I once had a brilliant student from China who originally came from an extremely impoverished background. Several children in the family, before the one-child policy. Not enough food to go around; the boys got more, to her resentment. All her siblings now extremely successful and financially comfortable. She was in Canada to pursue graduate studies, particularly costly for a foreign student.
Talked about how she had ended up where she was, with the absolute best education that China could offer, going to top-ranked secondary school and university. When she was very young, she was identified by the Chinese government as being intellectually gifted. With the consent of her parents, she and others so identified were sent to state-run boarding schools and given an education commensurate with their intellectual gifts. All of her siblings were so identified; her family was famous, in her village.
In her time, China had a system in place to identify intellectually talented persons across the country and to make sure that they received the very best education available, without resource constraints and irrespective of their financial backgrounds.
I asked her if the system still existed today, in the market-based China. She said no, that in fact she was in the process of paying the fees to get her son into an exclusive kindergarten and primary school. In today’s China, she would very likely not have been provided with the opportunities that were available to her and her siblings, as children. In today’s China, like so much of the world, money talks, money opens the doors, money creates the opportunities.
Caused me to wonder how we ensure that children with particular intellectual gifts from rural backgrounds and general poverty are given the best opportunities. I had experienced such “special” identification and the resources associated therewith, though in an urban environment. Children from various economic backgrounds identified and placed in a “special class”, though that was more of an urban experiment in the egalitarian Saskatoon of the early to mid-1960s.
Problems with resources and gifted children are a matter of contemporary concern, with some contending that rural lifestyles augment the gifts, or at least balance out other resource constraints.
To me, there’s something very positive about the older Chinese model, where multiple children from an impoverished rural background end up identified and treasured by education authorities from an early age. Model now gone; model to perhaps emulate elsewhere.
Postscript, May 17, 2011: Maybe the model is more of my own interpretative myth. What research I can find speaks about “special schools” in China existing in relation to specific talents, such as music, athletics and languages, and where a primary focus otherwise seems to be to accelerate gifted children to university, at an early age. This focus has been subject to reservations within China, in recent years.