The Jakarta Post
The National Medium and Long-Term Talent Development Plan of China (2010-2020) took almost two years to complete and involved 500 meetings, 30,000 people all over the country and more than 1,000 comments from the public, according to the Brookings Institution research center. The framework created is targeted for educated and skillful working age people. But Chinese 'talent', frequently linked to intelligence and achievement, is cultivated from an early age. At the Children's Palace in Ghuangzhou, I had a glimpse of talent development there.
A kung fu training session involving 30 elementary school boys had an invigorating effect on my visit. While one or two children lacked focus, the others whole-heartedly followed their leader, a self-determined boy, shouting 'yi, er, san' ' instructions to direct the movements of his loyal troops.
Classes for ballet, gymnastics, science, choir and other topics were offered with professional instructors to assist the children in exploring their interest. Along the corridor in this crammed edifice, colorful posters displayed smiles and medals in various contests. The Children's Palace serves a more ambitious aim, to skyrocket talented children to the international level.
Four other such palaces in Guangzhou province were established by the government to set the path of the 'golden generation'. There are no tests and no child is turned away from this facility as the motivation and ability is supposed to lie in the children themselves.
Chinese domination in world's competitive games is surely not an overnight success. That country, supported by parents' intense desire to see their only offspring succeed, has systematically trained children and driven them to work hard even before knowing how to write their name in Latin script.
Does this mechanism work better in other contexts? Do hours of dedicated training become the best way to raise a talented child? Barely will an absolute consensus be achieved. The domain of child development, however, is always captivating considering we were once at that stage.
In Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, describing themselves as liberal economists and fathers, dedicated two chapters to discuss what makes a perfect parent. Whether in democracy or socialism, there is indeed a universal value that the grownups 'want to believe that they are making a big difference in the kind of person the child turns out to be'. Then, how about attempts in Indonesia?
On the one hand, academic high-achievers in mostly math and social sciences here are treated according to what scholars call the enrichment and acceleration model. On the other hand, fewer efforts have been made for diverse abilities such as visual arts, performing arts or motor skills. In some special cases, the talent of fortunate children is advanced through self-funding or donors from corporate social responsibility programs of bona fide companies.
Far too often, two-hour-per-week extracurricular activities become the only platform for most children to channel their interest outside required lessons. As our government has been busy dealing with the curriculum for classroom instruction, its attention toward after school programs has been minimal.
Only have a few local authorities encouraged activities beyond the classroom, such as traditional dance in Bali. Compared to China, where recent estimates found 25 to 40 million of its children are learning the piano, efforts of talent spotting in Indonesia are unimpressive.
The homework to help children to achieve their fullest potential in various disciplines seems too complicated. Though experts have agreed upon the term's definition as high performing individuals, the procedure to identify talented children is still perplexing.
Amid that complexity, whoever acts as parent, teacher, policy maker or even a former child currently navigating to adulthood should look around and see what steps could be initiated to contribute to improving society. Researchers confirm that young learners' excellent development requires support from not only schools but also from the community.
If a national agenda to nurture children's talent seems unattainable, maybe we can involve and encourage extracurricular activities. A voluntary project as a coach or a donor for scouts, silat (traditional martial arts), angklung playing (of a traditional instrument), etc. in primary schools, from the overpopulated capital city of Jakarta to more tranquil towns in Sulawesi, for instance, would bestow life-long benefits on Indonesia's next generation.
A talent is perhaps discovered by a totally random coincidence. In fact, when the children start doing what they love and would like to do it better with the support of the community, probably it is time to consider that their passion is tantamount to an innate ability, the mythical talent.
From China's overflowing energy to map out a national strategy to Indonesia's lack of embracing its children's diverse talents, adults' talk will always matter to children. The question is, just how much?
The writer attended the Indonesia-China Youth Exchange Program 2013 organized by the Indonesian Youth and Sports Ministry and is now involved in Purna Caraka Muda Indonesia in Central Java.
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