What Permata Pintar can learn from Projek BAKA
It is exciting to learn that Malaysia is seeing another gifted and talented program being established. Projek Permata Pintar is yet another effort to cultivate good thinking skills amongst a selected group of students. Like the Malaysian Smart School, Sekolah Wawasan, and many other showcase projects we will continue to see what seem like innovations in our educational scenario. Projek Permata Pintar, a Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia-based project tutored by The Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University, USA, looks like a very-highly selective program rigoured by among other filtration tools, IQ (Intelligence Quotience) testing. In ensuring success, how might this program learn from pioneering programs such as the one established in Universiti Malaya in the 1980s, under the name Projek BAKA; a highly successful Gifted and Talented program that benefited thousands of children and dozens of institutions not only for its intellectual rigor, sound educational philosophy, but most importantly culturally-sensitive approach?The problem with our showcase educational reform projects is that it installs ideas that are not properly enculturalized. We sometimes take - lock, stock, and barrel - a concept and pump in millions of Ringgit into this or that project that often benefit a selected few. But there is still a perspective to consider in the education of Malaysia's gifted and talented.
The pioneer of 'Gifted and Talented Education'
The work of one of our nation's top educationist, the (late) Allahyarham Dato' Professor Azman Wan Chik the pioneer of gifted and talented training in Malaysia should serve as an inspiration and model to what others may attempt to do with theirs. The recent passing of Malaysia's foremost teacher, mentor, and linguist, Azman Wan Chik during this past Islamic month of Ramadan left a legacy of gifted and talented education.In the 1980s, under a research and development grant from the World Bank, Universiti Malaya associate professor of education Azman Wan Chik started his project of training Malaysian children and educators on the philosophy and pedagogy of Gifted and Talented Education. A body of literature on Malaysia's study of giftedness began to emerge from Universiti Malaya's faculty of Education; the effort found great support even from former UM's Vice Chancellor Royal Professor Ungku Aziz. The project was later commercialized.
Azman Wan Chik and his team of committed educators began transforming educational training nationwide, preparing not only teachers in the MRSM (Maktab Rendah Sains MARA) system to identify and develop the gifted and talented but also those in the Sekolah Agama Rakyat in Kelantan. His work earned him the recognition of the Kelantan government, rewarding him with a datukship for his effort in improving teaching of thinking amongst the students and teachers of the Islamic-based schools.The entire system of MRSM benefited from the work of this tireless and exemplary educator in that for each of the MRSM, a classroom or two for the gifted and talented were created. In the early 1990s Maktab Rendah Sains (MARA) Taiping was designated as the first fully-comprehensive gifted and talented residential school in Malaysia. Based on the work of Universiti Malaya's Projek BAKA and based on an enculturalized model of Joseph Renzulli's Triad, the school enriched its curriculum to include academic rigor and higher-order thinking skills at all levels and in all subject areas, compacting and differentiating its curriculum.The Ministry of Education was inspired by the work of UM's Projek BAKA and began to explore the ideas and possible implementation of gifted and talented education. Through its Kursus Kemahiran Berfikir Secara Kritis dan Kreatif (KBKK), implemented through its Teacher Training Program, the ministry succeeded in imparting the concepts of teaching creative thinking and futuristics at a time when the country was learning about the culture of innovation.
Learning from Projek BAKA
What can UM's Projek BAKA teach UKM's Permata Pintar? The answer lies in the conception of intelligence as a cultural-bound, multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, and egalitarian construct. It also lies in the fact that a successful program need not be one borrowed from a faraway land in which costs and context become a criticism of an otherwise potentially successful endeavor. What can a multi-million Ringgit program do to a nationwide teacher training in gifted and talented program rather than to merely one or two showcase schools that will only potentially benefit a selected few?
In the work of the late Azman Wan Chik and UM's Projek BAKA lie a time-tested Malaysian version of a gifted and talented program that has shown Malaysia what an enculturalized version of developing human intelligence look like. In his training lies the philosophy of John Dewey and experiential education artistically and scientifically blended with the Malaysian culture, through the primacy of literacy and the urgency of education for the "whole Malaysian child" -- so that intellectual and cultural rather than political and economic elite can be produced and reproduced.I believe the educators in the Permata Pintar Projek can benefit not only from some relevant ideas from the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins but mostly from a research-based Malaysian-styled three-decade old Project BAKA that started in Universiti Malaya; a program that is not merely a showcase but an institutionalized success that has actually produced hundreds of Malaysian children that has gone on to and graduated from places such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Carnegie-Mellon, Cambridge, U-Penn, and Stanford.
The Permata Pintar project must stand on the shoulder of a giant. It will have a better view of what giftedness means - culturally.