My First Masters Course Essay
Education for Exceptionally and Profoundly Gifted Primary and Secondary Students in Hong Kong
Gifted students are often seen by society as the lucky few who have won the genetic lottery. Finding generally gifted students is not difficult as they are often the top ranking students within a school. The exceptionally and profoundly gifted however, are on a completely different level as they are much more laborious to identify. Imagine how the world might have further benefited from Albert Einstein, commonly believed to have an IQ of 160 and above (Kiger, 2020), if he was well nurtured by his teachers in his childhood. If more focus can be provided by our education system on these young bright individuals, they will more likely become the next Einstein or Newton of the world, propelling mankind forward in unfathomable ways. As such, it is essential for society, led by state educators, to establish a focused education stream catered specifically to these extreme intellects during their formative years - from primary through to secondary school. The education offering should focus on effectively selecting qualified students and then providing stimulation and realization of their potential. Finally, the sustainability of such programs from a funding and public awareness perspective should be explored. While the examples presented below are predominantly from the U.S., the same arguments can easily be extended to the scenarios in Hong Kong.
Before furthering into education for the extremely gifted, it is important to properly define what it means to be intellectually gifted. The most straightforward approach -- and often the most contentious -- is to utilize a culturally fair IQ test such as the Stanford Binet Intelligence Scales, Fifth Edition (SB-5) or Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children–Fourth Edition (WISC–IV). The moderately gifted have a score of 130 to 144 in the IQ test and can qualify for Mensa, which accepts the top two percent of the population as its coveted members. The highly gifted register a score between 145 and 159 in the same test. The exceptionally gifted achieve a score of 160 to 179 (1 in 10,000) and the profoundly gifted land at 180 or above (less than 1 in 1 million) (Gross, 2000). To further put this into perspective, profoundly gifted individuals score in the 99.9th percentile on IQ tests and have an exceptionally high level of intellectual prowess. These students score a minimum of three standard deviations above the norm on the bell curve, so they are at the extreme end of the intelligence scale (Winterbrook, 2017). In this paper, both exceptionally and profoundly gifted individuals will collectively be called extremely gifted.
A key item of exploration in providing for the extremely gifted is to first identify them for the gifted programs schools have to offer. To uncover top intellects as defined by the extremely gifted, an IQ test provides a largely objective means to do so. The Davidson Academy of Nevada, a school in Reno for profoundly gifted primary and secondary students, accepts individuals attaining a score of at least 145 in the SB5, WISC-IV or WISC-V test in at least one of the following areas: verbal, non-verbal, full scale (The Davidson Academy of Nevada, 2021). This school also leverages nation-wide academic examinations such as SAT, ACT, and PSAT to assist in granting admissions. The emphasis for qualification is on initially “casting a wider net” and then using other methods such as interviews, recommendations from qualified professionals, and reviewing a student’s overall portfolio of achievement to eventually narrow down the search for the cream of the crop. It is important to note that nominations from teachers, parents, peers and students themselves -- which are often used as criteria for entering generally gifted programs -- do not apply well in the case for the extremely gifted. This is because while these people who are close to the gifted youngsters, are proven to readily identify the top 15% of the student population, they nonetheless lack the experience and expertise to pick out the top 0.1% from the same population. One should also note that issues such as race, gender, school districts and financial status of families often come into play in skewing (or masking) the identification of gifted students. Using standardized and culturally fair aptitude tests will no doubt side-step these issues to a good extent.
Extremely gifted students require the best support outside of the average school. The Education Bureau in Hong Kong advocates the three-tier model for gifted students (Gifted Education Section EDB, 2015):
- Whole-class, school based
- Pull-out, school based
- Offsite support
Given the need for intellectual stimulus with exceptionally and profoundly gifted students, education administrators should consider option 3, thereby providing a separate school for students in this category. As a case in point, The Davidson Academy of Nevada was founded with this aim in mind. Its mission is to provide profoundly gifted young people with an advanced educational opportunity matched to their abilities, strengths and interests (The Davidson Academy of Nevada, 2021). The founding of such institutions satisfies the intellectual cravings of the extremely gifted, in addition to realizing their potential. Such schools also create a social setting for students to interact with their equally brilliant peers, thereby developing essential life skills for these special human beings. Learnings from social interactions cannot be under-estimated as the whole-person development for students is crucial for their later success in life.
Needless to say, the education programming for extremely gifted students should be multifaceted. Acceleration and enrichment of traditional school programs are basic essentials. Curriculum compacting, with the elimination of introductory activities and repetition, is often practiced. In addition, telescoping curriculums -- such as completing a three-year course in two -- is a norm. In programs catering to the extremely gifted, educators should group students based on their ability rather than age. In such cases, challenges arising from the amalgamation of students from various age groups and hence different maturity, should be addressed. Even when well implemented however, these aforementioned measures are simply a starting point and do not represent effective, long-term solutions for the exceptionally and profoundly gifted.
Apart from programming, the curriculum model also requires careful consideration and tailoring to extremely gifted students. It is safe to say that of all student groups, the exceptionally and profoundly gifted are often the ones requiring the least direct intervention from teachers. George Betts’s Automonous Learner Model (ALM) exemplifies this characteristic. In ALM, the curricular offerings can be broken into three levels. Level 1 is prescribed curriculum and instruction. This curriculum is primarily based on standards set by the state and does not include the depth and complexity needed for gifted and talented students. Gifted students usually spend minimal time at this level. At Level 2, the curriculum is differentiated by teachers according to content, process and product, on the basis of individual differences. Although spending time at this level is best for most students as the learners have choices in what and how to learn, it is still lacking for the extremely gifted. This is where Level 3 comes in. At the third level, students are self-directed, and teachers provide opportunities for them to be the owner of their learning. This level is crucial to addressing the cognitive, emotional and social development of extremely gifted scholars. The ALM focuses heavily on this level (Siegle et al, 2014). Other aspects of ALM, including orientation, individual development, seminars and in-depth studies provide the breadth and depth exceptionally gifted students require to identify, foster and maximize their talent. Once again using The Davidson Academy as the case study, their focus on personalized learning plans (PLP) is akin to that of Level 3 in ALM. In fact, the PLP is an adaptable document used to guide students through a rigorous core curriculum and help them make elective decisions based upon their interests and commensurate to their levels of ability, achievement and motivation. Students, with adult guidance, including staff and parents, propose ideas of the personalization process (The Davidson Academy of Nevada, 2021). In essence, each student has their own fully tailored schedules of advanced courses, group projects, and self-study activities. It is important to stress that the PLP cannot lose sight of the eventual goal of advancing graduates to accredited colleges and universities across the globe.
Extremely gifted students have an exceptionally high rate of extending their brilliance in tertiary education across the world. They pursue doctoral degrees at over 50 times base rate expectations, with numerous participants having created noteworthy literary, scientific, or technical products by their early twenties (Benbow et al, 2001). This is where the guidance of qualified gifted program teachers can play a key role in bridging the learning needs and interests of students to the education systems of tertiary institutions across the world.
The general lack of public attention and funding for gifted education is a prevalent topic of discussion globally. For the exceptionally and profoundly gifted, the funding situation is even more pronounced. Hong Kong’s Education Bureau (EDB) owns the gifted education initiative for the city’s brilliant young minds. However, it falls short of establishing a full-time school campus allowing extremely gifted students to attend school the way they should on a daily basis. The solution to the funding problem can often be found through a combination of public funding, student and alumni fundraising, and philanthropy from the wealthy believing in the cause. The Davidson Academy of Nevada is once again, a good case in point. The academy insists on providing free education for their on-campus students. It is because they and their supporters believe the right to receiving a gifted education should not be stifled by the financial situation of one’s family. To widen the source of funding in future, one can also explore crowd-sourcing to assist with the daily operations and maintenance of such institutions.
In summary, a number of educational topics on providing for exceptionally and profoundly gifted students were explored. Items such as the definition and qualification of the extremely gifted, acceptance criteria, education program philosophy and curriculum model were examined. The key to a successful curriculum offering is to ensure heavy focus on Level 3 of the ALM, thereby providing the autonomy and flexibility for gifted students to pursue the fields they desire and at the pace they fancy. Moreover, the funding of an all-gifted full-time education institution was recommended. It is up to the EDB to seriously contemplate establishing and operating a gifted school to further this cause. Finally, the world needs to pay more attention to this small but important group of talented individuals. If their education is properly accounted for, perhaps the next crop of Nobel Laureates will more readily rise for the betterment of humanity.
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Gifted Education Section EDB (2015). Gifted Education in Hong Kong Learning about Gifted Education Book 1. https://www.edb.gov.hk/attachment/tc/curriculum-development/major-level-of-edu/gifted/resources_and_support/ge_resource_bank/files/Policy/GE_info_booklet/GE_info_booklet_1_eng.pdf.
Gross, Miraca U.M. (2000). Exceptionally and Profoundly Gifted Students: An Underserved Population. https://www.hoagiesgifted.org/underserved.htm?em_x=22atat.
Kiger, Patrick J. (2020). What Was Albert Einstein’s IQ? Biography.com. https://www.biography.com/news/albert-einstein-iq.
Lubinski, D., Webb, R. M., Morelock, M. J., & Benbow, C. P. (2001). Top 1 in 10,000: A 10-year follow-up of the profoundly gifted. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(4), 718–729. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.86.4.718.
* The Davidson Academy of Neveda (2021). Mission and Goals. https://www.davidsonacademy.unr.edu/about-us/mission-goals.
* The Davidson Academy of Nevada (2021). Qualification Criteria - Accepted Tests & Score Guidelines to Apply. https://www.davidsonacademy.unr.edu/admissions/qualification-criteria.
* The Davidson Academy of Neveda (2021). Personalized Learning Plan (PLP). https://www.davidsonacademy.unr.edu/academics/personalized-learning-plan-plp.
Winterbrook, C.A. (2017). Exploring the Lives of Gifted Women. Digital Commons @ Denver University. https://digitalcommons.du.edu/tls_doctoral/4/.