Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education: An In-Depth Analysis

This second part of an in-depth study of gifted education in Hong Kong concentrates on the development of the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education (HKAGE) and its progress to date.

The treatment is somewhat more forensic than I normally offer: there is particular personal interest in an Academy very similar conceptually to England’s own National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth, which operated under Government contract from 2002 to 2007.

I especially wanted to explore a statement concerning HKAGE in a recent publication – ‘Room at the Top’ – to which I drew attention in my posts critiquing it:

‘[This] organisation, supported in principle by government but freed from government interference, has proved a better basis for development of out-of-hours provision than the part-government directed NAGTY or its fully government-directed successor.’

A Brief Reprise

Part One of this post considered the wider development of gifted education in Hong Kong since 1990, describing the emergence of twin school-based and off-site strands.

The latter was originally intended for a tiny 0.1% cohort of exceptionally gifted learners but, by the time the Academy is launched, it has morphed into support for ‘those who consistently perform in the top 2% of their age cohort’.

We have observed that, during the genesis of the Academy, the Hong Kong Government laid down some explicit targets for its early development. It would:

  • provide services to 10,000-12,000 students from 2007-2010 (about 3,000 students per year);
  • serve about 600 teachers and 5,000 parents per year;
  • develop close partnerships with local and overseas universities to offer [student] programmes and provide a network of mentors for Hong Kong’s gifted students; and
  • initiate and conduct research to provide evidence-based advice on services for the gifted and effective pedagogy; and offer recommendations on government policy.

Before we examine the emergence of HKAGE services and the Academy’s progress towards these targets, it would help to rectify an omission from Part One by sketching out some broad demographical context.

Hong Kong Demographics

This map

conveys an important reminder that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is a much larger entity than Hong Kong City. It incorporates Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories and some 200 smaller islands.

The total land mass of 426 square miles is divided into 18 districts which have a combined population of 7 million people. In 2009, the school-age population included 345,000 primary school learners and 481,000 secondary school learners giving a total school-age population of approximately 830,000.

Of these about 600,000 are within scope of the Academy’s current 10-18 age range. If the Academy were to apply rigidly a 2% cohort assumption, then the total size of its target group would be 12,000 learners. But the fact that learners are admitted on the basis of high performance in different domains will serve to increase the size of the target group significantly.

I can find no data to support a reliable estimate of the potentially eligible population – if the Academy has a figure, it does not seem to be in the public domain – but one might reasonably assume it to be something between 20,000 and 30,000 aged 10-18.

This assumes that the proportion of learners moving out of eligibility each year, having left secondary education, is broadly the same as the proportion arriving within scope at the other end of the age range.

These learners may potentially be drawn from Hong Kong’s 533 secondary schools, and also from those primary schools with learners in the two senior year groups from which the Academy draws. In reality though, almost all students seem currently to come from the secondary sector.

The Role of HKAGE

The Academy’s website gives the purpose of HKAGE as being to:

provide more structured, articulated and challenging off-site programmes for students with exceptional talent, and to promote the concepts and practices of gifted education.’

This formulation perpetuates the idea in earlier papers that HKAGE has a double role – to improve the education of a specific target group of students and to improve gifted education as a whole.

But, unsurprisingly, there is no further reference to providing policy advice to the Government, since that is properly the role of the Gifted Education Service (GES) within the EMB. At the very least, the EMB would want to ensure that any recommendations from HKAGE are filtered through them.

‘Promoting concepts and practices’ implies a much wider outward-facing role as champion of gifted education with the full range of external stakeholders.

Such a role would fit much more comfortably within the partnership between the Academy and the GES. But is is noticeable that there are no published targets for this element of the Academy’s task.

The website reproduces the previous target for the number of students served, but shunts it forward by a year, stating that HKAGE will ‘cater for 10,000 students during the period of 2008-2011’.

Parental education workshops are expected to serve about 5,000 parents annually (following the earlier figure).

There will be a range of training programmes – long and short courses, seminars and talks – but otherwise no specificity about targets. The Academy lowers expectations by noting that it will start ‘from a base of only a few hundred teachers in the first years’ but is highly ambitious for the longer term: ‘it is intended that ALL teachers in Hong Kong will have the opportunity to develop their skills in GE [gifted education]’.

There is a similarly aspirational reference to the research dimension which repeats the wording of earlier documents.

The risk of perceived overlap with GES is directly addressed, at least with regard to externally-facing services:

All of these developments will enable EDB to concentrate its efforts on collaborating with schools to promote effective learning and teaching practices in the classroom (Level 1) and provide support to pull-out programmes inside schools (Level 2). EDB will continue to offer relevant professional development programmes for in-service teachers and may provide some of these programmes in collaboration with the Academy. This will ensure a ‘seamless’ development of gifted students across learning contexts inside and outside schools’.

The HKAGE vision statement emphasises a holistic and strategic entity, but foregrounds the target group of ‘exceptionally gifted’ learners rather than any wider role.

‘to become a world-class institution of its kind with an effective framework for strategic planning and delivery of appropriate programmes to encourage and nurture exceptionally gifted students and to provide support to their teachers and parents as well as other researchers and related organizations within the Hong Kong SAR’.

But, conversely, its mission statement reverts again to the broader concept:

‘To secure appropriate learning and development opportunities for gifted students, initially aged 10 to 18 years, to enable them to realize their potential in a wide range of learning domains including leadership, creativity and inter-personal skills, and to cater for their social and emotional needs as well as their sense of commitment to the local community;

To mobilize and steer the interest and effort of parents, teachers, academics and business and community leaders with a view to creating a conducive and enriching learning environment for all gifted students;

To facilitate the professional development of teachers in the identification and support of gifted students within the school context;

To develop, through partnership with like-minded organizations, both locally and in other countries, a knowledge hub for furthering research on gifted education and the exchange of ideas and best practice.’

There is no hint here of an inward-facing policy advice function, but the outward-facing role across gifted education as a whole is writ large.

The research and advisory function is translated into the creation of a partnership-based ‘knowledge hub’ with national and international reach, calling to mind a sentence in the 2006 Legislative Council paper:

While the Academy will cater primarily for the needs of local gifted students, it has the potential to be developed into a knowledge hub to serve gifted students in the Mainland and the Asia-Pacific region as well’.

This concept borrows from the idea of Hong Kong itself as a ‘regional education hub’, an idea first promulgated in 2004 and subsequently developed into a policy to attract overseas students into its higher education institutions. It is a manifestation of Hong Kong’s wider positioning as a knowledge economy.

So much for these elements of HKAGE’s (regrettably unpublished) strategic plan. We turn next to the services offered by the Academy.

But, to set in proper context the analysis of student services, it is first necessary to review how eligible learners are identified.

Courtesy of Let Ideas Compete

How does HKAGE recruit students?

The Academy’s second press release in October 2008 shows it open for business. A school nomination process is being piloted, with a 4-week window for nominations to be submitted.

Each school is invited to nominate 8 gifted learners who demonstrate exceptional potential and/or performance in one of four domains – leadership, maths, science or humanities – with some leeway to nominate additional outstanding junior students if the quota is too restrictive.

So schools nominate potentially suitable students from amongst those they teach at Levels 1 and 2, though now there is some provision for students to be identified through ‘alternative pathways’ involving school social social workers and educational psychologists.

There is also now a third ‘nurturing the gifted’ entry route which allows HKAGE to nominate directly students who excel in local or international competitions.

The Academy uses screening interviews and ‘domain tests’ to decide which nominated students should be permitted to access its services. Students are selected for particular domain-specific programmes rather than into the Academy as a whole.

The process has changed slightly over time. The nominations window has been extended to six weeks and there is now an online platform supporting this element of the process. However, the entire identification procedure still takes some six months from start to finish.

The 2011-12 guidance invites participating schools to nominate no more than 12 students, with 3-4 in each domain. Nominations go through an initial screening process which examines evidence of achievement and activity and an online non-verbal reasoning test is administered. Shortlisted nominees then attend ‘programme-related selection activities’ (tests, except in the case of leadership where students are interviewed).

What this means in practice is that HKAGE is offering a conflation of categories D and E in the Hong Kong framework for gifted education – domain-specific pull-out programmes for a 2% population but drawn from a large number of different schools.

This presentation by HKAGE’s Director suggests the Academy would prefer an alternative identification process whereby an initial ‘talent pool’ is identified through a Hong Kong-wide assessment, from which Academy participants are subsequently identified through testing and nominations.

It is hard to know why this pool does not already exist, at least in the form of an aggregation of schools’ own identification processes. Certainly, documents such as the Senior Secondary Curriculum Guide insist that:

‘All schools need to develop a mechanism for identifying gifted students that suit their own school context and school-wide approach.’

One can only hypothesise that there is a significant gap between Government exhortation and reality – that, despite several years of support for school-based gifted education, too few schools can currently identify, with any reliability, a cadre of learners that are within scope of Level 1 Category B (10%) and Level 2 Categories C/D (2-4%) provision respectively during any given year.

How many gifted learners are nominated and join HKAGE programmes?

A succession of press releases give figures for the annual identification rounds to date, from which it is possible to build up a composite picture of the growth in numbers of learners involved:

2009 2010 2011
nominations 1080 1800 2007
schools nominating 187 227 249
acceptances 700 1351 1200

We can see that, while numbers of nominees and schools nominating have significantly increased, progress may be slowing. Moreover, the larger number of nominations in 2011 resulted in fewer acceptances, which perhaps suggests that HKAGE is trying to expand into schools which are relatively less secure in their gifted identification practice.

By 2011, the Academy is engaging only some 47% of Hong Kong secondary schools which, if the previous inference is correct, would suggest that over half of Hong Kong schools are relatively untouched by the school-based gifted education movement.

The quota system deployed by the Academy suggests that it is pursuing a deliberate policy of broadening the range of schools supplying participating learners. It presumably prevents some schools from dominating the Academy but, by the same token, it will also depress the total numbers.

In 2010-11, 31% of participants were nominated for the maths domain, 26% for sciences, 23% for humanities and 20% for leadership.

Successful students do not need to be renominated, remaining with the Academy throughout their time in secondary education. So, adding together the numbers for each year above suggests that the maximum number of participants (assuming none have yet left secondary education) is of the order of 3,250.

There is a complicating factor in that the 2009 figures above are not fully consistent with those provided in an answer to a Legislative Council question dating from January 2010. This reveals that:

  • in 2008/09 HKAGE took over from EDB in phases the Support Measures for the Exceptionally Gifted Students Scheme, providing services to 2,370 students by this means;
  • an additional 1,357 new students were admitted to HKAGE programmes during 2008/09.
  • In 2009/10, as of December 2009, HKAGE has admitted 1,385 new students.
  • The target number of students to be served for 2009/10 as a whole is expected to reach 3,500.

I suspect that the problem arises from a conflation of admissions to the Academy and students taking part in Academy programmes. The second figure, depending on how it is defined, will include students admitted in previous years but also, potentially, students not admitted at all. It may even be the case that students are counted more than once if they undertake two or more elements of provision.

It is the second figure – those taking part – which has been established as an indicator of HKAGE’s performance. This has the advantage of measuring activity, but the number admitted to the Academy would be a very useful complementary indicator.

So is the Academy meeting its published target of 10,000 students participating in programmes over 2008-11? This presentation by the Director reports that:

  • in 2008-09 the Academy provided 31 learning programmes for 3,000 students;
  • in 2009-10 43 programmes for 3,500 students and;
  • in 2010-11 70 programmes (though the number of participants is not specified)

so the answer is almost certainly ‘yes’. But this perhaps masks the fact that, if we look at admissions to the Academy as a percentage of potentially eligible learners, it cannot be much above 10% currently.

Courtesy of StudioH (Chris)

What Services does HKAGE offer to students?

The Academy currently divides its student services into six ‘domains’: humanities, leadership, maths, science, multi-disciplinary and personal growth/social development.

It had intended to diversify from 2010 by adding: Chinese language and literature, English language and literature, the arts, technology, mentoring and applied learning, but – with the exception of mentoring – this is not yet reflected on the website.

It offers a mixture of provision, mostly brokered from third party providers, including:

  • programmes (sequences of activities typically occurring weekly for 3-4 weeks);
  • talks
  • competitions
  • mentoring and
  • ‘other activities’ (such as expeditions and summer schools)

Most provision is free of charge both to students’ families and their schools, with the exception of a few credit-bearing programmes. There is also 100% fee remission for disadvantaged students meeting the eligibility criteria.

It is unclear what proportion of this ‘student offer’ consists of activities that would have happened anyway and what proportion are directly commissioned by the Academy, with the cost subsidised from HKAGE’s budget.

Provision in the former category has the merit of being free, but the Academy’s role is essentially confined to supplying the participants by advertising the opportunities to its membership.

Provision in the latter category eats up valuable budget but the Academy can influence the content and pedagogy to ensure that it meets the needs of its members.

It is clear that elements of acceleration, extension and enrichment are combined within this offer.

Activities typically seem to be advertised a term in advance. At the time of writing, the site advertises 11 programmes, all free to participants, as well as its 2011/12 mentoring scheme which matches 2-3 mentees with a single mentor over 4-6 months.

On top of its categorisation of provision, the Academy also plans to restructure its offer into three levels: introductory (enrichment activities), intermediate (accelerated or enhanced domain-specific learning opportunities for gifted students) and advanced (accelerated or tailored domain-specific learning opportunities for highly-gifted students).

So this is partly to support progression but also recognises of the need for improved differentiation to support the relatively wide ability range within the target group.

The Academy has undertaken ‘needs analysis’ surveys which suggest that students want a more developed ‘gifted education community’ and a wider range of provision. The community development aspect seems to depend significantly on an e-learning platform which was reportedly under development in 2010.

Other future plans include harnessing alumni, developing a student record and an award system and dedicated provision for ‘profoundly gifted students’ including an indvidualised education plan (IEP) and arrangements for dual enrolment and advanced placement.

This 2009 press release describes a pilot primary course undertaken in partnership with the Hong Kong Association for Science and Math Education. The outcomes are briefly recorded here. It seems that there has been no further progress towards primary provision since the conclusion of this pilot.

How much student provision is HKAGE brokering?

This is far from clear. A December 2008 press release reports that HKAGE has increased the number of student programmes by 15% compared with the previous year. The Finance Committee paper implied there would be 50 of these in 2007/08, 25 offered by the Academy and 25 by EDB, so this would suggest the total for 2008/09 is 57.5!

But the answer to the 2009 Legislative Council question gives the contradictory information that:

  • In 2008/09, HKAGE conducted 41 programmes for students including 4 seminars, 4 workshops, 31 courses, 1 learning camp and 1 exchange programme and
  • As of December 2009, HKAGE conducted 13 programmes: 3 seminars, 3 workshops and 7 courses. In 2009/10 [as a whole] HKAGE ‘plans to organise 75 programmes including 16 seminars, 14 workshops, 43 courses, 1 exchange programme and 1 mentorship programme, and will set up online courses’.

And we have the Director’s presentation quoted above suggesting 31 programmes in 2008/09, 43 in 2009/10 and a planned 70 in 2010/11. The Director’s figures are consistent with the subset of courses in the Legislative Council answer, but it is clear from the table in his presentation that what he is describing is a much wider range of provision:

2009-10 2010-11
Seminars 5 13
Workshops 10 14
Courses [ ] 41
Camps 2 0
Exchange programmes 1 1
Mentorship 0 1
TOTALS 43 70

One possible explanation is that the figures above are actually for 2008/09 and 2009/10 respectively; another is that one set of figures relates to academic year and another to financial years.

One thing is certain: there seems to be no standardised process for reporting the quantity of provision made available. The only reliable conclusion one can draw is that the overall quantum of brokered provision is increasing.

What Services does HKAGE offer to Teachers and Schools?

Professional development is clearly the Academy’s predominant focus within the service it offers to schools. It currently divides its provision between:

  • structured courses, at one of four levels – introductory (3-6 hours’ duration), foundation (36 hours’ duration), intermediate (34 hours’ duration) and advanced (duration not specified)
  • thematic courses – which includes lectures, workshops and seminars – in three fields: curriculum and instruction, affective education and general topics. These are also aligned with the four levels above.

There are at present no structured courses within the list of upcoming events on the website, though several have been offered in the past. Five thematic workshops and a symposium are advertised, all at foundation and intermediate level.

Both the structured and thematic courses are typically free to participants, suggesting that schools are unable or unwilling to meet any part of the cost of such professional development from their own budgets.

The website suggests however that the Academy will charge for school-based consultancy, offered at a rate between HKD 5,000 and 7,000 per day. There is no information about the take-up of this option.

The Teacher Zone of the website includes a substantial library of articles and resources and the Academy also publishes Inspire, a magazine for educators (there have been five editions to date). There is also a dormant blog for teachers which is only in Chinese.

The Academy organises an annual ‘Hotung Lecture’ (given in 2011 by Renzulli and Reiss and in 2010 by Gagne) and operates a Teacher Commendation Award.

This HKAGE presentation gives further details of the Academy’s future plans in respect of professional development.

The Academy has the strategic aim of becoming:

‘the acknowledged lead supplier of quality in-service gifted education development programmes for teachers in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong’.

It is not clear whether the Academy intends to be a direct supplier of such services or, rather, a broker of services supplied by others, so following the model it has adopted for student services.

The potential risk of overlap with GES is addressed later in the presentation, since it implies that HKAGE is in the lead on ‘generic gifted education courses’ while the GES concentrates on ‘advanced subject-specific courses’.

The current lists of programmes provided by the GES for primary schools and secondary schools suggest that this is largely the position but not exclusively so.

The presentation says that schools’ feedback suggests they want more support for basic understanding of gifted education, identification, curriculum and instruction strategies, affective education and learning models. They rate more highly courses provided by overseas speakers.

It adds that work is in hand jointly with the GES to develop a framework of teacher competences. This would allow it to build courses around the achievement of specific competences – and presumably also help to iron out any overlap issues.

Other future priorities include: strengthening online learning, establishing a research project and increasing opportunities for professional exchange.

This more recent (2011) presentation by HKAGE’s Director suggests that work with GES on a competence framework has been expanded into a full-scale joint professional development strategy including a shared ‘stakeholder strategic approach’.

This identifies key roles in every school: the gifted education manager (who oversees whole school planning) and the gifted education co-ordinator (who co-ordinates teaching and learning strategies in the classroom).

A new professional development framework (reproduced below) is also set to be introduced, which links explicitly to these roles, and which clarifies the respective responsibilities of the Academy and the GES.

As far as I can establish, there is no requirement for schools to nominate separate Gifted Education Managers and Co-ordinators.

The Senior Secondary Curriculum Guide says:

‘There is a need to develop and implement a school-based gifted education policy that allows schools to take stock of the available resources and to plan for long term, coherent and holistic provision for the gifted. It is also essential that each school should nominate a member of staff to be the ’driver’ of the policy in the school, to ensure that all queries are answered, and to support all staff through in-house training’.

Any expectation that two roles are staffed is quite likely to run into opposition at a time when Hong Kong’s education system is undergoing substantive and fundamental reform.

Even if the training programme is free to schools, this framework assumes a big commitment in terms of teacher time, for the two roles themselves and for the training associated with them. School budgets are unlikely to have been supplemented to cover the costs.

How much support is being provided to educators and schools?

The original target was to serve 600 teachers a year. This is pitched low compared with the targets related to students and parents, suggesting perhaps that the Academy’s originators saw this as a field which the GES would continue to lead.

The 2009 Legislative Council question we drew on for information about student services confirms that:

  • In 2008/09, HKAGE took over teacher training work from the GES in phases. During the year, they together provided 18 professional development programmes – 2 lectures, 4 seminars, 5 workshops, 1 introductory course, 4 foundation courses, 1 intermediate course and 1 learning circle. Three outreach talks were also provided for schools. Almost 1,100 teachers took part in these activities;
  • In 2009/10, HKAGE plans to organise 28 professional development programmes – 1 mass lecture, 13 thematic seminars/workshops, 6 introductory courses, 3 foundation courses, 3 intermediate/advanced courses and 2 learning circles. As of December 2009, it has provided 9 such training programmes. The target number of teachers to be served is around 1,900.

All of which would suggest that the Academy is significantly exceeding its targets in this area – and has indeed taken a much larger role in professional development than was originally anticipated.

There are arguments for and against this. On the plus side, one can reasonably make a case that the student programme and the teacher programme are mutually reinforcing, especially since the teacher programme pushes schools into a closer relationship with the Academy, so encouraging them to nominate suitable students.

The counter-argument is that this level of involvement in professional development is evidence of mission drift, requiring a renegotiation of the division of labour between the GES and HKAGE. By devoting scarce resources to professional development, the Academy is reducing significantly the capacity it is able to deploy for the development of student services.

HKAGE’s Services for Parents

The Academy says it aims to:

‘enhance parents’ understanding of gifted education; strengthen the parenting skills of parents with gifted children; and provide a platform where parents can interactively learn from each other’.

It has established a Consultation and Assessment Centre offering a free helpline and a range of consultation, counselling and assessment services for which significant charges are levied.

The Parent Education Programme offers seminars (at introductory and intermediate levels), workshops, parent-child parallel groups and a twice-exceptional student project. The current list of upcoming events suggests that workshops are the most prevalent form of provision. They are sometimes free of charge and sometimes cost HKD 200.

The Academy also offers awareness-raising ‘outreach seminars’ and customised programmes attracting a charge. An online forum is available (in Chinese) and seems reasonably active.

It seems as though the Academy has a policy that at least some services to parents must cover their own costs through charges. It is unlikely that the income stream from this source is sufficient to cross-subsidise other elements of the Academy’s operation.

The original target was to serve 5,000 parents a year. The 2009 Legislative Council Answer makes it clear that a phased handover from GES also took place in respect of parent education services in 2008/09.

  • In that year the two organisations together provided 7 training programmes including 4 seminars and 3 workshops attended by 467 families. The number of parents served was 1,241.
  • In 2009/10, HKAGE planned 29 parent programmes including 1 annual conference, 5 seminars, 7 workshops and 16 parent-child programmes. It also expected to form 3 parent learning groups for parents of twice-exceptional learners. By December 2009, it had held 8 of these – 5 seminars and 3 outreach talks. We do not know how many parents these were expected to reach.

A reasonable inference is that, whereas the Academy is well ahead of target with professional support, it may be relatively behind with parental support.

Research and evaluation

There is no separate section of the website dedicated to research and currently no-one on the management team is allocated explicit responsibility for it.

A summary of proposed operational priorities for 2010-13 was attached to the answer to the Legislative Question asked in 2010. It suggests that this element of work might be commenced in 2010 but would mostly be outsourced, presumably to academics in various Hong Kong universities.

The Academy’s involvement in a recent ‘Giftedness in East Asia Symposium’, co-hosted with the Hong Kong Institute of Education and IRATDE, may indicate that it is now ready to expand its activity in this sector, having made relatively little impression to date.

One area the Academy is likely to invest in is small-scale, low-cost action research conducted by teachers in schools.

There is conspicuously no reference on the website to evaluative activity, whether at the programme level or for the Academy as a whole. The former would potentially have formed the in-house dimension of a nascent research programme.

The latter must of course be undertaken by an independent entity at arm’s-length from the Academy. The apparent lack of a rigorous formative and summative evaluation seems to be a lacuna in all plans, from the inception of the Academy onwards.

It is particularly odd that the EMB is not seeking an evidence base with which to justify the level of the Government’s financial investment in the Academy – and HKAGE itself surely has a vested interest in securing evidence to show the positive impact it has on students’ learning outcomes and the educational effectiveness of partner schools.

We have seen how earlier evaluation exercises have avoided any attempt to pin down a measurable impact on student attainment. It is expressly to be hoped that, despite the conceptual obstacles, a future evaluation of HKAGE does not fall into the same trap.

Without an evaluation we cannot of course substantiate the judgement in ‘Room at the Top’ that I drew attention to above.

Value for money is almost as important: it was expected that the original endowment of HKD 200 million would enable the Academy to function for at least 10 years, but that further income would be generated to secure its longer-term future.

The Legislative Council Finance Committee was advised that annual operating costs would be of the order of HKD 19 million. By late 2009, the Legislative Council is informed that:

  • The audited accounts for 2008-09 show income of HKD 3.2 million (interest on the endowment) and expenditure of HKD 9.2 million (the balance of the cost was met by EMB during this transitional period).
  • Between April and November 2009, income from interest was only HKD 0.25 million as a consequence of the economic downturn, but the 2009-10 budget assumes expenditure of HKD 25.1 million, almost a third higher again than the projections made 2-3 years earlier.

More recent budgetary information is apparently not public but, as we have seen, there is scant evidence that HKAGE has yet managed to establish a significant income stream and the global economic situation will continue to depress the rate of interest generated from the dwindling endowment.

Assuming expenditure relative to income has continued at the 2009-10 rate – and remember that the Academy has significantly expanded its range of services in the meantime – Hong Kong will be fortunate indeed if the Academy can survive on its existing endowment for a decade.

There is a Curriculum Development Council Committee on Gifted Education whose role is to ‘plan and co-ordinate gifted education at all levels’. Some call for independent evaluation might emanate from this source, since the Council is showing interest in such territory.

The notes of its two most recent meetings reveal that a Hong Kong-wide baseline survey of school-based gifted education was scheduled between October 2010 and August 2011. It was being undertaken by Joyce Van Tassel Baska and Kimberly Chandler of the College of William and Mary in the USA .

Perhaps a tender for the evaluation of HKAGE will follow shortly!

Next Stages of Development

The Annex to the Legislative Council question mentioned above – showing strategic priorities for HKAGE from 2010-13 – is reproduced in full below

Training Programme Services/research Online support
Student Division To expand programmes of different learning domains To promote diversified student services To develop online learning community
Teacher Division To expand systematic and phase-in training programmes for teachers Research projects and professional exchange enhancing teachers’ expertise in GE To develop online teachers’ learning community
Parent Division To extend diversified parent education Research projects and parent seminars enhancing parents’ level of understanding on GE To develop online parents’ learning community
Research Division Given the accommodation restrictions at present, there is no proposal to increase staffing for in-house research. Instead it is proposed to use outsourcing of research as an alternative delivery model. It is hoped to start this Division in 2010.

In his 2010 presentation the Academy’s Director identified a series of challenges ahead, including:

  • building capacity
  • the absence of statutory requirements for gifted education
  • an over-emphasis on identification especially via IQ tests
  • the limited amount of research undertaken on gifted education in Hong Kong
  • the challenges of trilingualism and biliteracy
  • the need to change the mindsets of teachers and students alike
  • focusing on undeveloped potential and underachievers who are slipping through the net.

Apart perhaps from the linguistic challenges presented by Hong Kong, these are not atypical of many other countries and states.

Lurking behind the list there seems to be a more general concern that the overall quality of school-based gifted education leaves something to be desired, especially in the majority of schools that have no history of involvement with the GES’s various projects.

Many of the initiatives now being undertaken jointly by the Academy and the GES would appear to be aimed at raising the universal standard of gifted education at school-level, so ensuring that all schools are equipped to enter into fruitful partnership with the Academy, not least for the benefit of the 2% cohort of learners it exists to serve.

One practical way in which Hong Kong could bring about the improvements it seeks is through the development and introduction of a universal Quality Standard for whole school gifted education, designed to raise all schools above a defined baseline while challenging those with greater experience to pursue continuous improvement.

Needless to say, such a standard would incorporate clear expectations in respect of the relationship with HKAGE so that, over time, all schools are encouraged to nominate students, encourage them to take part in Academy programmes and undertake the professional development offered.

A quality standard can be designed to carry within it any number of policy expectations from the centre, though its effectiveness will depend crucially on the carrots and sticks put in place to encourage schools to adopt it. A quality standard will potentially support self-evaluation, improvement planning, an award, or accreditation – even an accountability process.

The baseline survey just undertaken could provide enormously valuable evidence to inform the design. 

Final Words

There can be little doubt that HKAGE has made very strong progress from a standing start. Much credit should go to the redoubtable Stephen Tommis, Director of the Academy, and the equally redoubtable P T Chan, Chief Curriculum Development Officer at GES.

Equally, there are significant obstacles that have not yet been overcome and more looming ahead.

I can find no evidence to substantiate the statement in ‘Room at the Top’, particularly the implication therein that HKAGE’s progress is attributable to freedom ‘from government interference’.

Indeed, the division of responsibility between the two entities has forced HKAGE and EMB into the closest possible partnership, and not just to remove any risk of overlap and duplication: EMB must keep closely involved to ensure consistency with wider education policy, while HKAGE needs wider EMB leverage on schools to help it achieve its objectives.

While I can find no evidence that this partnership is or has ever been under particular strain, it is a fact that – no matter how harmonious – it eats up scarce resources on both sides.

The sheer weight of work involved cannot be under-estimated: from managing the day-to-day relationships through to the not inconsiderable task of briefing and servicing the presence on the HKAGE Board of the two most senior EMB officials.

Should an evaluation of HKAGE ever be commissioned, this important dimension should not be overlooked. Value for money is also critical. But the bottom line is – and must remain – whether involvement with the Academy is improving the attainment, motivation and self-esteem of as many as possible of the target population of gifted learners.


October 2011

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