Sunday, December 03, 2006

My niece's classmate is a little girl who's so obsessed with gymnastics that she spends most of her life outside school in training. On the weekends, she attends dance classes for variety. Her academics, she just lets slide because she has no time to keep up with her homework, focused as she is on becoming a gymnast.

It seems that at her own birthday party, she disappeared from amongst her group of invited friends, and after a frantic search, was found alone in her room watching the Olympics gymnastics event 'live' on TV.

Currently, she's in Pri 4, which puts her at about 9 years old. It's rare to see such children in Singapore, with such drive, such determination to pursue a dream she has identified and claimed for her own already. And it seems she's good at what she does too, so it's not just empty wishful thinking.

Question is, should we let her get away with being academically ignorant? She may be talented in her own area of expertise, but is it acceptable that she sacrifices her knowledge of the sciences, mathematics, languages, and whatever else we teach in school, in order to excel at just that one thing?

In our society, we're very hung up about everyone acquiring some kind of 'basic education' from which we then determine who deserves what in our 'meritocratic' resource distribution system. But to some, having to demonstrate an ability in 'basic' could force them to lower their personal aspirations and abilities in an attempt to score a pass in mediocrity instead.

It's kinda' like Dexter of Dexter's Laboratory, boy genius in applied sciences, inventor of incredible gadgets, obsessed with attaining Ultimate Knowledge, then having to put aside everything so that he can go to school and learn that 1+1=2. A rigid education system may be great for equipping the unmotivated, but it stifles the high achiever.

I wonder if for our girl gymnast whether her education can proceed in a more practical way?

To complement her kinesthetic development, she'll need to learn bio mechanics in relation to the physics of motion; biochemistry in relation to health and nutrition; sports medicine and physiotherapy to deal with sports injuries; and by opening lines of communication with her fellow gymnasts from other countries she can learn several languages and international relations at the same time. It's just a matter of framing subject content in a way that is useful in supporting her passion.

How flexible might Education have to be to cater to such children? Well, here's one extreme but possible scenario: click here.

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