The gifted give back

published at The Standard, 28 June 2015
Leticia Penano-Ho, PhD has had decades of experience working with gifted children and their parents, but on that Monday morning she showed no signs of ever being tired. She seemed as spirited as the parents who had signed up to attend a lecture on Parenting the Gifted and the Talented.
Penano-Ho is a clinical psychologist, neurotherapist and retired education professor and former dean at the University of the Philippines. She is currently the chairman and president of the Philippine Association for the Gifted. She is a member of the Unesco National Commission and has represented the country in various forums on gifted education abroad.
“I am usually criticized as being elitist,” Penano-Ho said. “How is [what I do] interesting and useful for the country?”
The subsequent hours of her lecture answer her own question. Penano-Ho describes gifted children as being that -- gifts, meant to be unwrapped, and here is where parents play a big role in their development. Giftedness is basically genetic; development of talents, a combination of environment and opportunity. This would require specific knowledge and attention.
Nor does mere giftedness guarantee success. According to Penano-Ho, success is a consequence of three aspects: intelligence/creativity, passion and values. Take out one, and the equation is not complete.
The attendees were parents of incoming Grade 7 students of the Philippine High School for the Arts. Their backgrounds were diverse, coming from the fields of visual arts, theater arts, dance, music and creative writing, and from all over the country as well. Following stringent admission requirements, the children are government scholars, their tuition, food, board and lodging and even a stipend covered by the scholarship so long as they maintain specific averages in both their academic subjects and in their respective art fields.
According to Penano-Ho, she always encourages the gifted children she works with to come back and give back to their country in the manner they are most capable of giving.
Indeed it is easy to overlook the giving-back part when one is in the field of arts and in the company of accomplished, internationally acclaimed masters. It is easy to just focus on one’s own advancement and the numerous opportunities—fame and money included—that abound.
All these are good, and gifted, hardworking children deserve all the success they can get.  Then again, as the saying goes—from whom much is given, much is also expected.
“What is learning, if not applied? What is learning, if not transformative?” she asked.
At the other end of the spectrum is the government, society and even family units that sometimes fail to see “the gift.”
Lack of support may translate to loss of creative potential and enthusiasm for educational success.
And because some gifted children display behavior that is different from most others, it is easy to dismiss them as being weird, or odd. In fact, some gifted kids can be bullied for not being able to conform to the majority.
Families who are too preoccupied with other things—earning a living, for instance—may not be able to see their kids’ giftedness, or dismiss them because of other pressing things.
Government, for its part, may not show enough recognition for those who have the potential of doing this country proud. What happened to Wesley So, who now plays for the United States, is an example.
These are sad stories that must be the exception, not the rule.
Gifted children have their entire lives ahead of them, with a little advantage over others. That they optimize this advantage to make themselves reach their full potential, through hard work and self-mastery, to the point of being able to give back and inspire others to be their best -- this is the goal of gifted education.