Thursday, October 13, 2005

Finding brilliant children in tough circumstances

SAIGON-- I'm writing this from a hotel in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, where my husband Michael and I are on vacation. We just spent four days cycling around the Mekong delta with a Vietnamese guide named Hoc.

Hoc is from a small town in the central highlands of Vietnam. In his village, 30 young people graduated from high school with him, but he was the only one to go to university. Ten years ago, he said, if a young person from a small village went to college "he was a famous man." Now, higher education is increasing in Vietnam, but still, only 2 of 100 children have this opportunity.

Nearly 100% of children attend primary school here, though, so that is a start. We rode through several villages as school was letting out for lunch or in the afternoon -- you're immediately surrounded by dozens of children on bicycles shrieking down the road to their wood and sheet metal huts balanced on stilts over the Mekong river's canals or over the rice paddies. Poverty here is grinding -- average income is $200 a year. Though Vietnam's cities are growing and developing rapidly, malnourishment remains a problem in the provinces. According to the government, over a quarter of children are malnourished (and as a Communist government with little incentive to document problems on this front, you can bet the real number is higher).

So, here's the question I've been pondering. There are 20 million children under 18 years old in Vietnam. Let's think about the top 1%, or 200,000 children. Some of those children are in Saigon and Hanoi, where they can tap into international standards of education, internet access, books, museums and all that. But most of those children live in ramshackle huts, with parents who labor all day in the rice paddies or farm catfish on houseboats that get flooded out in severe rainy seasons. How can the government here, or international groups, or the multinational companies that do business in Vietnam, find the brightest children in these circumstances, and ensure that their talents are nurtured?

It's a question that matters for America too-- we have trouble finding and nurturing talent in inner city schools, or in impoverished rural areas too. What's the best approach to finding and polishing diamonds in the rough?


Marie said...

I am extremly interested in your vacation. Want details of how, why and when to do this. On your posted issue: Finding children in poverty anywhere breaks a persons heart. Finding "talented ones" should not be a priority over helping all of them. Forgein investors should consider where work force comes from. Manual labor and all because any society not built on a solid foundation, educated healthy public, will have major destructive forces in it looking to force improvements.

Anonymous said...

We have gifted children here in this country living in extreme conditions. My student is here illegally and needs to return to country of origin every year or so.
He is extremely talented in the area of mathematical computation and has an extensive vocabulary and wealth of knowledge from reading alone. His
parents are undeducated and do not speak English. I have tried to place this student within the public school system and am being told that our gifted program is extremely limited.

No one seems to be able to give me
much advice as to what to do. I feel very frustrated.

Marie V.

Maureen Neihart said...

My name is Maureen Neihart. I am a psychologist who has written about gifted children and am now teaching at a university in Singapore. The timing of your blog is perfect for me as I am testing my graduate students (teachers) tonight on best practices in identifying gifted and talented children. I will use your observations and questions as a backdrop for this question: Suppose you were invited to consult with the Vietnamese government regarding identifying and nurturing children with high intellectual potential. What best practices regarding identification would you share with them? What cautions, if any, would you give them? Thanks for your input!