Lesson for parents on fast-track kids

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 February, 2012, 12:00am


The competitive schooling system in Hong Kong has made getting children into the best schools the dream of many parents. To stay ahead of others, emphasis is often skewed towards academic achievements, so much so that the child's other developments are sometimes ignored. For parents of high achievers, the pressure is even greater. Many are not satisfied with their children just being able to outperform their peers. The push for extraordinary accomplishments, such as skipping grades for a fast-track university admission, often results in imbalanced childhood development.

It has been well established that gifted children can excel further with special care. Not surprisingly, parents may be worried that a prodigy may be held back when placed in a standard learning environment. But the story of a 36-year-old talent reported in this newspaper shows a stress-free approach can be equally rewarding. Terence Tao, whose parents were Hong Kong immigrants to Australia, has recently been awarded with what is seen as the Nobel Prize for maths by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Nicknamed the Mozart of Maths with a doctorate degree from Princeton University at the age of 21, Tao attributed his success to the freedom to learn given to him by his parents. While the University of California professor had jumped five grades to start high school at the age of eight, he said a fast-track approach might hinder children's social, emotional and intellectual development. The key, he said, was to encourage the child to enjoy his work.

The pressure-cooker education system here makes all-work-and-no-play the norm for many pupils. Being labelled as gifted means even greater pressure to achieve. While parents pushing for recognition of intellectual gifts is understandable, that does not mean an accelerated approach is in the best interest of the children. It makes no sense to accelerate education at the expense of normal childhood and balanced development.