Our forum members have been working hard putting together a lobbying letter for TDs in the forthcoming general election in support of gifted education in Ireland. Here’s the result and a big thank you to one of our members in particular who has driven this initiative. Please feel free to edit this letter to suit your own situation, but please do send it. We need to get the subject of gifted education on the political agenda and this is a unique opportunity to do that. I would also encourage parents in particular to send this to the shadow Education spokespersons: Ruairí Quinn for Labour and Fergus O’Dowd, Fine Gael.
Dear _______ (Local TD Candidate),
I am writing to ask you, my local TD Candidate, in this forthcoming general election, to publicly raise an important issue – gifted children in Ireland.
Gifted children represent the top 5% category of intellect and ability and there are estimated to be approximately 27,000 children who fit this criterion in Ireland. These children need appropriate academic challenge. They need recognition from the Department of Education. I stress the word ‘need’ because gifted children have special educational needs. The following is a statement from the Primary School Curriculum, 1999, pg 29 – ”All children have a right of access to the highest-quality education appropriate to their needs. This includes children whose disabilities or circumstances inhibit their effective participation in the education that is normally provided for children of their age group…It is important that a range of educational provision is available that is flexible enough to cater for the special needs of individual children at the various stages of their development.” Despite being identified as having special educational needs in the 1998 Education Act, this group was completely omitted from the EPSEN Act 2004 which leaves these students, their parents and teachers without any supports whatsoever.
Like all children, high ability children have a right to equality. They have a right to an appropriate education. These students deserve to be challenged, motivated, encouraged, and given the opportunity to learn at a pace and depth that is appropriate for them. The widely believed myth is that gifted children will succeed because their superior academic abilities will carry them through. The reality is that sometimes instead of finding themselves at the top of the class, these children are in fact left languishing unchallenged in remedial classes! Without appropriate intervention and support these children endure feelings of frustration, low self-esteem, isolation, difference, increasing disconnection from education and learning, negative social behaviour, and unfulfilled potential.
- I ask for the introduction of an appropriate Gifted and Talented Training Module to be introduced into Irish Teacher Training and educational degrees along with intensive courses and presentations on giftedness to be introduced to existing qualified teachers. There is no training provided to Irish Teachers on Gifted Education and when faced with multiple exceptionally bright children in their classes, most teachers don’t know how to handle them. This is where the problems start. There are little or no resources available from the Dept of Education for teachers of exceptionally able students besides the NCCA’s ‘Draft Guidelines for Teachers of Exceptionally Able Students’. These guidelines are only recommendations, which most schools don’t follow or have not even heard of. These recommendations need to be put into action.
- I ask you to propose a plan for a compulsory Gifted Educational Policy within the Department of Education, to be applied to Irish Schools, both primary and secondary, that will promote a challenging curriculum, enrichment and acceleration for high ability students. A very successful example of this would be Australia and New Zealand’s Gifted Educational Policy.
- I ask for a Gifted and Talented Coordinator to be appointed in Irish Schools, to ensure the smooth running of the Gifted Educational Policy and to make sure that exceptionally able children’s needs are met. This can be done by Teacher/staff nomination.
- Finally I ask for the early intervention and assessment of gifted children in primary schools. Early Intervention is vital for these students because they learn differently to their peers as well as earlier and faster. But they also develop asynchronously. A child of 7 might have the intellect and ability of a 12 year old but may have the emotional maturity of a 4 year old! For this reason, school can be a very stressful place for these children. Many are socially awkward and find it hard to make friendships; a lot have behavioural problems and high sensitivities. Some gifted children can be both exceptionally able and present with learning challenges, such as Dyslexia, Adhd or Aspergers. These children, known as twice exceptional, are at even greater risk of underachievement as their potential may never be recognised.
There is a high risk of underachievement in Ireland within this unique 5% category, particularly for those children from disadvantaged areas and those with additional learning difficulties. A major cause of underachievement in gifted or high potential students is the inappropriate curriculum and content that they meet on a daily basis. The hundreds of hours spent each month in classrooms in which students rarely encounter new or challenging curriculum. The boredom of being assigned routine tasks mastered long ago and the challenge of all the traits that go with the gifted label, leads to much frustration on the parts of many of our brightest kids and their families. These children could make huge contributions to our national economic recovery and in particular the development of a true smart economy if they are given the opportunities to develop their talents in an education system that supports their unique special educational needs.
If you would like to find out more about this fascinating group of children, please visit www.giftedkids.ie, a voluntary community organisation, founded by parents of exceptional and twice exceptional children. This site offers free and much needed resources, support and advice to parents and teachers of the gifted community. Also, DCU’s Centre for Talented Youth (CTYI) are having their annual conference on Gifted Education in DCU on Saturday 5th March 2011 – I’m sure you and your colleagues would receive a very warm welcome!
Mise le Meas,