Getting giftedness rightLast month, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced it would designate Seoul Science High School as a special school for a gifted and talented education program in science.
At the end of last year, six related ministries, established the second comprehensive plan for gifted and talented education and announced that it would expand the beneficiaries of gifted and talented education from around 40,000 students, or 0.6 percent of the total student population, to 70,000, which is 1 percent.
Keeping step with the announcement, municipal and provincial education offices and local autonomous organizations proclaimed their will to strengthen and substantiate gifted and talented education. And more than 200,000 students applied to be designated as “gifted and talented” last year.
It is really gratifying that people recognize the need for gifted and talented education and that the government and local autonomous organizations have expanded their support for such education. However, what is also important is doing it right.
First of all, they must set the right goals for the programs. Most parents take an interest in gifted and talented education because they want their children to enter a good university.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with parents wanting their children go to a prestigious school, but such a goal can distort gifted and talented education and turn it into a means for college admission.
They say gifted and talented education is necessary because one gifted or talented person can make enough money to support tens of thousands of people. The gifted are also said to be a driving force for national development and competitiveness.
Nobody can argue against increasing national competitiveness. However, there may be an underlying perception that only gifted and talented people are valuable and that they are tools.
Gifted and talented education is necessary not because only “the gifted and talented are important,” but because “the gifted and talented are also important.” National competitiveness is important, but gifted and talented education starts with a desire to fulfill the special needs of such children.
There definitely exist gifted and talented children who understand and adopt knowledge faster and lead other children with new ideas, even though they are taught by a common teacher. These children are not satisfied with the basic lessons given in school, but crave in-depth learning and have the desire to investigate new ideas.
Gifted and talented education tries to provide an educational prescription that corresponds with the cognitive and creative demands of these children, which were neglected in the past.
Finding an appropriate method to achieve this goal is important. Around five years ago, when the gifted and talented education promotion law was enacted, Korea was actually a barren land for gifted and talented education.
Recognizing diversity and individual differences between students, which is the cornerstone of gifted and talented education, was considered to be an unrealistic viewpoint that did not understand the education field. However, the people most in demand in our knowledge-based society have been nurtured out of respect for such differences.
In addition, student excellence, including the gifted and talented, is maximized when individual differences are acknowledged in education. Gifted and talented students are also valuable in the sense that all students are valuable and important.
Therefore, providing appropriate education for the gifted and talented is natural, but it should be approached with a healthy respect for diversity, not as a special favor that gives a small number of gifted and talented students special treatment.
To prevent gifted and talented education from being distorted as university entrance education or special education in favor of a select few, it is necessary to take some precautionary measures. First, the number of beneficiaries of gifted and talented education should be expanded.
By expanding the definition of who is gifted and talented, we maximize opportunities for the development of students’ potentials.
Second, the selection process used to define who is gifted and talented should give more weight to teacher evaluation of each student’s potential for future development than to written examinations.
Third, the process of gifted and talented education should not be centered on knowledge and function. It should foster the ability to think, do research and to solve problems creatively. It should improve human nature and foster the development of leadership.
To that end, we urgently need to train teachers who understand the characteristics of the gifted and talented and specialize in various teaching techniques.
We must then provide these teachers with continuous educational opportunities and a proper support system.
*The writer is the head of the National Research Center for Gifted and Talented Education at the Korean Educational Development Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Mee-sook