To get onto a programme, a child must be nominated by their school. Lam Tai Fai College nominates 10 students to attend courses in every round. So the ability of teachers to identify gifted children is crucial.
First, class teachers observe children, and then they pick the brighter students for screening. But while teachers who do the screening have been trained in gifted education, those who select the students for screening, have not.
Donald Tsui Ming Kin, one of the class teachers responsible for referring students for screening, says he had heard about gifted education when he took courses for other things, but he has not undergone any specific training on it. Tsui worries about the workload, “There are many special educational needs and the gifted is only one of them. The workload of teachers could be really heavy if every teacher had to attend courses in all areas.”
Apart from the extra workload, teachers are also concerned about the lack of variety in the courses offered. Eric Tse Kwok-ho, the academic guidance master at Lam Tai Fai College says the school is looking for gifted programme providers other than HKAGE. He says the school has more students who excel in arts and sports, yet the academy ignores these areas.
Also, as the school is only allowed to make three nominations for the leadership and humanities streams, some students had to shift to other areas. Last year, 12 year-old Kenny Lo Kwan-ho, who has an IQ score of above 130, was persuaded to accept a nomination to the maths and science domain because the humanities, in which he excels, was full.
Kenny’s mother Chiu Fung-yee, says the quota of 10 nominations that each school gets is not enough. She says schools tend to only nominate those who have outstanding academic performance. Those who are gifted in other aspects may be neglected.
Chiu is also unhappy with the application criteria of HKAGE. She says the academy puts too much emphasis on children’s academic attainments rather than on their potential. She herself had a hard time figuring out that her son was gifted.
When Kenny was eight, Chiu suspected he might have learning disabilities in reading and writing, because he was always impatient and skipped lines when reading. She talked to teachers and social workers but they said she was worrying too much. None of them suspected Kenny could be gifted. “Teachers sometimes think that I am naughty,” Kenny says, “But I know I can absorb knowledge faster than my classmates.”
Eventually, the penny dropped after Chiu took her son to a psychologist. Since discovering her son was gifted, Chiu has applied for different kinds of programmes run by CUHK and the University of Science and Technology, among others. She also joined the Hong Kong Association for Parents of Gifted Children, which she thinks has been more helpful than the government.