Home>News Center>China

Educators grapple with gifted youngsters
By Wu Jiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-10-19 06:04

Ning Bo enrolled at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), one of China's top 10 universities, when he was just 13 years old.

By the age of 19, he had become a teacher at the university, the youngest lecturer in China.

A child prodigy, Ning's life seemed almost perfect, he looked to be fulfilling the potential he had shown so young and his achievements were met with universal praise.

But then, this summer, at the age of 38, Ning walked out on his job to become a monk, ending his secular life. His actions immediately sparked a nation-wide debate about the education of gifted children.

Along with 16 other children under 15, Ning Bo was recruited into a special department established by the Hefei-based USTC in 1978 to teach children with outstanding academic talent.

"They were the talk of the country because they possessed remarkable talent at such an early age," says Wang Huidi, then teacher of the "young genius department."

According to Wang, because the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) greatly damaged China's academic development, it was necessary to promote interest in academic study by setting examples for people to aspire to.

The job of teaching the children in her department required much more than just giving lecturers.

"In addition to supervising their academic study, I also attended to their daily life. I even had to prepare milk for them every morning before class," says Wang.

"They could not manage their own lives, let alone deal with all the people around them."

Like Wang, many experts have noticed the problems in educating gifted youngsters.

In a recent lecture, Lin Fenglan, an expert in youth study, suggested that children entering university at an early age are more likely to experience severe problems with interpersonal relationships.

"Although they may be very intelligent, their psychological perception is still at the level of a normal child. It is hard for those children to manage relationships and life in a university which is designed for mature people," says Lin.

The story of Wei Yongkang serves as a perfect illustration.

Wei's parents accompanied him for four years while he studied at the Xiangtan University in Central China's Hunan Province, until he was 14. When Wei enrolled at the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) as a doctorate candidate in 2000, his mother went home, leaving him to live on his own in the dormitory.

Three years later, Wang was sent home by university authorities because he could not cope with university life.

"He went sightseeing at the Summer Palace in winter wearing only a T-shirt," Wei's mother Zeng Xuemei explained with a sad smile in a recent TV interview.

"If no one told him what to wear, he had little idea of what clothes he should put on."

But Wei Yongkang blames his lack of awareness about life on his mother's mollycoddling.

"All she cared about was that I did well in my studies. She did everything else for me, including washing and cleaning which I was able to do by myself. I envied other children who lived normal lives with their parents," says Wei.

However, not everyone who enters university at an early age has such problems.

Zhang Yaqin, former classmate of Ning Bo, is now Microsoft's global vice-president.

In Zhang's eyes, the great difference between him and Ning Bo is that he knew how to manage his personal life and stay out of the public eye.

"I was four years older than Ning Bo when we entered university, an age when I could arrange my life reasonably and study well, " Zhang explains.

While the public may pick problems with the young prodigies, USTC believes people should not single out this particular group of students.

Chen Yi, vice-president of USTC, says students are expelled from every department in every university, and the "young genius department" is no exception.

"Like other departments, we have students who can keep up, and students who cannot," he explains.

According to Chen, statistics from USTC show 85 per cent of children enrolled at the university continue their studies after getting their bachelor's degrees. A third go on to obtain doctorate degrees, a higher proportion than from any other department in any university in China.

Every year, the media report dozens of cases of children entering university. While labelled by society as child prodigies, and put on a pedestal, how the children actually feel about themselves is a serious concern.

Zhang Xinyang is the latest "child genius" to catch the public's imagination. The 10-year-old boy was recently admitted to the Tianjin Univeristy of Technology and Education after spending only two years in primary school and three years in middle school, seven years less than the usual.

When asked whether he considered himself a genius, the boy replied, "The reason I learn faster is because I concentrate on my study so much. If everybody paid as much attention to their studies as I do, most of them could learn better. I don't think there are any child prodigies."

Despite Zhang's denial of the existence of genius, Shi Jiannong, an expert in juvenile education studies at the Institute of Psychology Study under the CAS, told reporters that research has estimated that 1-3 per cent of children are especially clever in academic fields while 15 per cent are gifted in various artistic fields.

"There are around 3 million such children in China and we need to build an education system to cater to their needs," said Shi.

A number of universities and middle schools in China have already set up special courses for precocious talents. Some of them even arrange for psychologists to work with the children, and design special courses in accordance with students' interests and talents.

"Schools are taking great risks in admitting young geniuses. But when we meet these brilliant children, we try our best to bring them up as well as we possibly can," says Zhao Daheng, a teacher responsible for the genius class at the No 8 Middle School in Beijing.

(China Daily 10/19/2005 page5)

Wedding gown show
Renowned novelist Ba Jin passes away at 101
Rumsfeld in town to discuss military exchanges
  Today's Top News     Top China News

China postpones Japanese foreign minister's trip



Guardian admits Taishi reporting false



Rumsfeld visit to pave way for summit meet



Saddam lawyer to seek 3-month adjournment



Snow urges faster China reform



Joint action helps bust cross border drug ring


  China cancels foreign minister Japan trip
  More flexible exchange rate system promised
  Astronauts' safe return sparks big celebrations
  Koizumi's shrine visit draws rage, protests
  Novelist Ba Jin passed away at 101
  Space-age technology seeps into everyday life
  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools  
  News Talk  
  It is time to prepare for Beijing - 2008