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Young, gifted and here

By July 31, 2014May 7th, 2015No Comments

Edu­ca­tion dis­course, like many pro­fes­sions, is littered with acronyms like NZQA, NCEA, RTLBs and ESOL. One acronym that I espe­cially dis­like is the abbre­vi­ation for gif­ted and tal­en­ted edu­ca­tion: GATE. Sup­posedly, this acronym should con­jure up an image of a wel­com­ing entrance lead­ing to fur­ther enriched or accel­er­ated edu­ca­tion­al pro­grammes, but to me, I am reminded of stu­dents being ‘gated’ and con­fined to school grounds as a pun­ish­ment. How­ever, semantics aside, I do strongly believe in the notion of GATE and the pro­vi­sion of dif­fer­en­ti­ated pro­grammes for very able stu­dents, which is a leg­al require­ment in our schools.

This was passed into law as a res­ult of a sig­ni­fic­ant invest­ig­a­tion of gif­ted edu­ca­tion under­taken by the Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion in 2002 that pro­duced a mile­stone report from Mas­sey Uni­ver­sity, The Extent, Nature and Effect­ive­ness of Planned Approaches in New Zea­l­and Schools for Provid­ing for Gif­ted and Tal­en­ted Stu­dents. From this doc­u­ment sprung a num­ber of ini­ti­at­ives, most sig­ni­fic­ant of all being the amend­ment to the Nation­al Admin­is­tra­tion Guidelines instruct­ing each school board of trust­ees, through the prin­cip­al and staff, “to identi­fy stu­dents who have spe­cial needs (includ­ing gif­ted and tal­en­ted stu­dents)” and then to devel­op and imple­ment appro­pri­ate teach­ing and learn­ing strategies to meet their par­tic­u­lar requirements.

Last month, Mas­sey Uni­ver­sity released a report writ­ten by gif­ted edu­ca­tion spe­cial­ists Asso­ci­ate Pro­fess­or Tracy Riley and Waikato University’s Dr Brenda Bick­nell. They sur­veyed primary and sec­ond­ary schools to find out wheth­er gif­ted learner pro­grammes had improved in the edu­ca­tion sys­tems since 2002. They found that with the cur­rent sharp focus on lift­ing the achieve­ment of under­achiev­ers, referred to as ‘pri­or­ity learners’, fund­ing to sup­port gif­ted edu­ca­tion pro­grammes had been reduced. They con­cluded that our bright­est stu­dents may not be get­ting the tar­geted pro­grammes they needed to real­ise their poten­tial. If this is cor­rect, it is of con­cern to us all as New Zealanders.

Most likely those very able stu­dents in our schools are our future lead­ers in busi­ness, edu­ca­tion, medi­cine and polit­ics. They are pre­cious human cap­it­al and as such must be empowered to devel­op their con­sid­er­able abil­it­ies and qualities.

I wince when I hear the com­ment that because a par­tic­u­lar stu­dent is very able they will thrive regard­less of the edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tun­it­ies offered. This shows little under­stand­ing of ‘gif­ted­ness’. Although gif­ted stu­dents pos­sess excep­tion­al cap­ab­il­it­ies, most can­not excel without assist­ance. They require both aca­dem­ic and emo­tion­al sup­port through under­stand­ing, accept­ance and encour­age­ment — espe­cially, I would add, in our soci­ety, where ‘tall pop­pies’, with the excep­tion of sport­ing high-fly­ers, are often cut down.

That gif­ted and tal­en­ted learners are found in every cul­tur­al group and in both genders with­in soci­ety is of great sig­ni­fic­ance. In A Room of One’s Own, writer Vir­gin­ia Woolf envis­ages the life of Judith, an ima­gin­ary sis­ter of Wil­li­am Shakespeare. Equally as gif­ted as her acclaimed broth­er, Judith Shakespeare does not have the bene­fit of a gram­mar school edu­ca­tion nor the free­dom to don doublet and hose, run away to Lon­don and join a theatre com­pany. In Woolf’s view, “any woman born with a great gift in the six­teenth cen­tury would cer­tainly have gone crazed, shot her­self, or ended her days in some lonely cot­tage out­side the vil­lage, half-witch, half-wiz­ard, feared and mocked at”. As a free man from a middle-class back­ground, Wil­li­am Shakespeare thank­fully did have the oppor­tun­it­ies to devel­op his extraordin­ary tal­ent and the world is a much bright­er place because of his leg­acy. How­ever, Woolf’s example does high­light the fact that without oppor­tun­ity, ‘gifts’ can be wasted or misdirected.

It is tan­tal­ising to ima­gine what would have been the demean­our and on-going leg­acy of Judith Shakespeare’s ver­sion of Lady Macbeth.

Carol Craymer

Carol has an MA in English from the University of Canterbury and has been principal of Queen Margaret college since 2004. Prior to moving to Wellington, she was assistant principal at Orewa college and deputy principal at Takapuna Grammar. However, Carol is not all about 'dotting the is' and crossing the t's'. She has also worked for Radio New Zealand as an announcer, acted in England in a theatre troupe touring schools and raised two daughters.

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