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Impact of Cultural Differences on a Gifted Child

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: Hope you are well. I have a 8 year old son and 4 year old daughter. My son has been studying in Australia for 2 years and my daughter was only attending preschool for 1 month. Her teachers in her school loved her for being smart. Now she is in one of the International School in Klang, Malaysia in term 2010 she hardly attended complete 1 month class because she couldn't adjust to weather and was falling ill frequently. But in her term 1 the 1st week of school, her teacher commented that she wants to answer, raise her hand up always even she doesn't know the answer and she said she is very active and socializing is good but no concentration. She was unhappy that she wasn't taking instruction. So I told her that she is very attentive and wants to more things which interest her. I also told her that since she just started school in Malaysia to teach her the ways to concentrate and be attentive in class.

I also highlighted to her that she was identified as Gifted Child in Australia and we were going through the assessment and we came back Malaysia before the assessment was complete. The teacher told me that she didn't notice that she is talented. But my daughter is very active, smart, attentive to things, memory is very good etc and she repeats everything she does in school.

Now in Term 2 only 4 days of school, after 1 month holiday, teacher is complaining that she very good in socializing, active but not paying concentrating in her work.

I am very upset because she in only 4 years old (just turned 4 in December 2010) and i am sending to international school thinking that she will get best exposure but seems the teacher is not very co-operative concerning my daughter. I admit my daughter is aggressive and she love music, art reading etc. She is also very loud in class compared to other kids and outspoken. I thought it was good because even teachers in Australia told me that she is very smart and independent.

But now several complaints from the current teacher who hardly knows her for 1 month is already complaining. Please advise me on this.

A: I clearly see a cultural adjustment issue here. While Australia has gone rather deep in research and practice in Gifted Education, Malaysia is still relatively new in this area, more so for younger children as the attention and focus is for older kids. Unfortunately, this is a setback for your daughter as teachers in Malaysia are hardly equipped with awareness of giftedness, let alone training on how to handle such kids.

I believe the international school that your daughter goes to may not cater for the needs of a gifted child. If she has been diagnosed as gifted in Australia, I believe she is advanced compared to her peers. The main complaint from her teacher is that she is not paying attention - which is probably due to lessons that she may find less interesting, meaningful or stimulating. Gifted children need challenges and she is probably not getting enough of it at school.

The teachers are only able to handle the majority of students and not trained to handle a child who is seen as different, hence the complaints. You may need to speak to someone in authority at the school and express your concerns. You daughter may need differentiation education or something more challenging which the school may not be ready to offer. The teacher is not able to understand her needs and would probably conclude that your girl is just not able to pay attention and focus.

In the Malaysia culture, children who are obedient, more quiet and pay attention - is viewed as the “model” child. Anything that deviates from the norms may be viewed negatively. You really need to speak to someone at school, or else there is a chance of your daughter being burnt out and falling in the cracks of the system. Look around for other school for a possible transfer if the current school is not willing to cooperate. I would also like to suggest that you join the National Association for Gifted Children Malaysia for support and help. Get in touch with them for some help. They are extremely supportive and may be able to suggest solutions.

Wishing you the very best in your journey and I hope you will find Malaysia more pleasant to live in time to come. Best of luck!


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