Fred Lam Yun-fu, chairman of The association and the father of a gifted child, agrees with Tommy and Kenny’s parents that there is a lack of resources, especially when compared to those available for special education. “Kids with other special education needs like hyperactivity disorder are under the protection of Hong Kong’s social welfare system. Schools that execute special education can receive abundant funding. However, the gifted fall outside the net,” he says.
Lam complains that Hong Kong lags behind other Asian regions. Taiwan started to develop gifted education in 1973, while Singapore began in 1984. “Supernormal Education” in the mainland has a 30-year history. Taiwan, Singapore and Korea have all enacted gifted education laws to secure the interests of gifted students and school teachers are trained in gifted education.
“There is no relevant law requesting schools to provide and promote gifted education, all participation is just voluntary,” Lam says. “In Hong Kong, students and parents have to mostly count on themselves.”
Lam points out that top schools rarely nominate students as they have their own ways and points of view on training students, whereas, “band three schools do not nominate because they do not think they have any gifted students.” Lam believes there are actually many gifted students in band three schools.
As things stand, around 70 per cent of nominees are accepted onto the HKAGE programmes. For parents and teachers, places for capable kids are insufficient.
The government and HKAGE, however, see it differently. Stephen Tommis, the executive director of HKAGE, thinks that Hong Kong is different from places like Britain, which can nurture the top 10 per cent of students. “We have to be practical due to the limited resources. That’s why we drew the line and decided to serve the top two per cent of Hong Kong students.”
He believes the surge in demand for gifted programmes is due to rising parental expectation. “The number of gifted children is not increasing, but our ability to recognize them is better,” Tommis says. He says the academy has to limit its nomination process to schools instead of opening it up to parents.
“This is Hong Kong. The floodgate would open. We would have thousands and thousands of parents nominating their child,” Tommis says. “It’s about managing expectation. We haven’t the resources to deal with the additional thousands.” Tommis agrees that Hong Kong is still in the early stage of gifted education. He thinks it will take time to deal with even the top 20,000 students.
Yet, he warns: “If gifted children are not properly nurtured, their talent or abilities could possibly vanish. Students could become underachievers.” Tommis estimates that at least 15 per cent of the population is underachieved.
Hopefully, that will not happen to little Tommy Chau despite the fact that his father is less than optimistic about the future. Although Tommy is already attending the gifted programme at CUHK with a partial scholarship, his dad is still not satisfied with the little support available to his son.
“He will definitely do better if he gets more resources. Maybe earlier gifted education or a larger variety of courses,” says Chau Hoi-yip. “But now, I am afraid that he will lose his talents or his interest in learning after such a long wait for suitable nurturing. What can I do when that time comes?”