Just like every parent whose gifted child is first diagnosed with special needs, I was startled before I realized I had to be strong to brave through the uphill journey ahead. When my children were variably diagnosed with Aspergers, Sensory Integration Disorder, ADHD and Executive Dysfunction, my first reaction was to do whatever the experts told me to so that they could blend into public schools. After two years of therapies and counselling to no avail, I decided to go in the opposite direction and gave up on all the advice from well-meaning experts. By doing so, I found new paths, solutions not only for my children but also for others; I also found out later from another set of overseas experts that they had been misdiagnosed.
For any Singaporean parent, to be left without any schooling option for a child can be the most devastating situation to be in. When faced with that, instead of wallowing in my misfortune, I remembered what I was blessed with. I had a decade of university lecturing experience and was an award winning entrepreneur. My exposure to a plethora of pedagogies, teaching technologies, and the tenacities trained from years being an entrepreneur would give me enough experience to innovate myself out of the situation, I felt.
People tend to think that gifted children are a bunch of angels without any problems. The ones who have difficulties are often diagnosed with disabilities though their problems may stem from their giftedness. The focus was on handling difficulties, their social inabilities so that they could blend in and function properly in classrooms. After working with nine Singapore-based psychologists on my son who is tested gifted, I realized that the understanding of giftedness is very narrow in Singapore. Most professionals in this field specialize in learning disabilities instead, perhaps because it is a bigger market. Even in bigger countries (like the US), experts on highly gifted children are often the parents of these gifted children, seeing as there are so few of them in the world. I decided to embark on this new and exciting journey to educate myself about my kids and other like children.
Rather than trying to remedy the disabilities, I decided to focus on my children’s abilities instead. I believe that every child is born to this earth with special gifts, whether with special needs or without. I went on to find solutions to unlock each of my children’s unique gifts. Through the process, I chanced upon Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theories, came across Sir Ken Robinson’s thoughts that schools are already outdated, found out about Henry Mark’s Intense World theory on autism and encountered Dabrowsky’s Overexcitabilities in highly gifted individuals. I substituted sending my children to therapies, enrichments or tuitions to spending a few hours a day to explore the world with them. If I might say so myself, the results so far have been amazing.
My first son graduated from the university with a Bachelor of Fine Arts when he was eighteen, my second daughter graduated with a degree in psychology at seventeen and my third daughter will graduate with a degree in Math and Music at sixteen this year. My fourth son is dual-enrolled in a high school and second year university Math and Computer study courses at thirteen. The baby in our family is ten and doing Year 6 in school, while studying pre-university Math and English in his spare time. To some extent, I have radically accelerated all my children successfully by diverting my attention from their weaknesses to their strengths, listening more attentively and looking out for their passions.
Nobody likes to be picked on all the time. When we start from the premise that every child is gifted, hone in on the student’s greatest strengths, and work with him to take that to the furthest, he works harder, with more confidence and is more willing to correct the weaknesses. In other words, children function just like adults. We like to develop and do well in things that we are good at, and while at it, if we are shown that by correcting our weaknesses we can do even better, we will spare no effort in doing so.
This knowledge was instrumental in my research as I developed and patented new teaching processes. One of my patents was put into a system and implemented in SMU. To reach a wider audience, I made these systems available to the public, to amazing results. Students are finishing Grade 12 (pre U) as young as ten years old. These are not even students tested gifted, and our only requirement is for every student to spend 15 to 30 minutes a day on the system for each subject. Our hypothesis that every child is gifted and will thrive with the right education platform seems to be supported. Our belief that every child deserves a self-paced education can also be achieved now that the technology is ready.
Many parents, educators and experts believe that children who cannot fit into schools are imperfect humans that need to be corrected and fixed. We seem to have forgotten geniuses like Einstein (could never remember his own home address), Leonardo Da Vinci (would write his notes backwards), and even Michael Phelps (could not sit still). What they have are not deficiencies, those idiosyncrasies made them unique. Without them, they are no longer geniuses. These geniuses could not fit into schools simply because they needed to be different to thrive. Yet in this generation, it is ironic that we are spending so much money and effort to remove what makes geniuses great. The world would have been so different without them who gave us great innovations in Science, Arts and Sports.
What is worse is that some of these diseases are fictitious. As the “father” of ADHD, psychiatrist and autism pioneer, Leon Eisenberg admitted on his death bed that ADHD was, in fact a fictitious disorder. Sadly, millions of young children today are already being ostracized and needlessly prescribed severe mind-altering drugs that will set them up for a life of drug addiction. I hope my work will give an alternative to at-risk students who cannot fit in. After all, I do agree with Nelson Mandela, who stated that education is the most powerful weapon to change the world. While I believe school is only a small part of education, I was privileged to attend one of the best schools in the world.
I spent a total of six years in RGS and RJC, and those were the years I made livelong friends. I was not particularly academic, choosing to be active in sports and the aesthetics. I played softball for the school and combined school teams, the flute and trumpet in the band, and joined the first aid group. When we were in the RJC Paterson campus, we would come to school at 7:30 a.m. and only go home at 9 p.m. We loved being in school, had breakfast, lunch and dinner in school. We studied in the library, and the boys kicked their $2 plastic balls around in the basketball court during breaks while we sat and watched.
I also love the times when our principal, Mr Rudy Mosbergen, would give us days off to ride in the school bus to support our schoolmates in the interschool final competitions. I would make sure I cheered the loudest, laughed or cried the hardest whenever we played. I also knew that when I played my sport for my school, there were always hundreds of kindred spirits, who would cheer, laugh and cry with me. Those years in RJC gave me enough friends to last a lifetime.
A Rafflesian education is not to be taken for granted, yet I realize that not every student will have the opportunity to experience the same. My experience with Raffles made me understand the importance of growing up with age peers, as well as the opportunity to spar with intellectual peers. It is therefore my hope that every child has the opportunity not just to have classmates their own age, but to pursue their wildest academic dreams with their intellectual peers of different ages. If my fellow researchers and I are successful in deploying the right technologies and developing newer pedagogies, then perhaps we can keep our kids in school to work and play with their age peers and spar with their intellectual peers internationally. All these, without having to further burden the already work-laded educators. To me, to be able to build such an education system is like fulfilling an important omen that will change the world. Auspicium Melioris Aevi: An Omen (or to strive) for a better age…..CLICK HERE TO READ ORIGINAL ARTICLE ABOUT HOMESCHOOLING EXAMPLE IN SINGAPORE