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Gifted and Talented Education – A Snapshot

April, 2008
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Giftedness, according to Colangelo and Davis (1991), is one of the most exciting, yet controversial topics in education today. The basis for labeling it ‘controversial’ is society’s ambivalent, love-hate relationship with giftedness. On one hand, as educators we are all committed to equity and egalitarianism in education. We subscribe to this and believe in the maxim “all men are created equa.”. However, the controversy and love-hate relationship we have with giftedness has been an on-going and a well-documented debate, discussed by a number of educators including Colangelo, David & Rimm, Gallagher & Weiss and Gardner, to name a few studies.

  The ambivalence toward gifted education has contributed to an ebb and flow in its development as an educational priority for many decades. Society swings back and forth between the goals of egalitarianism and excellence. When excellence is a major priority, programmes for the brightest students receive attention and precedence. When equity has been identified as a major concern, then gifted education becomes a minor issue. Equity here should be seen as associated with meeting the needs of the average student, and more typically the disadvantaged students, who are perceived as needing help so that they can become equal. Therefore, treating issues of equity and excellence as mutually exclusive has at times been destructive to the development of sound gifted and talented pedagogical practices.

  A regular argument that is trotted out is “they will make it on their own”. Special educational considerations are seen as unnecessary, because by virtue of the students’ giftedness, they will make it on their own. Many studies, as reviewed by David and Rimm (1991), indeed show that many students labeled as gifted and talented do not make it on their own. An inadequate and unchallenging curriculum, social and emotional difficulties and peer pressures can all contribute to stymieing the potential of gifted children.

  There is a plethora of ways to define ‘giftedness’. Among the better known definitions are those of the U.S Office of Education (USOE) and of Joseph Renzulli. The USOE defines giftedness as follows:

  Gifted and talented children are those identified by professionally qualified persons who, by virtue of outstanding abilities, are capable of high performance. Children capable of high performance include those with demonstrated achievement and/or potential ability in any of the following areas singly or in combination:

  • General intellectual ability
  • Specific academic aptitude
  • Creative or productive thinking
  • Leadership ability
  • Visual and performing arts
  • Psychomotor ability

  If a school wishes to openly address the issue of gifted and talented programmes, it must consider the implications of providing such a programme; a healthy debate might centre on the following questions based on the research commission into education in Australia ( Beasley Report into Edcuation Australia 1981):

  • Can the provision of special educational services for the gifted be seen as consistent with the school’s ethos on education?
  • Can extra provision for gifted students be regarded as equitable in terms of opportunity and the encouragement of all students to achieve their potential?
  • Are students with special talents really held back by the way their schooling is delivered?

  Of course, these are not easy questions to answer, but are designed to encourage healthy debate. Moreover, gifted and talented education is not a recent ‘contentious’ phenomenon. The ambivalence to providing a special programme has been acknowledged for decades. In America, education for students exhibiting gifted behaviour continued to decline and was at its lowest ebb during the Vietnam War era. The impetus for its revival came out of the Marland Report 1972 (Gifted and Talented Education Review) and after that the Javis Commission 1989. The latter is important because, for the first time, ‘Gifted and Talented Education’ was guaranteed in legislation. This was titled ‘The Javis Gifted and Talented Students Education Act of 1989’.

  In the international school arena, many schools provide for the gifted students an approach that presents a broader philosophy or orientation towards giftedness. There are many ways of expressing giftedness, aside from the obvious academic model, and this should include talents in the arts and vocational subjects, which would include trade, industrial and agricultural talents. The international schools are inclined to understand ways or ‘reading’ giftedness.

  What is important when setting up a formal programme, is the selection process. It is imperative that the selection process does take account of types of giftedness, and that it does not express too narrow a role for the identification process. The selection process should account for these three ideologies in the choice of students:照片 072

  • Be consistent with the goals of the school and philosophy of the education of gifted and talented students;
  • Select students whose needs are not currently being met by the regular programme, and identify their special interests and provide a special programme that can address these needs; and
  • Promote awareness of the need for gifted and talented education, whilst the academic-intellectual area may be a good place to begin, it should not be the total programme.

by Laraine Reason

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