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Gifted Education in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is one of the most active places in promoting gifted education in Asia, supported by the government, NGOs, media and parents for about two decades. The results of gifted education in Hong Kong during the past twenty years are controversial. The current provisions are not always effective in identifying and helping twice exceptional gifted children who may be underachievers or have special education needs.

Key words:
gifted education, special education for gifted children, education policy, special support, special education, developmental disorder, Hong Kong

Hong Kong is one of the most active places in promoting gifted education in Asia, supported by the government, NGOs, media and parents for about two decades. The results of gifted education in Hong Kong during this period are controversial. From the end of the WWII to the 1960s, Hong Kong experienced tremendous population growth due to a high birth rate and influx of people from Mainland China. The Hong Kong government strove to give children and young people the opportunity to receive primary education and secondary education. Following the economic takeoff in the 1970s and 1980s, the Hong Kong government decided to expand tertiary and vocational education. Until the 1990s, the government knew little about gifted education and had few resources to launch it. Provision of standardized nine-year free education for children was the top priority of the government. Gifted students and special education needs (SEN) students were mixed with ordinary children, receiving education in the mainstream classroom. Gifted children did not develop their potential and many were mistaken as troublemakers.

In the 1990s, the Hong Kong government increased its investment in education and thus began to launch gifted education. In 1990, Education and Manpower Branch (renamed as Education and Manpower Bureau in 1997) issued The Report Number Four in which the gifted education became one of the directions for Hong Kong education development. Since then, gifted education has been gradually incorporated into primary and secondary education.

How to identify a gifted child? The Report Number Four, using the US as the main reference, has adopted a broad definition that considers both IQ and special talents. Usually a child with an IQ over 130 is regarded as gifted and an IQ over 160? is considered exceptionally gifted. On top of IQ, a child who has special talent in a certain area such as music, painting, calculation and memorization is also classified as gifted, although his/her IQ may not reach 130. Hence, teachers and parents must observe the children from different perspectives such as whether they have special talent in music, painting, drama, sports, mathematics, memorization, creativity analysis, leadership or mechanical skills. Assessment should not be based on a single test. The Report Number 4 complied by the Education and Manpower Branch in 1990 suggested that schools should set up a special task force to identify and assess gifted children and then send the list of gifted students to the government.

The Education Department experimented with the Curriculum for Academic Outstanding Students at 19 primary schools between 1994 and 1997. However, it was a trial error as the schools picked students with good academic results to receive gifted education. This was ironic in that gifted children may not have good academic performance and top graded students are not necessarily gifted children. Gifted children receive education either in the mainstream classroom or a special classroom. 19 primary schools chose educate gifted students in the mainstream classroom. There were two ways to implement gifted education: mainstream classroom teaching and special classroom teaching. Teachers were encouraged to introduce elements of gifted education into mainstream classroom such as leadership and creative thinking. According to students' quality and ability, teachers divided students into groups. Second, in special classroom teaching, gifted students were grouped together to receive training after class. In 1995, the Education Department founded Fun Hon Chu Gifted Education Center as the teaching hub for gifted education.

After the Millennium, gifted education was expanded to secondary schools. In 2001 the Education Department implemented "Support Measures for the Exceptionally Gifted Students". Members of the scheme were chosen by the Education Department from a list of students nominated by their secondary schools. Following instructions from the Education Department, secondary school teachers nominated students. Parents and students could also make a nomination. The secondary school made the final list and submitted it to the Gifted Education Section of the Education Department. Between 2001 and 2008, about 7000 students from 300 secondary schools joined this scheme. Unlike the Curriculum for Academic Outstanding Students, this scheme did not only look at the academic performance, but also paid attention to IQ, sports, art, music, and special skills to fir into the holistic educational approach. Gifted students were sent abroad to participate in competitions. Co-organized by different organizations designated by the government, the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education was founded in August 2008. The government and the private donor each contributed one hundred million Hong Kong dollars for its establishment. Since then, the Academy has been the training venue for the scheme, offering educational, training and selection services for gifted students aged between 10 and 18. The Academy has established collaboration with universities and organized workshops for teachers and parents.

Gifted education in Hong Kong has room for improvement. First, the assessment and recommendation are now done by schools rather than specialists. Schools usually recommend students with good grades rather than gifted students (who can be underachievers). Second, lack of systematic and long-term support is a problem. Hong Kong is short of special schools for gifted education and experts in this field. Programs like "Support Measures for the Exceptionally Gifted Students" are not adequate. There is no systematic coordination and collaboration among the government, universities and Hong Kong Institute of Education in gifted education. Third, the government emphasizes gifted education more than special education and does not understand that they are closely related. Not a few gifted children are SEN students who have behavior or learning problems. The support for learning difficulties is not adequate. The feeling is that the government is more willing to help the gifted than the needy.

In 2009, the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education launched a "twice exceptionality" support scheme. "Twice exceptionality" refers to gifted children with SEN (such as such as autism, reading and writing problem and ADHD). In Hong Kong, it is not well understood that dual exceptional children are the group of gifted children who suffer most in society. The Academy carries out research on dual exceptional children and their families and provides support to them, marking a new direction in gifted education in Hong Kong. For gifted children who are in need of support, educational psychologists provide personal services. However, only a very small portion of gifted children benefit. One of the most important issues in gifted education in Hong Kong is how to take care of all gifted children.

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