Answers needed for gifted students

A recent parliamentary inquiry into the teaching of gifted students has found that Victoria’s state school system is failing to properly identify and teach its most talented students.

The article, ‘State fails gifted pupils’, discusses the inquiry’s findings and reveals that the three groups of gifted children that most often go unrecognised are:

  • those from disadvantaged or minority groups
  • those who conceal their abilities for ‘peer acceptance’
  • those who have become ‘disengaged with learning’.

These findings have also reignited debate over the value of separating talented students via academically selective schools, such as Melbourne High and Mac.Rob, and accelerated programs within schools.

From my 20 years’ experience running Edworks, I can certainly identify with the argument that schools are not properly recognising and teaching gifted students. Too often I see talented kids falling behind because they’ve become disengaged with the curriculum. Often, as has been suggested, it’s due to the fact that they downplay their talents in order to avoid the attention of peers. Ultimately, however, schools need to be held accountable for this.

It’s an unfortunate reality that our schools rarely give due recognition to the academic achievements of students. In contrast, kids who perform well in the sporting arena are commended at assemblies, have their trophies on proud display, and in turn, earn the admiration of their peers. This seems symptomatic of Australian society in general, in that we fail to acknowledge the accomplishments of scientists and the like, while inconsequential news on sportspeople makes the front page. Schools need to take responsibility for how the academic achievements of their students are promoted and perceived.

Not as black and white, however, is the issue of separating gifted students via academically selective schools and programs. Certainly, talented students gain great benefit from being surrounded by children of similarly high academic ability. (This is assuming there is not excessive pressure from schools, which isn’t always the case.) Though on the other hand, when gifted students join such schools/programs, those left behind lose positive role models. This in itself can impact negatively on a learning environment, and subsequently, the education of students within it.

Ironically, it seems education is key when it comes to how schools manage gifted students — education not of pupils, but teachers. Teachers must be better trained to identify and educate academically advanced children. This would go a long way to ensuring they remain engaged and stimulated in the classroom. Additionally, if we can change how students perceive academic achievement, identifying gifted students will be made far easier for teachers.

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