silverman (1989) suggested that gifted children with IQ scores of 145 and above deserve to be given different educational pathways because it affects the nurturing of exceptional talents.

Moreover, Bakar (2016) stressed that early identification of these individuals, complemented by the right learning environment, support and educational programme, and could result in them contributing to the betterment of any particular nation or civilisation.

Malaysian national gifted centre

To address the needs of gifted students, the government of Malaysia established Kolej GENIUS@Pintar in 2011 that prepares students with an early experience of studying at higher education.

Previously known as Kolej Permata Negara, it was the nation’s first fully residential school for gifted students aged 11 to 17 years  (Noriah, Rosadah, Siti Fatimah and Melor, 2012).

The students are selected through three standardised assessment which measures the intellectual, creativity and socio-affective abilities (Siti Fatimah Mohd Yassin et al., 2012), namely UKM1 and UKM2 online intelligence tests and UKM3 comprehensive assessment.

The UKM1 online intelligence test that verbal and nonverbal abilities. Every year, the test is publicly available at http://ukm1.permatapintar.edu.my for three months. It is an open test which can be accessed anywhere but some schools do the test in controlled environment.

The assumption is that the students are honest when they register and sit for the test. For good measure, false records are filtered before the data is calculated for the second screening test.

The next screening test is the UKM2 online intelligence test which measures the perceptual reasoning and organisation, attention, concentration, working memory and processing speed.

Datuk Dr Sabariah Putit, Yayasan Sarawak Board of Trustees member, having a chat with the students of Pusat PERMATA@Pintar Negara UKM.

The test is done at selected UKM2 test centres throughout the country where there are invigilators present to monitor the process. The test is done in batches of 15 to 20 students each session to avoid network congestion at the centres.

The final screening test is the UKM3 comprehensive assessment which consists of mathematics, science and languages competencies tests on paper; Malaysian Emotional Quotient Inventory (MEQI); Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking; students’ project presentation; class observation and final academic performance evaluation report throughout a three-week school holiday camp.

Siti Fatimah Mohd Yasin et al. (2012) explained that students do not need to prepare for the tests as the school search natural abilities. The holiday camp is affiliated with John Hopkins University Centre for Talented Youth, Baltimore, United States of America.

Participants get to enrol in advanced courses such as Robotics, DNA Barcoding, Genetic Engineering, Astronomy, Advanced Biology, Inventions, and Logical Reasoning among others.

The Kolej GENIUS@Pintar curriculum consists of the national curriculum for upper secondary as a basis, as well as several first year university courses and international curriculum to challenge students’ intellectual minds.

The programme was designed with inspiration from the National Education Principle to produce holistic leaders in terms of physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual and social capabilities.

Conclusion

There is a gifted child for every 1,000 children. Unfortunately, most of these gifted children are still in a school with a one-size-fits-all curriculum where they have to endure the boredom of learning what they already know.

As a result, their gifts are not materialised into talents and their potential is wasted.

In conclusion, I consider it as a responsibility of all parents and teachers in Sarawak to let every child, regardless of academic performance and background, to be given the opportunity to take the UKM1 test.

Should their children qualify, parents must strongly consider letting their children enroll in Kolej GENIUS@Pintar so that the children can truly thrive to become great global leaders of tomorrow. Indeed, the future of our nation depends on them.

GENIUS@Pintar Negara UKM Centre students receive laptops from Yayasan Sarawak.

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