A four-page article in this week’s issue of the world’s top scientific journal, Nature, about how the number of brilliant scientists may be increased in the course of this century is worth paying attention to.
It is “A long-running investigation of exceptional children reveals what it takes to produce the scientists who will lead the twenty-first century” and written by Tom Clynes.
The particular investigation it refer to is the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) which was started by Julian Stanley 45 years ago and continues to this day as the longest-running current longitudinal survey of intellectually talented children. It has tracked the careers and accomplishments of some 5,000 individuals since their childhood.
Stanley chose them by giving them a Scholastic Ability Test (SAT) — often several years before they are normally taken by university aspirants. If they appeared in the top 1% of overall results then they became part of the study whatever their age.
Combining the results of SMPY with 11 more longitudinal studies of other research teams they all confirm that precocious children certainly do have a effect on society when they reach mature years. Other provisional results so far that education boards in different authorities might bear in mind are as follows.
SAT and 11+ type tests fairly accurately denote the high flyers and, within them, spatial ability questions are the strongest signifiers.
Excessively low or high scores can be false indicators on any particular day. Tests should be repeated.
Exceptionally gifted children are not ‘loners’. They all look for personal encouragement and a social setting of like minded individuals.
Theories such as 5,000 (extra) hours of tuition which are supposed to take ‘ordinary’ children and young people into the highest realms of expertise — or even genius — as claimed by some, might or might not be relevant for some, but not necessary for the naturally gifted.
For the above reason, educationalists should not be afraid of accelerating the grades of exceptional children. So long as they find themselves in a group of older students where they can talk about their special subject the children will socialise well enough.