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Bright children need more

22 May 2014, 07:30

A gold star for Glenwood High in Durban for “Giving brainy boys a boost,” (Sunday Times, April 21). You are a beacon of hope in the otherwise bleak educational landscape for ‘gifted children’ in South Africa.

Despite South Africa having been a world leader in gifted education, until 1994, and a white paper on ‘inclusive education,’ most schools today do not even acknowledge ‘gifted children,’ let alone adapt their educational programmes to meet the needs of talented children. Yet another tragic outcome of our failing educational system.

Neglecting our brightest talent, whom especially in primary school are literally bored out of their minds, and assuming that they do not need attention and assistance in the classroom that other students require, because they are ‘top of the class’, does nothing to nurture the scientists, mathematicians, astrophysicists and problem solvers, South Africa so desperately needs to take us into the next century.

Our gifted children are at risk of having a negative school experience, and underachieving as they are left to fend for themselves in the classroom, forced to repeat work they already know over and over again, or are labelled as problem children and punished for talking and disrupting the class while they wait for their peers to catch up. Research shows that very few of our gifted children will reach their full potential. Does this mean that every school needs Harvard professors to run a special programme so that their talented student’s academic needs are met? Absolutely not!

Teachers may need additional training and we may need to reopen centres for gifted children to adequately address the shortage of mathematicians and scientists in our country, but there is a lot teachers can do in the classroom with what they have.

Firstly acknowledge that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work in the diverse classrooms of today, and that not all children learn in the same way. ‘Equal education for all’ does not mean that all children need to be doing the exact same work in the classroom in the same way.

Get to know your students well so you understand how they learn and what interests them. Let your talented students move on to new work by compacting the curriculum.

Make use of technology and the many online programmes available for talented students to work on open-ended problems.

Give them independent projects to work on based on world issues.

Group students that are bright together so they can work together on higher- level questions such as “why” and “what if.” Avoid giving them extra work. Once gifted children have shown mastery, they should move on to another activity.

Research shows that the more gifted children are made to practice a skill, the lower their score. If we want to be a true democracy that honours the rights of all its people, we have to focus on the needs of all the children in our classrooms. Our gifted children need as much attention and assistance from the teacher as our children who struggle in the classroom.

 It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure “that the barriers to, and within the learning environment are reduced.” The Department of Education.

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