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Gifted Teenager in a Regular School

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I am writing this email on behalf of a friend as he is from a Chinese-educated background. They are in Malaysia and his 2nd son is now studying in Form 2, who is 14 years old. He is way advance of his age. He spends his time reading books like the following:

  • Physics ideas - Joanne Baker

  • Mathematical ideas - Tony Crilly

  • Author of Hyperspace Visions - Michio Kaku

  • Antimatter- Frank Close

  • The elegant universe - Brian Greene

  • Flatterland - Ian Stewart

  • Black holes & time warps - Kip s. Thorne forward by Stephen Hawking

  • The Principia - Isaac Newton

  • Perfect Symmetry - Heinz R. Pagels

He finds syllabus in school to be too easy and boring. He also lacks social skills as his books are his only friends. He speaks of not going to school.

My friend is worried. Do you have any advice that can help this child and his family?

Hope to hear from you soon. Thank you.

A: Your friend's son definitely sounds highly able, beyond his age group. The local syllabus in schools in Malaysia is catered for the average child with some good schools offering enrichment for brighter students. Obviously, he would find school a breeze and eventually when it gets too easy, it would be boring. This is not good as some children may burn-out or suppress their potential. He is reading college level books, so naturally the school syllabus would be rather basic for him. When gifted children find the lessons less than meaningful, chances are that they would get bored, disillusioned and sometimes disruptive or even cave into their own worlds. He may not be socialising well due to the fact that he has deep understanding of his subjects and the average peer is far behind. Due to this, his peers may not understand him and find him perhaps somewhat "weird". This is a vicious cycle, because he will avoid his peers and his peers will drift further away from him. Gradually, he will be a loner and drown further in books. On one extreme, this can lead to extreme loneliness, isolation and eventually depression.

There is only one thing to be done; that is for him to be in the company of his intellectual peers. And the way I see it, he may need much older friends perhaps at college level. He does not fit in the mainstream. Unfortunately, Malaysia is at an infant stage with its Gifted Education Programme. Did your friend's son try for the UKM Permata Pintar test? There are avenues if he is screened for further testing.

The good news that is Malaysia is actively progressing in their programme for gifted children. I would suggest you contact the National Association for Gifted Children Malaysia (NAGCM). Get in touch with the president who is a personal friend and mention that I had referred you. They would be able to guide you well. Please do not wait any further – this boy needs attention. Best of luck and I wish you well.


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