Guest blogger Janine offers her perspective on what is, what is not, and what could be provided for gifted children in New Zealand schools. The GATE One Day School offers a contrasting experience.
From my perspective as a parent I have to say that the mainstream education system is not working for my gifted 10 yr old boy. The system stifles his creativity in many ways. He is not an artist , singer or musical boy but is fantastic with technology where his creativity flourishes with Google Sketchup designing architectural masterpieces and game building. The current system does not allow for any of his creativity to be developed or even integrated into learning.
Everything is easy for him – no thought required to achieve his 100%. He is, I suppose, the straight A student without any effort. At present he is 6 1/2yrs above age in reading, 4 yrs 9 months above for spelling and a least 2 years above in maths (although the current system does not allow him to be tested above that as his primary school only have resources to test at intermediate level). He is learning that no effort is need to be an achiever. Where are the challenges for him? The lack of challenges mean that he is disengaged from leaning, motivation has been lost and consequently his behaviours have deteriorated. Boredom is the silent killer for him. He complains constantly of being bored. Can the system not allow these children to be challenged and engaged? Teachers and students are confined by the system, however I do believe that there are opportunities within the educational system constraints that allow independent learning, should the teacher wish to. I have found that many put dealing with ‘gifted’ children in the ‘too hard basket’ and are still of the opinion that if they are a gifted achiever then what more needs to be done. They are capable of developing their own learning programme and can pursue it at home. Well, I disagree many gifted children are in need of guidance and yes, their knowledge in some areas may exceed that of the individual teacher but that does not mean that the teacher is not a vital part of their learning process. There are many hours wasted during the school day when the child is sat learning nothing as that knowledge base is already present. Challenge my child please!! He is losing interest and motivation to learn, the system is dumbing him down.
Due to his level of achievements he has little peer interactions, being viewed as a geek, a know all. His self esteem has been knocked he has no idea why he doesn’t ‘gel’ with those of his own age especially as he tries to “bring himself to their level and way of thinking”. He doesn’t think he is better, just different and that others have no understanding of the way he thinks. He is well aware of his differences but does not have a strategy to integrate himself successfully with his peers in a mainstream, multi ability classroom. Due to being seen as ‘unusual’ by his peers he has withdrawn from making any class contributions and does not engage in learning in this environment.
Having said that the GATE One Day School programme has been his saviour. It is a challenging, student focus based learning system. His learning capacity is not confined by the system. They take the subject in a direction that interests him. Not only is independent learning encouraged and catered for but also collaboration with other students. This grouping at one day school has meant that he can interact and successfully socialise with his peers. He is engaging, developing his leader ship skills for which he has so much potential, enthusiastic and open to all new ideas. I have found that having him attend GATE One Day School, that the need for my presence in school on the remaining days is reduced as he is far more able to cope with the boredom of everyday school, as he is obtaining stimuation elsewhere one day a week. Allowing the child to participate in a gifted online programme during school hours would also help with any behavioural problems.
To help combat some of the problems of challenging my son and keeping his sometimes unruly behaviour in check I offered time to the school. I talk to the teacher on an almost daily basis and am available for help within the classroom environment, however, socially it is great to have my child in a mixed ability classroom as he has the opportunity to interact with children of the same age. It is important that he remains grounded and can see how his peers act. Attending an outside programme allows him to interact with other children that think and act a little outside the square, but I feel it is also important to be integrated into a mainstream system. Whether my child has a good year at school is very much dependent upon the teacher and the way they ‘handle’ the child in the classroom environment..
The education system in New Zealand suffers from obstacles, difficulties, challenges, funding issues, educational constraints that are present in many education system globally. I believe that if you have a gifted or twice exceptional child then involvement with the school is vital if disruption to the rest of the class is to be minimized. Education of a child should be a collaboration between parent and school, working together to provide the best education solution for a particular child. Dealing with a situation in a slightly different way, can have a huge impact not only on the behaviour of the gifted or twice exceptional child but on the class as a whole. It should not be the sole responsibility of the school but a partnership with the parent.
What a shame our educational system stifles talent and giftedness. Instead of my son having to attend a separate learning institution one day a week there are enough children in the mainstream school environment to warrant a class that meets one day a week with the actual school. Working with the school system in a slightly different way would allow the school to control the curriculum still but be able to expand and explore. I know in New Zealand schooling is considered to be free (well, if you don’t count the donations that are expected and almost compulsory). Why am I paying for a system that does nothing for my child? Provide a few extra resources for engaging the gifted mind and I will gladly contribute more in time, effort, resources and monetary.
All I want is for my son to provided with the opportunities and support necessary for him to be the enthusiastic learner, motivated and engaged student he so wants to be, without having to remove him one day a week. Systems are in place to help those at the bottom end of the spectrum but not the top end. These children have just as much right to and need for opportunities to develop. As a gifted student is he entitled to nothing. Isn’t giftedness just as important as other learning disabilities?
This image, by Flickr member Ksayer1, has attribution and share alike licenses.