Two decades ago, some of the first science, maths and technology magnet high schools opened in the United States. The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora, outside Chicago, was established the same year as Jefferson in 1985. The magnet concept caught on quickly as a way to challenge the best young minds, and as a possible answer to the decline in US-produced scientists and engineers. There are now 86 science magnet schools nationwide, which select gifted children with an aptitude for science. Australia, Jordan, Israel, Korea, Thailand, Japan and the United Kingdom have set up similar science-focused schools.
But is it a mistake to immerse students in the sciences at the age of 14 or 15? By the time they reach graduate school, such students have already spent eight years in focused study. Is ‘nerd’ school a place where overachievers bloom while others wilt under the pressure? Or would their talents be undernourished at a ‘normal’ high school? Graduates of the high-tech highs give a range of answers.