Gifted Enrichment Education

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Race to the Future: Innovations in Gifted and Enrichment Education in Asia, and Implications for the United States

by Kathryn C. Ibata-Arens

1. Introduction: The Rise of Asia

Department of Political Science, DePaul University, 990 W. Fullerton Avenue, Suite 2200, Chicago, IL 60614, USA

For several decades, American educators and policy makers have studied how the United States compares to Asian countries in terms of the institutions supporting human capital development. For example, in the early 1990s a report was commissioned in the United States: “National Excellence: a Case for Developing America’s Talent (1993) [7]”. The report compared the education of gifted and talented students in China, Taiwan and Japan, and implications for education in the United States. It found that though gifted education programs in China and Taiwan were relatively recent, they were already ahead of developments in Japan at the time. The report concluded that the needs of U.S. gifted and talented students were not being met with then current practice, neither in terms of government policy mandates nor sufficient budget allocations. Nearly two decades later, the United States still lacks a comprehensive national policy on gifted education.

Meanwhile, the US is producing fewer and fewer college bound graduates who have the desire and skills to pursue careers at the technological frontier. As will be explained below, Japan lags behind other Asian countries in gifted education provision while the United States has faced a decline in its once stellar gifted education system. If we continue on this course, Japan and the United States shall end up as economic “has beens” in the rear view mirrors of countries speeding ahead towards a globally competitive future.

This paper begins with an overview of the significance of gifted education for national economies, outlining pioneering developments in gifted education in the United States as a point-of-departure. The next section provides an overview of recent innovations in gifted education policy and practice in Asia, highlighting developments in China (Beijing, Hong Kong, Taiwan), Korea and Singapore. The paper will conclude with lessons for Japan and the United States and suggestions for future policy.

The methodology of the paper is primarily a literature review of the scholarly literature in Chinese, English and Japanese regarding gifted education policy and practice, interviews with government and academic experts, primarily in China, Japan, Singapore and the United States, supplemented with interviews with young adults from these countries who have experienced gifted education and enrichment programs in these countries. Special emphasis is placed on developments in China and Japan, due to their population size compared to other East Asian countries.

2. Overview of Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) and Its Importance in National Innovation Systems

Gifted learners (130+ IQs) learn up to eight times as quickly as low IQ students and can, with the right kinds of teaching, master several years of grade level material in a single year [8,9]. Additionally, gifted learners need only a few exposures to new concepts to master them. Additional, redundant “drilling” has been found to lead to less retention, while experiential, hands-on enrichment activities enhance academic performance and student satisfaction across cultural contexts [10]. Gifted children, when provided with the right kinds of intellectual stimulation and enrichment, mature into leading scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators. This human capital development is an important part of a national innovation system (NIS). A national innovation system is comprised of a set of institutions and practices that underpin country-specific capacity in innovation (e.g., measured by patent output). For example, research institutions including top universities in the United States in the past have produced leading science and technology, as well as highly capable graduates to lead product developments in the public and private sector. A key component of a healthy national innovation system is nurturing all learners to reach their highest potential, and thereby maximize domestic human capital development. High ability learners, often referred to as “gifted” present a unique opportunity for maximum return-on-investment in this regard.

3. Gifted Education in the United States: A Leader Falls Behind

The field of gifted and talented education was pioneered in the United States in the late 1800s by the provision of special education to high ability students in individual schools, and later became a focus of national policy after the government response to the launch of the Soviet Sputnik Satellite in 1957 [11]. This “Sputnik Moment” in the United States led to a national level effort to improve the human capital development of the nation’s high ability learners, particularly in the fields of mathematics, science and technology. The National Defense Education Act of 1958 was the first national level policy to support gifted education, and many millions of dollars poured into research and development of gifted education throughout the country. Other milestones include the enactment of the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act (1988), which (until 2011) has provided five to ten million dollars annually for research and program development in GATE, focusing on low-income students. These early policies have since stagnated.

In the last decade NCLB (No Child Left Behind) driven testing has diverted resources towards “teaching to the test” and away from enrichment education [12]. In 2010, the National Science Board in the United States published a policy blueprint, “Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators: Identifying and Developing our Nation’s Human Capital [13]”. The report resulted from a two-year study in collaboration with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Education (DoE). The report faults NCLB for biasing getting children across the “basic proficiency threshold.” The report concluded that the United States has “no ‘standards of excellence’ to which schools are held”. The report also found that the U.S. education system is failing bright learners in low income, at-risk students–as most programs providing enrichment and STEM acceleration are not part of the formal curriculum of schools (e.g., are after-school, fee-based), nor are they mandated by any federal government policy. Further, the 2010–2011 biannual “state-of-the-states” report of the National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) found a climate of national neglect vis a vis federal government support of gifted education, and as of September 2011, the future of the Jacob Javits Act—the only federal government funded program to support gifted education—was uncertain, having been eliminated from the House of Representatives 2012 budget [14]. In sum, the United States, despite having pioneered the provision of gifted education at local and national levels, has begun to prioritize standardized testing of its students, aiming to ensure that all schools are achieving academic “proficiency,” rather than excellence.

Currently, a number of Asian countries are reforming their education systems away from rote learning and towards experimental/experiential formats.

“Gifted” education includes curricula tailored to the individual needs of high aptitude student and often focuses on critical thinking and related analytical skills. “Enrichment” education is similar, and is provided to students who have already mastered current grade levels of content in primarily math and reading. In enrichment, high achieving students (regardless of a “gifted” identification) receive higher than grade level content instruction in content areas. Enrichment is often worked in addition to regular classroom work and for this reason supplemental after school programs are often confused with gifted enrichment. The following sections review the history and current trends in gifted education policy and practice in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and Japan. Particular attention is paid to historical catalysts that led to education policy reform, and in the case of Japan, the barriers to reform.


MDPI and ACS Style Ibata-Arens, K.C. Race to the Future: Innovations in Gifted and Enrichment Education in Asia, and Implications for the United States. Adm. Sci. 2012, 2, 1-25. https://doi.org/10.3390/admsci2010001

AMA Style Ibata-Arens KC. Race to the Future: Innovations in Gifted and Enrichment Education in Asia, and Implications for the United States. Administrative Sciences. 2012; 2(1):1-25.

https://doi.org/10.3390/admsci2010001 Chicago/Turabian Style Ibata-Arens, Kathryn C. 2012. “Race to the Future: Innovations in Gifted and Enrichment Education in Asia, and Implications for the United States” Administrative Sciences 2, no. 1: 1-25. https://doi.org/10.3390/admsci2010001

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