Are Rural Needs Different in Gifted Education?

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Rural New Zealand schools include some of the nicest schools you can find anywhere. Teachers often teach children for two or more years, therefore getting to know them more closely than city teachers do, and caring deeply about them. They tend to develop a detailed understanding of their students’ gifts and of their needs for extra support. New Zealand teachers believe in individualising curriculum, and many do it very well.

Why then, do more than half of the rural parents I talk to ask me whether their gifted children would be better off if they gave up their rural lifestyles and moved to a city?

It’s about critical mass!

Whatever rural teachers in small schools can do, they can’t organise rural parents to synchronise the delivery of gifted babies in convenient batches so that gifted rural children can grow up rubbing shoulders with others like themselves. Giftedness and loneliness often coincide, even in populous places, because kids who love to think abstractly, ethically, philosophically and outside the square – probably all at once and definitely all the time – just aren’t like most other kids. The smaller the school, the more likely it is that these kids will be unable to find buddies who love to think in the same way. Therefore loneliness can be an even bigger deal for rural kids, despite the strengths of so many of their schools.

Parents and teachers of gifted kids in rural communities also experience isolation. The brain drain towards cities has been somewhat reversed in the life style block belts close to favourable beaches and larger towns. However, many rural communities have lost huge numbers of talented people during waves of hospital closures, dairy factory centralisations and other forms of commercial retreat. You will have heard of the rural doctor shortage. There is also a rural pharmacist shortage, a rural accountancy shortage, a rural speech language therapist shortage, and shortages in just about every other skilled field you could name. Teachers in rural schools with an interest in giftedness don’t run into colleagues to talk about gifted kids with nearly as often as their counterparts in our large cities, and rural parents must often go it alone. They simply don’t have the gifted associations and other groups city people turn to when the going gets tough.

It’s no wonder that so many rural parents of gifted kids think twice about staying put, but can rural New Zealand afford to lose them? No! In many cases, losing these families is very hard on the communities who sadly let them go. This goes beyond being about “thinky” kids or education. It ends up being about community, too.

Online networking can play a part in solving the problem. Gifted Online, where I work, is networking rural children with intellectual gifts, but parents have to pay, and I very much wish that they didn’t. Rural broadband is slow, hampering the effectiveness of what can be offered. Voice chat is far more effective in enabling isolated children to feel that they are not alone than text chat, but some of my students live in regions where VOIP is dicey at best and maddening or non-existent at worst.

Parents and teachers can hop in on the tail end of our chats, and now and again we have chats just for them. They can also join networks through a Facebook group, Twitter chats, the Gifted and Talented mailing list and the NZAGC forum. The trouble is, many of them do not even know that this assistance is out there. You can help by e-mailing, tweeting, or otherwise forwarding a link to this blog to bright people you know in rural communities.


Cows and scenery are lovely, but not well-known for their stimulating conversation.

Photo of rural New Zealand by Flickr member Brenda Anderson.

#NZGAW blog tour home page button.

About Mary St George

I teach in gifted education, both online and face-to-face.
This entry was posted in E-Learning, education, gifted, New Zealand, Rural Education, twitter and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Are Rural Needs Different in Gifted Education?

  1. Pingback: Gifted resources online – where to start? | Creatingcurriculum's Blog

  2. Janinenz says:

    I used to think that moving from small town New Zealand which seems to suffer from lack of resources, would be the answer to the issues we were facing with our gifted child. Where we live any child which was ‘outside the usual norm” faced enormous difficulties with the educational system. We in fact live in a small town so just imagine what it must be like to live in the more rural communities. Finding someone to deal with gifted children in my own community has, up until very recently, been impossible. Many in the school system here seem to be of the opinion that gifted children are the extremely academic children who will do well anywhere doing anything. This is completely untrue and many of the gifted children are not identified as the teaching staff do not have the skills to even begin to recognise a gifted child and deal with them appropriately.
    We have been extremely luck in the last year as we know have an advocate for children who are gifted or who are having difficulties with the education system and learning. We now have a centre that offer Gate One Day School and a range of specialist teaching areas for the whole range of children that are outside of the ‘norm’ for education purposes. This has been our saviour and I now feel comfortable and happy that we can live in our chosen community and still have access to first class gifted education. I suppose the only available specialist programme for those that are way out into the rural communities is the gifted online programme. What a shame this service cannot be paid for by the education system instead of the parents. A superb service which goes some way to helping gifted children who wouldn’t ususally have the opportunity to talk and connect with others that are similar to themselves, relieving some of the isolation pressures. Every child has the right to be educated to standard where they can achieve their potential. Once again the burden of trying to keep these children interested in learning, giving them a challenge and extending them educational fall on the parent. The gifted online programme could be so much more if the resources were upgraded in theses rural communities. I would consider it a small price to pay to achieve a significant gain.

  3. Given that giftedness is manifested in many and varied ways, clearly some special gifts are likely to develop within a rural context because the catalysts are readily available; whanaungatanga and naturalistic intelligence are just two that come to mind.
    Mary has identified the primary challenge facing parents of gifted students and teachers charged with meeting the needs of all students in a small, rural community; that of providing them with opportunities to be with others of like-mind and like-ability; a requirement if the child is to thrive socially and emotionally as well as in their area/s of special ability.
    In addition to the points already identified as potential barriers to catering appropriately for this group of students, there are other contributing factors, not the least being the cost, not only of accessing quality support online but also of transporting students to other schools and activities where they can spend time with others of like-ability, engaged in activities that challenge their abilities within an environment that is socially and emotionally safe.
    Tairawhiti/Gisborne REAP has been addressing this issue for gifted children in a focused way for several years with the help of MOE funding tagged for gifted education. Since February 2010 the Eastern Bay of Plenty REAP has also received MOE funding to cater for gifted Maori and rural students within their region and, with support from local teachers and prominent educators in gifted education, initiatives to support gifted rural students have been implemented. Feedback from parents, students, and teachers suggests these initiatives have been very successful in providing appropriate support for local children. One of the (predictable) outcomes of bringing gifted students from different schools and age-levels together to share and develop their abilities, has been the number of gifted youngsters who subsequently choose to continue communicating with their ‘new friends’ online who would not have developed these friendships without the opportunity for face-to-face interaction first. Unfortunately, extremely limited funding for gifted education reduces the likelihood of such programmes a) continuing or b) being introduced into other rural areas.
    Government funding for this field was reduced to its current minimal level at about the same time that educators began to realise that gifted children are found everywhere (including rural environments), that there are many and varied forms of giftedness, and that gifted education is not about labeling children but rather, creating an environment in which gifts and talents can rise to the surface and be nurtured appropriately. New Zealand was beginning to be acknowledged internationally as ‘leading the way’ with our inclusive approach.
    It is time to include rural gifted children in discussions about realising the aim of the MOE National Administration Guideline 1 (c) iii & (d):
    “(c) on the basis of good quality assessment information, identify students and groups of students:
    iii. who have special needs (including gifted and talented students); and
    iv. aspects of the curriculum which require particular attention;
    (d) develop and implement teaching and learning strategies to address the needs of students and aspects of the curriculum identified in (c) above.”
    Online opportunities such as courses for teachers, organisations for parents, and ‘classes’ for students, provide us with new and exciting contexts within which to cater for “every child in every school” (the new slogan for special education in NZ) but only if barriers to catering for gifted rural students are lifted. Face-to-face and online opportunities + appropriately informed teachers and parents + reliable online access will go some way towards meeting the objectives of NAG1 (c)iii.

    • obriensnz says:

      “It is time to include rural gifted children in discussions about realising the aim of the MOE National Administration Guideline 1″Totally agree.

      But you know – these rural kids and families are so resourceful they get it together anyway – they drive those miles and they create those opportunities. But I agree – with a little bit of funding, great positive effect would occur.
      Have a look at my blog which is similar but different. I’d love your comment:
      Cheers, Jilly

  4. Your sharing of the issues is right on point. In my childhood I was raised with two highly gifted older brothers in a town of six hundred. The nearest children to their ability level were over one hundred miles from us. As an adult I became a gifted educator, living in remote places such as Alaska, inner cities, and then rural Arkansas as well. My childhood was spent in a rural town, a supportive place where every child had value, handicapped, perceived normal or the like. A farm community where nothing on the farm was wasted…but the values of honesty, integrity, hard work, and consistentcy were valued, not necessarily education past what it took to function in life. These folks were lifelong learners, most of them more literate than multi degreed professionals in the less rural areas. AS an educator, parent, and individual my views have changed on what “opportunity” is a mind with quick thinking and intense abilities. I have seen so many versions of “the better opportunity”, most staged without concern for the moral and emotional support of facing life as a high creative or abilities person. Often rushed to get to measurable grading, instead of focusing on expansive experience and creative engagement, too often the push is for faster, harder such as my own education was in my middle school years. Acceleration as a substitute for expansion of opportunities in more meaningfully complex applications. My brothers received simple elementary school educations, I believe the foundation for their well being as successful high abilities adults. They were nurtured with adults who gave more notice to their values and qualities of living than to their mind’s abilities in the early years. They were encouraged to be who they were, to realize that they were not more special because they were gifted, but more gifted by their specialness to give to others…they were encouraged to reach past their ease of learning to employ the gifts of their abilities to situations before them. They were allowed to know that just because they thought quickly did not mean they were more or less likely to live a successful life unless they engaged disciplines in learning how to learn, how to manage, how to balance their lives. Those lessons mattered. In choosing where to put a family of bright thinkers, the community needed them, the community embraced them, the community encouraged them….but more importantly, they supported them as humans.

  5. obriensnz says:

    HI Mary
    For the last 5 years, I have taught the Alexandra (Central Otago) CO REAP STAR programme, which is based on the One Day School REACH philosophy. Kids in upper primary and intermediate come together one day a week to work with like minds and have intellectual challenge as well as social and emotional support. Some of our kids come 2 hours away and the smallest school we worked with had 8 students! This used to be funded by MoE on the TDI initiative and now is funded by charity, school and parent. I now work in 2 rural high schools running “Half day school” programmes

    I would say in our Central Otago area, parents are very satisfied with the level of support gifted children are getting. The lack of “like minds” is overriddden by the ability to really get to know a child, the ease of finding mentors within the close knit communities and the real individualisation of the curriculum. So around here, parents are not choosing to move to the city – rather they feel the benefits of rural living outweigh the issues it creates. For example, in rural areas, kids are given the time and space to truly prusue their passions, rather than following an overscheduled regime.
    Please have a look at my blog I would love to hear your thoughts.
    Cheers, Jilly

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