Helping the gifted


Ways to get gifted children to reach their full potential.

IT was nice to be around other smart kids. I felt like I’d found my people.” That is a quote from a student at Johns Hopkins University’s Centre for Talented Youth (CTY) in the United States. It was included in a presentation by CTY executive director Dr Lea Ybarra, who was in Kuala Lumpur recently to speak at the International Early Childhood Education and Care Conference.

In her talk entitled Developing Children with Exceptional Talents, Ybarra said research confirmed that too many gifted children were performing far below their intellectual potential.

She stressed that gifted children needed to be recognised and viewed without stereotype or misconception.

“They need innovative and challenging curriculum, at the same time, have their social and emotional needs met.

Children making shakers using cans, beans and rice at a workshop for gifted children. The biggest misconception about gifted children is that they did not need help because they are smart.

“They also need a supportive environment to enable them to reach their highest potential,” said Ybarra, who has been with CTY for 12 years.

The biggest misconception about gifted children, she said, was that they did not need help because they were smart and would make it on their own.

“On the contrary, children who are gifted really need help to nurture their talents. Very intelligent children who are given the same materials in class as other kids will become bored easily or even develop behavioural problems.”

Ybarra said another misconception was that parents of gifted children forced their kids to go to gifted schools or advance classes.

“However, most of the time, the kids themselves are the ones who are bored, want to learn more and need the challenge,” she said.

Another common view was that gifted children lose out on their childhood and were usually unhappy.

“There have been many studies which showed no higher incidences of unhappiness or social emotional problems among gifted children than average children,” emphasised Ybarra.

“They are well-adjusted, normal kids who just have wonderful brains.”

Ybarra added that at CTY, counsellors and resident assistants, the latter specifically hired to plan social activities for students, helped ensure that the children’s development was balanced and that they had fun.

‘Gifted children need innovative and challenging curriculum, at the same time, have their social and emotional needs met,’ says Dr Lea Ybarra.

CTY, which has its headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, tests second to eighth graders. Established in 1979, the centre has since served over 1.5 million gifted children in the United States and other countries, including Malaysia.

The top 15 countries with the highest talent search participation at the centre are South Korea, Hong Kong, Mexico, China, Taiwan, India, Japan, Canada, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Britain, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Egypt.

Children at CTY learn in groups of 12 per class, which is run by a teacher and a teacher’s aide.

Examples of courses in Maths and Science for 11- to 18-year-olds include biomedical science, biotechnology, genetics and astronomy.

“It’s wonderful to see them all on the floor building robots, for example. Their mind is limitless,” enthused Ybarra.

Will the young kids miss out on their childhood if they learn things at adult levels?

“We never forget that they are kids. At our centre, we group children of the same age together but give them higher level academic work which is appropriate for them. We also stress extra-curriculur activities and children can attend craft and music lessons at the centre, too.

“The talents of some of these children are amazing. You hear them on the piano and you would think it’s a professional who is playing.”

CTY is also collaborating with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) on a programme for gifted children in Malaysia.

An online IQ test, known as UKM1, was launched in March under the National Permata Pintar programme for children aged between nine and 15. ()

In the test, children need to answer 60 questions within an hour in English or Bahasa Malaysia.

Those who score the required percentage of points will sit for another test before being chosen to attend the first school holiday camp for gifted and talented children at UKM in December.

The two-week camp will be open to the top 300 children who pass the first two tests. At the camp, the children will go through a special curriculum designed by education experts from CTY and UKM.

For more info on CTY, go to Also check out a free website for children aged eight to 18 which connects young thinkers worldwide. The site is also an avenue for discussion and learning with experts and scientists around the world.

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