Inclusion of gifted children
Important gap in educational provision
Every country needs to nurture its best and brightest. Gifted young children are therefore an important part of society. Yet, Malta's national education policy still has no specific provision aimed at recognising and supporting the needs of such children.
This is despite the fact that the Inclusive and Special Education Review, published in 2005, stated that a policy of inclusive education should also provide for children with intellectual abilities that are well above the norm, in other words, gifted children.
The review suggests that there may be about 70 gifted students in local schools but research has never been undertaken to substantiate that figure. It goes on to propose a special programme for gifted children but no initiative of this nature has yet made an appearance.
On the level of individual schools, few are those that have structures that cater for gifted children, except perhaps for a couple of activities which have been introduced whereby teachers can motivate young minds in the fields of mathematics and creative writing. Neither are any credits taught at the University on the subject.
"Gifted" students are defined as those with evident high attainment or latent high ability in one or more academic subjects, while "talented" pupils are those who show the same traits in creative or expressive arts or sports. Sometimes their gifts or talents are obvious and at other times they hidden.
According to research conducted by Rosianne Camilleri for her 1998 dissertation entitled The Inclusion of Gifted Children Within the Maltese Educational System - the only dissertation on this subject at the University library - most teachers do recognise the fact that gifted children need to be provided with instructional differentiation. However, this is being restricted not only by the large number of children in their classroom but also by the lack of teacher training, which focuses more on how to cater for individual differences in learning styles. Ms Camilleri also found there was a lack of resources and materials to stimulate and challenge gifted children's minds.
Abroad, it is being increasingly recognised that these children's abilities need to be nurtured; one cannot have an educational system that is scared to recognise gifted children for fear of being accused of "streaming". In November 2007 a workshop entitled Meeting the Needs of Gifted Children and Adolescents - Towards a European Roadmap, took place in Brussels involving leading European researchers in the fields of high ability and giftedness. Incidentally, no Maltese representatives were present.
The workshop discussed issues such as funded policies for gifted children and how to define giftedness and high ability. Participants heard an overview about gifted education in 21 European countries, learning strategies, creative giftedness and attracting young gifted talents into research and developments careers. In the UK, the workshop heard, every school must have a G&T co-ordinator, and at least 10 per cent of the school population must be recognised as gifted or talented.
Gifted students can be identified using teacher, parent, peer or self-nominations, portfolios, testing and enrichment activities which help identify also the latent gifted students. In every subject, extracurricular activities must be provided for these students. Teachers also need to be trained in how to identify and cater for their needs.
Elena Tanti Burlo, the head of the Department of Psychology within the Faculty of Education, is not hopeful that local educational policies will cater for gifted children. "We have such an obsession with middle of the road education that it seems that one size fits all. What we need to start focusing on is the teacher's way of teaching, in order to include gifted children."
Identifying the needs of the gifted students in our schools is undeniably essential for an economy that relies extensively on its human resources. These are the leaders of the next generation. Every piece of evidence demonstrates that gifted children need extra guidance because it cannot be assumed that they will be successful without it. Given the appropriate learning environment and guidance, they are given a better chance of reaching their potential.