We must protect our prodigies
The author is the director of the Center for Gifted and Talented Education Research at the Korea Educational Development Institute.
Song Yoo-geun, nicknamed a prodigy during his childhood, is scheduled to join the military in December, recent reports have said. This made newspaper headlines because a talented young man will stop his intellectual activity for a significant amount of time. The reports say that it is not just his personal loss but a loss to the country as well.
In the past, a prodigy was defined based on IQ. Normally, a student with an IQ of 130 or above, or those with intelligence capabilities of the top 1 percent in the same age group, were considered “gifted.” There are various standards for academics, but those with an IQ of 160 or above are usually called “highly gifted.”
Starting the 1980s, the myth of the IQ was broken. A high IQ score did not necessarily guarantee desirable social accomplishments, and many pointed out that it is inappropriate to categorize human beings as “gifted” or “not gifted.”
Furthermore, giftedness is a comprehensive attribute that includes non-cognitive factors such as creativity and motivation, and intellectual ability is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition of giftedness.
The paradigm of gifted education is changing from a program for a few students with high IQ scores to educational support for children with high aptitude in particular sectors to develop their talents. The Ministry of Education announced its fourth comprehensive plan to promote gifted education in March, and it presented a vision in which students with talents in diversified fields will explore, experiment and challenge their abilities.
When an intellectual challenge is not offered at the right time to a student, their talents often die out before they can bloom.
A separate education system is necessary for highly gifted students. Leta Hollingworth, known for her study of highly gifted children, said an IQ between 125 and 155 is a socially appropriate score.
A child with an IQ of 160 or above could suffer from difficulties adapting to school or having social relationships, she said. Such a child can easily be seen as abnormal or awkward, and there is a high possibility of falling behind in society rather than achieving a great accomplishment. Suffering a loss for being too smart is an unfortunate fate for an individual and a loss to the country.
What can a school, a society and a country do? First, Korea has various advanced study systems for highly gifted children, just like the United States, but they are not operating properly in the educational fields.
An assessment is necessary. Various systems already in place are probably not being used due to rigid school culture and administrative procedures.
Second, a channel to contact gifted students and offer counseling in the public education system should be established. After Song’s appearance, guidelines for gifted students were established in Article 2 of the Gifted Education Act and clause 2 of Article 37 of the enforcement decree of the act in 2006.
Although legal grounds were established for highly gifted students’ education in Korea over a decade ago, only one meeting of the relevant committee took place based on the law. We must review how other gifted students are being treated.
Third, gifted students need a strong network of relationships, not only with their families but also with friends and teachers. They often experience loneliness because they do not have friends to share their hardships and experiences with in their lives.
Fourth, we must offer a space for gifted children to have meaningful lives of their own. It is more important to head toward the right direction than to go fast. They must be given time and opportunities to think about what they want to live for, what values they want to promote and what kind of lives are worth living. We must show patience, feel their pain and share in their mistakes.
Gifted education must be specifically divided into two tracks. The first is an open platform in which all students can explore and challenge their talents.
The other is a professional, individualized education system for highly gifted children with exceptional intellectual and emotional demands. The government, educators and academia must work together to make sure that highly gifted students will not be deprived of proper educational opportunities.
Translation by Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 27, Page 29