Gifted children need help if they are to change the world
Appreciating a painting by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci is a delightful experience. Born in 1452, Leonardo epitomized the spirit of the Renaissance and his interests encompassed the realms of art, architecture, sculpture, invention, mathematics, engineering, astronomy, botany, and science. As a young man, Leonardo showed a keen interest in the arts and his father, having recognized his talent, decided to apprentice him to one of Florence’s most established painters and sculptors of the day, Andrea del Verrocchio. His six-year apprenticeship ensured that the young protege acquired a vast range of technical skills, as well as the artistic skills of drawing, painting, sculpting and modeling. Leonardo went on to become one of the most influential and inspiring artists in history. In 2017, Christie’s sold one of his paintings for $450.3 million — by far the highest price paid for any artwork at an auction.
A gifted individual is a gift to civilization and we have a responsibility to nurture their unique talents. The National Association for Gifted Children in the US defines gifted individuals as “those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10 percent or rarer) in one or more domains.” Gifted children have an exceptional ability to learn information quickly, solve complex problems, use advanced vocabulary and communication skills, sustain detailed memories, and see the various connections and perspectives between different issues.
Research conducted on gifted children shows stark differences in their development in comparison to their peers. Gifted students develop, both cognitively and emotionally, at a much faster pace than their peers. This means that they are more sensitive to their surroundings, perceptive of situations, and experience more emotional intensity. They are also intrinsically motivated to succeed, showing interest if learning activities and lessons are individualized and related to their passions. They are highly curious, often preferring to question and ponder ideas, rather than memorize and answer questions. Gifted children also tend to be introverted and find studying in groups distracting.
That is why gifted students benefit tremendously from specially tailored education programs that aim to accelerate and enrich their learning, enabling them to realize their potential. Many longitudinal studies demonstrate the positive effects of these education programs on gifted children’s lives. Research by James Reed Campbell and Herbert J. Walberg on a control group of 345 students who participated in talent development programs showed that 52 percent went on to earn doctoral degrees. Another study on 2,409 gifted adolescents tracked their accomplishments over a 25-year period and found that, among the sample, individuals had registered 817 parents, published 93 books, one had been awarded the Fields Medal in mathematics and another had won the John Bates Clark Medal for the most outstanding economist under 40.
These findings have huge implications for educators and parents. Schools need to offer customized learning experiences that cater to gifted students. First and foremost, schools need to put into place identification procedures to discover gifted students. Secondly, every school needs to have an expert in gifted education in order to provide the necessary programs and services to this group. Furthermore, teachers need to be trained in educating gifted students; from understanding their development to designing lessons in a way that nurtures their talents.
A gifted individual is a gift to civilization and we have a responsibility to nurture their unique talents
Educational acceleration also allows students to complete the traditional curriculum at a faster rate. This includes grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, school or university, and subject-based acceleration (which allows students to take subjects in higher grade levels). Grouping gifted students together also creates a positive learning experience, as it offers the challenges and complexity needed to grow, in addition to improving students’ social and emotional well-being. Furthermore, gifted students can attend out-of-school programs and specialized classes in specific subject areas in order to advance their learning. Lastly, supporting parents through counselling and parenting programs can empower them to make the best choices for their gifted children.
The Gifted Education Program in Singapore is a stellar case study. The model is based on a combination of curriculum enrichment, the advancement of essential skills, field trips, and specialized out-of-school learning experiences in partnership with tertiary institutions. For example, the Moot Parliament Program is a six-month mentorship project designed for secondary school students with the aim of educating them about democracy.
The Innovation Program is another signature Singaporean project that focuses on encouraging gifted students to solve real-life problems. Students are briefed about a particular challenge and then innovation mentors from partnering tertiary institutions share their expertise on how to stimulate creative thinking, assess the viability of ideas, and propose improvements to proposals and prototypes. This all culminates in the Young Innovators’ Fair, where projects are presented by students and judged by a panel. Other programs on offer focus on developing knowledge and skills in various domains, such as the creative arts, science, mathematics, humanities, and social sciences.
Leonardo once said: “The artist sees what others only catch a glimpse of.” Gifted children have the opportunity to make the world a better place, but that can only be made possible if we invest in their education and learning experiences as early as possible.
• Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature.