Photo/Illutration An education ministry expert panel holds an online meeting July 14 to discuss types of educational opportunities for children who are gifted or have exceptional abilities. (Kazuyuki Ito)

Exceptionally gifted children in Japan can find themselves at a disadvantage due to a lack of educational support programs to help them shine, with the result some have difficulty studying at school or refuse even to attend classes.

Such children are deemed to have startling memory, language or math abilities.

In the United States, the term gifted children refers to those with a much higher intelligence quotient or other skills that set them apart from their peers of the same age. This allows them to skip grades or find other means to gain access to higher education, including university.

Education experts in Japan have long called for similar programs to be implemented to support very bright children both in and outside school. Some children with a very high intellect tend to display obsessive behavior, impaired attention or other disabilities, according to the education ministry.

Until recently, there had been little discussion on the sort of support schools should be offering. But on July 14, an expert panel set up by the ministry held its first meeting to discuss the issue.

The chairman, Masaya Iwanaga, president of the Open University of Japan, introduced three types of educational opportunities available in the United States for such children.

He outlined an acceleration program that allows children to skip grades or find other means to study beyond the standard curriculum. Another called the enrichment program allows children to engage in more in-depth studies than the curriculum contents without skipping grades while a 2E (twice-exceptional) program exists for those with developmental disabilities and outstanding talents.

The panel discussed the pros and cons of each program.

For example, members said the acceleration program may help gifted children stay motivated to study at school but reduce their opportunities to interact with other children of the same age.

One panel member pointed to a Japanese tendency of preferring all-rounders, citing two-way major leaguer Shohei Ohtani as an example. The member urged colleagues to distance themselves from that way of thinking.

Some members said the enrichment program offers a better fit for Japan’s homogeneous school culture, where children in the same year usually study the same material, than the acceleration program.

Others called for discussion on school culture itself, questioning whether it would be desirable to treat gifted children differently from the rest.

The panel aims to compile a list of proposals on how to recognize exceptionally gifted children and what support measures are needed. It plans to submit them to the ministry in two years or so.