The gifted and early university entrance

3:03 pm Blogroll

There has been a lot of publicity in recent weeks about certain gifted children who have done extremely well at their exams and gained university entrance well ahead of the time that would have been expected for them to go to university. Much of the debate in the press has centred around whether these students have missed out on aspects of their childhood because they have been very focused on their studies. Some people have pointed out that there is more to life (and certainly to childhood) than academic achievement. Developing friendships, exploring other interests and hobbies and having time to play are all aspects of childhood which many adults who have joined this debate have expressed regret about the children missing out on.

Of course, these children might not have missed out on these things. It might be that they have been able to balance the rigorous demands of external exams with more carefree aspects of childhood. Let’s hope so. What interests me about this debate is not whether or not it is appropriate for children to be starting their university studies at such a young age. The experts at the universities, together with the childrens’ parents, are the ones in the best position to decide that.

I’m interesting in what happens to these children once they finish their courses. Being a university graduate at 17 or 18 or 19 will pose other problems for the students, I should think. They will still find themselves out of step with their peers, as those who are the same age as them begin their university lives, with all that entails, both in the academic and non-academic areas. While their classmates, newly graduated students who have also completed post graduate study, will be adults with established lives. And I’m unsure about the job opportunities for the teenagers in their professional fields. Will someone with a Masters or PhD. in Mathematics really be able to find employment if that person is only 17 or 18 years old? Is it even desirable for someone like that to be employed in a professional capacity, with the responsibilities that suggests, when he could be out with his undergraduate friends, being less responsible?

It seems to me that the biggest problem with these young geniuses is not whether they should be elevated beyond their peers to university studies at such a young age. I wonder what the future will hold beyond those studies. And I wonder if they will remain out of step with their peers for many, many years to come. I understand that this is not a reason not to offer extension activities or challenges to children like these but I do hope this issue is considered by those keen to enrol them in university now.

Sue





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